Dubai expects to attract more overseas visitors in 2021 than the 5.5 million tourists it hosted last year as the emirate focuses on new source markets, offers more visa categories and holds Expo 2020 in October, its tourism chief said.
The emirate is further diversifying its tourism source markets, with a "big focus" on CIS countries including Ukraine and Kazakhstan among others, Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Tourism, told The National during the Arabian Travel Market on Sunday.
The overall numbers for tourist arrivals so far in the second quarter are "good" and hoteliers are positive about forward bookings, he said, without providing specific annual or quarterly forecasts.
"It can only get better ... the way our government is working to open up to more and more markets as much as possible," Mr Kazim said. "Everything that we did during lockdown and the way we communicated has really put Dubai high on the list, if not top of the list, for most people we interact with regardless of nationality."
Dubai, the commercial and trading hub of the Middle East, attracted 1.26 million tourists in the first quarter of 2021 and hosted 5.5 million visitors last year, a 67 per cent reduction on 2019, as the Covid-19 pandemic forced governments to limit international travel to curb the spread of the virus.
Dubai is continuing its lobbying efforts to restart travel with the UK, one of its top source markets, after the UAE did not make it to the country's green list.
“We’re doing our part, which is making sure that we stay top of mind. It’s not about awareness any more with the UK, its about consideration and conversion," Mr Kazim said. "We’re there and we continue to hammer that message as much as possible. When it comes to adding us to the list, we have a very strong relationship with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we're in constant dialogue with them."
Lobbying efforts are being channeled through airlines and industry stakeholders to drive a government-to-government discussion, he said.
"I am awe-struck about why we were not on the green list," he said. "All international standards have qualified us as a safe destination."
In the interim, Dubai has started to woo markets that are "relatively familiar" with the emirate such as France, he said.
Dubai's efforts to diversify its source markets is also linked to whether the countries' borders are open to the UAE, its marketing budget and whether local carriers serve these destinations.
"CIS is a big one for us, we've been focusing on them quite a bit and we see still potential for even more growth there," he said.
Other markets opening up to Dubai visits are Egypt, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Germany, he said.
Dubai's golden visa initiative, its virtual work programme, study visas and an ongoing drive to relocate companies to the emirate have been received with "great" interest, he said.
The virtual working programme has processed 2,500 visas since its rollout last year.
"It's one of those things that's going to snowball," he said.
These new visa categories will be one of the drivers of a wider economic recovery, Mr Kazim said.
"It creates sustainable growth for the economy, not just from a tourism perspective, but you're talking about businesses relocating here, families moving with their businesses and having more business events and they will influence the VFR (visiting friends and relatives) aspect, which means they will be investing in property as well," he said.
Last year, Dubai announced measures and funding to help its tourism sector cope with the impact of the pandemic.
"There is more cost-saving that we could do on part of the hotels and events industries," he said.
Fee waivers announced last year have been extended.
"We want that side of life to come back again," he said.