Dubai reports rise in first-half tourist numbers

Increase in visitors from China, Oman and the Philippines offsets decline in numbers from India and UK

Burj Al Arab. Courtesy Jumeirah

The number of international overnight visitors to Dubai increased by 3 per cent in the first half of 2019, to 8.36 million, according to new figures from the emirate's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism).

Numbers were boosted by an 11 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors from China, to 501,000. Visitor numbers from Oman also saw a spike — up 28 per cent year-on-year to 499,000 — and the number of tourists arriving from the Philippines also grew 29 per cent to 216,000. These helped to offset declines from markets such as India and the UK, which have been affected by a strong dollar, to which the dirham is pegged.

"Designed to counter unforeseen macroeconomic variables faced by the global travel ecosystem and mitigate impediments associated with over-reliance on any one market or region, we have been long-standing proponents of a globally diversified market strategy — which continues to support our resilience as a sector," said Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai Tourism.

Visitor numbers from India, Dubai's biggest tourism source market, declined 8 per cent year-on-year to 997,000, while numbers from the third-biggest source market, the UK, dropped 2 per cent to 586,000. Dubai has become more expensive for tourists from both markets, as the Indian rupee has declined in value against the dollar by 2.5 per cent since the start of the year, while the pound is 4.7 per cent lower.

Saudi Arabia remained the second-biggest source market, with visitor numbers up 2 per cent year-on-year to 755,000 during the six-month period. Dubai Tourism said that during the Eid Al Fitr break visitor numbers increased by 4.9 per cent.

China is now the fourth-biggest tourism source market, followed by Oman. Dubai Tourism attributed its success in attracting more Chinese visitors to a 'three-pronged' approach that included direct-to-consumer awareness campaigns on certain platforms, customised trip-planning and improving the experience for Chinese visitors in Dubai through in-city improvements such as the creation of a Dubai Mini-Assistant app on the WeChat platform and digital audio tours available on mobile phones.

"Stakeholder engagement is crucial to generating tourism growth," Mr Almarri said.

Figures from Dubai Tourism and consultancy firm STR showed that both the average daily rate charged by hoteliers and revenue per available room continued to fall during the first half of the year, however, as the supply of new hotel rooms continues to build ahead of next year's Expo 2020 event.

Dubai Tourism figures show the number of rooms increased 6 per cent year-on-year to 118,345 as the number of hotels grew 2 per cent to 714.

STR said in the second quarter, revenue per available room (revpar) fell 13.1 per cent to Dh344.65 per night as occupancy levels dropped 0.9 per cent to 67.1 per cent.

"Supply has now outgrown demand in Dubai for six consecutive quarters," STR said last month, with the addition of new supply meaning that revpar sank to its lowest level since 2003.

However, the consultancy said that June was the strongest month of the quarter, witnessing a 30.5 per cent uptick in demand.