Dubai records rise in bookings as travel demand defies global economic headwinds

Global transit hub is promoting itself as a stop-over destination for travellers passing through DXB

Officials at a press conference in Dubai giving details on this year’s expanded Arabian Travel Market, which opens on Monday. Wam
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Dubai recorded a rise in forward bookings, following growth in the number of international visitors during the first quarter, as travel demand to the Middle East's business and tourism hub defies global macroeconomic headwinds.

The global transit hub is also increasing efforts to promote itself as a stopover destination for travellers passing through Dubai International Airport (DXB), the world's busiest airport by international passenger numbers, said Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Department for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

Asked about the impact of high inflation rates and oil prices on consumer spending for travel, Mr Kazim said the emirate continues to diversify its source market, work closely with industry partners and has dealt with previous cycles of economic challenges from the 2008 financial crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Looking at forward bookings ... we can see that demand for Dubai is going up," he said at a press conference on Thursday ahead of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) that runs from May 1 to 4.

"I know that some people were concerned about the impact on discretionary disposable income, and that's the bracket that leisure travel falls into, but we've managed to see significant growth within that number as well in terms of length of stay within Dubai and also the contribution to the GDP [gross domestic product]."

Dubai has its "finger on the pulse at all times" and proactively responds to changes in demand, he said.

"We move as a team, as Dubai Inc. collectively, and we make sure that we have the right measures in place to manage these things ... we are constantly engaged across every aspect and every touch point that impacts residents and potential tourists to make sure that Dubai stays competitive," Mr Kazim said.

Dubai could exceed the pre-pandemic annual number of international visitors this year after a growing influx of tourists in a strong start to 2023, according to Emirates NBD. In February, Dubai’s tourism numbers exceeded pre-pandemic levels with 1.63 million visitors, up 7 per cent from 2019 and 35 per cent year-on-year.

The emirate is working with travel and tourism industry stakeholders to attract more transit travellers to book short-term stays in the emirate when they fly via Dubai.

"We want to see that as a chance to engage at some point during the booking journey and entice them to come and experience the city for the first time," Mr Kazim said, while detailing the main themes and events expected at the 30th ATM annual event in Dubai.

Centred around themes of sustainability and technology in travel, this year's event has attracted more than 2,000 exhibitors from 150 countries, the organisers said on Thursday. It recorded an increase of 27 per cent in the number of exhibitors from last year, with a significant rise in those from the Americas. About 34,000 visitors are expected to attend the travel, tourism and hospitality event.

Emirates Airline plans to announce a new partnership and sign agreements with various tourism boards during the ATM, said Adnan Kazim, the airline's chief commercial officer, without elaborating. This builds on Emirates' latest codeshare pacts with United Airlines and Air Canada that are now "fully fledged", along with its existing 10-year partnership with Qantas that has been extended for another five years to 2028, he said.

The airline is on track to return its full fleet of 116 Airbus A380 superjumbos to the sky, after most were grounded during the peak of the pandemic and resumed service gradually with the recovery in international travel.

Emirates is currently operating 85 of its 116 double-deckers, with plans to ramp up to 90 A380s by summer and 95 by the end of next Marc, its chief customer officer said. The A380s will be sent to Beijing to start in May, Shanghai in June, Birmingham in July and Taipei in August.

The airline is adding capacity to China after the country reopened its borders for international travel earlier this year, he said.

Emirates also opened its first city check-in, effective from Thursday, at the ICD Brookfield Place in DIFC, where customers can book travel, check-in for flights, drop luggage and shop for travel essentials.

Sara, Emirates' new portable robot, will be on hand to match faces with scanned passports, check passengers in and guide them to the baggage drop area.

Echoing the executives' expectations of tourism growth in Dubai, Haitham Mattar, managing director of India, Middle East and Africa at IHG Hotels & Resorts, said in the first quarter of 2023 the Middle East and Africa region recorded 70 per cent occupancy rate in IHG's properties. Dubai led the way with 80 per cent occupancy, followed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In the next three months, the region has 25 per cent more bookings at IHG hotels compared with the same quarter last year, he added.

"In terms of our rolling growth, we're very optimistic," Mr Mattar said.

Updated: April 28, 2023, 3:30 AM