UAE expects Chinese tourism boost over next 12 months

Gulf tourism hub expects number of visitors from China to return to pre-pandemic levels, Helal Al Marri says

A Chinese tourist in Dubai. Razan Alzayani / The National
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The UAE expects a greater influx of Chinese tourists within the next six to 12 months, after the Asian country loosened Covid-related travel restrictions, as airlines increase the number of international flights.

The number of visitors from China to the UAE could return to pre-pandemic levels by the next Chinese New Year, Helal Al Marri, director general of Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism (DET), said on Thursday.

"The Chinese have started coming back ... we see them now in many exhibitions and conferences and the lanes have opened up again," he said, referring to a growing number of daily flights between the two countries.

"Until they get the whole aviation network from their country fully operational again, you're always going to have supply pressures, it's a not demand issue ... we're looking forward to Chinese New Year next year, hopefully by then [we should be] back up to the levels we were at pre-Covid."

China has consistently ranked among the top-five source markets for Dubai over the past decade. The number of Chinese visitors to the tourism and business hub reached 177,000 last year, up 131 per cent from 2021, DET data indicates. However, last year's levels were down 82 per cent from 2019, due to China's zero-covid policy, which has only recently been lifted its government.

In January, long-haul airline Emirates said it would increase its operations in China ahead of the Chinese New Year and in response to strong travel demand, boosting connectivity to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing as the country reopened its borders and relaxed entry restrictions.

Similarly, Etihad Airways said it would add an additional weekly frequency on its Abu Dhabi-Shanghai route from February, running twice weekly flights to Pudong International Airport. It also started running non-stop flights between Abu Dhabi and Guangzhou in October.

"We expect visitor numbers from China to rebound sharply this year as Covid-19 restrictions have been eased and there is significant pent-up demand in this important market," Khatija Haque, head of research and chief economist and Jamal Mattar, research analyst at Emirates NBD, said in a research note last week.

India is Dubai's largest tourism source market, with Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UK and Russia rounding off the top five, according to DET data for last year.

Mr Al Marri added: "Dubai and the UAE have learnt quite a long time ago ... not to rely on specific countries and to really use the airlift that we have to develop a diversified strategy. We've managed to really keep tourism, from an economic perspective, extremely buoyant compared to the rest of the world."

Dubai hosted 14.36 million international visitors last year, almost double the 2021 total of 7.28 million, and only 14 per cent below the pre-pandemic levels of 16.73 million recorded in 2019, DET data showed.

Updated: March 02, 2023, 4:39 PM