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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Increasing visitor choice will create healthy tourist market

With Expo 2020 Dubai, more options on where to stay will benefit its millions of visitors

Airbnb, the house sharing platform, has been going from strength to strength in the Middle East. / AFP / Toshifumi KITAMURA
Airbnb, the house sharing platform, has been going from strength to strength in the Middle East. / AFP / Toshifumi KITAMURA

It is estimated that when the UAE throws open its doors to the world for Expo 2020 Dubai, visitor numbers to the emirate will boost the existing 20 million a year. That will require the country to continue its efforts to expand its tourism offering.

That is why the news this week that the home-sharing platform Airbnb has struck a partnership with Wego, which allows users to compare accommodation options, is so significant. Hosts in Dubai, Beirut and Marrakech are likely to see more business. For the UAE’s growing tourism industry, that will be a boon.

In the UAE, the Airbnb offering has been steadily growing. There were an estimated 90,000 Airbnb guests last year and there are currently more than 3,500 hosts. Given that the company’s focus on the Middle East is relatively new, these numbers are hugely encouraging.

For travellers, it provides a cheaper and more authentic alternative to conventional hotels and offers residents the chance to make money while they are away. That has been enhanced by the Emirati Experiences initiative, jointly launched with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism last month, which offers firsthand insights into local culture and heritage.

But there is a flip side, with some hotels worldwide complaining that the travel platform steals business and manipulates the market, particularly during high season. Authorities in Paris, Sydney and New York have already taken steps to regulate Airbnb. In the UAE, an abundance of hotel choice and supply has meant we are yet to see that impact and the relatively low number of Airbnb hosts has so far made such legislation unnecessary. As Expo 2020 Dubai approaches, more choice will no doubt benefit the millions of visitors expected. And increased competition from more budget offerings could stop hotels from charging guests up to 14 times as much for a stay during key events that attract visitors from around the world.

As the vast majority of people living in the UAE rent and tenancy contracts require a landlord’s permission before letting rooms on Airbnb, the number of hosts has grown at a slower rate than in other parts of the world. While the rise of Airbnb and other platforms like it is a positive indicator of a maturing tourism market, their proliferation should not come at the expense of conventional tourism.