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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Summer in the city: Dubai set to be a big draw for visitors

Hospitality industry sees early summer boost as World Cup fans, Russians and Chinese pass through the emirate out of season

Tourists enjoying the Marina Walk at Dubai Marina. The new transit-visa rules mean travellers can enter the country for up to 48 hours without needing to pay entry fees. Pawan Singh / The National 
Tourists enjoying the Marina Walk at Dubai Marina. The new transit-visa rules mean travellers can enter the country for up to 48 hours without needing to pay entry fees. Pawan Singh / The National 

Busy streets at night, lively malls and bustling restaurants - sounds like the height of Dubai's winter tourism season.

But hotels and tour operators are saying the tourism rush shows little sign of abating as the scorching days of summer approach.

It has already been a bumper year for Dubai with a record 4.7 million visitors to the emirate in the first quarter, said Issam Kazim, head of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

"We are expecting this trend to continue throughout the summer and beyond," he said.

"With a number of new attractions and leisure destinations, such as the Dubai Frame and the VR Park in the Dubai Mall, we remain confident that Dubai’s tourism proposition will continue to increase the city’s attractiveness."

The rising cost of living across the GCC has seen a huge increase in the number of people taking staycations in Dubai this year.

Muhammad Chbib, the chief executive of online travel operator Tajawal, said his company experienced a 65 to 70 per cent increase in the number of bookings from the GCC for staycations in Dubai compared to last year.

Remco Werkhoven, general manager DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Business Bay, is not surprised by the increase in staycations.

“Locals and expats tend to spend more time in the country than before,” he said.

“It can be quite expensive for a lot of people to send a family home for the summer.”

The emirate is renowned for being the destination of choice for visitors from Saudi Arabia and this year is expected to see more visitors than ever before.

“We have been working alongside DTCM to focus on getting more visitors into this region from Saudi Arabia,” said Mr Chbib.

Dubai is also expected to benefit from the World Cup in Russia, with people stopping off in Dubai for a few days while en route, he said.

A resurgent Russian market and an influx of visitors from China, because of the emirate’s new policy of providing visas on arrivals for tourists from those regions, has also boosted tourism.

“Because of the relaxation on visas Dubai is now one of the easiest places in the world to visit,” said Mr Chbib.

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Mr Werkhoven said he has been pleasantly surprised by the level of booking at the property this summer.

“The city never sleeps and business never stops.”

Traditionally, Dubai has been renowned as a luxury destination but that could be changing.

“I wouldn’t say it is a big shift but there are indicators that Dubai is becoming more popular with the millennial market,” said Mr Chbib.

“That’s been a trend for the last two or three years ... We look at all the searches that happen on our platform and we see there is an increasing number of people that want more than a flight or just a hotel.”

The experiential travel market will continue to thrive during the hotter summer months, said Simon Mead, head of operations at Arabian Adventures.

“Adventurous activities like the desert dune buggies and camel trekking move timing to earlier in the morning or at sunset during the summer months, and remain popular,” he said.

Mr Mead said tourists seeking experiential travel tend to be from Australia, New Zealand and South America while those from the UK and Russia still travel to Dubai for the guaranteed sunshine.

“Although the summer has just started and is typically seen as running from May to September, we see a consistent flow of visitors this year,” he said.

Another indicator of how the tourism market has been changing is the rise in the number of midmarket hotels, which, with a combined total of 22,000 available rooms, now account for almost a quarter of the total hotel rooms available in Dubai.

“There are much more three and four star hotels opening in Dubai now,” said Mr Chbib. “That’s related to the budget of the people who are coming here.”

One such property is the Rove Hotel Dubai Marina.

“People want more disposable income when they are holiday,” said manager, Nila Pendarovski.

“It just makes sense in the current economic climate."

Craig Plumb, head of research, JLL Mena said: “It is still a relatively small part of the total number of hotel rooms in Dubai.

“The interesting thing about the midscale segment is there is an increase in branded hotels as opposed to individual properties.”

Dubai's cultural offering is also going to play a key part in attracting tourists over the summer, said DTCM's Mr Kazim.

"We have also been working to raise awareness around Dubai’s cultural traditions with the goal of immersing visitors in a rich local heritage," he said.

"In this regard, the ongoing Dubai Historic District project aims to enhance the visitor experience in some of Dubai’s oldest neighbourhoods, while the Etihad Museum, which opened in 2017, provides the culturally curious with the story of the fathers of the nation."

Dubai is not the only emirate that will enjoy a boost in tourism this summer.

Tourism rates have increased by 23 per cent in Ras Al Khaimah and 8 to 9 per cent in Fujairah this summer, according to Dr Jolly Antony, founder and chief executive of Al Safina Travel and Tourism.

“The numbers have increased in both emirates compared to last year and we have bookings made until September 2018," he said.

"The new tourist attractions that has been integrated this year in RAK, such as the zipline, have attracted and encouraged more people to come and visit the emirate from inside and outside the country,” he said.

“Many hotels are offering very good packages for short or long stays that suits everyone along with the introduction of the medical tourism for African tourists."

Dr Antony said 60 per cent of RAK guests are international tourists while the rest come from other emirates.

“At least 40 per cent of the international tourists are coming from Europe especially from Germany and Russia, 20 per cent are Africans coming from Sudan and Nigeria for treatment, 25 per cent from India and China, and the rest are from different countries,” he said.

“About 70 per cent of the inbound tourists are Emiratis while 30 per cent are expatriates,” he said.

Ras Al Khaimah predominantly appeals to international visitors rather than those from the GCC.

Tourists from international markets rose by 18 per cent year-on-year in RAK, according to Haitham Mattar, chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.

The UK and Nordic markets performed particularly strongly, up 18 per cent and 26 per cent respectively year-on -year, while visitors from Poland grew by 46 per cent and Czech Republic by 34 per cent.

For Fujairah, Dr Antony said that the rates have increased by 8 to 9 per cent compared to last year.

"It is a good percentage compared to the few hotels that are available in the area. Tourists like to visit the area due to its unique mountains and beaches,” he said.

The Chinese market also proved to be crucial for Abu Dhabi last year. The UAE capital welcomed 185,000 guests from China in the first six months of 2017, a 55 per cent year-on-year increase.

A record 4.875 million people stayed in Abu Dhabi’s 162 hotels and hotel apartments during 2017.