Dubai is on track to record 20 million tourists by 2020 as it reaps the benefits of a “diversified” approach to engaging new source markets and rolls out new visitor incentives in 2018, a senior government official said on Sunday.
"Part of our strategy was a diversified market approach because we knew there would be changes happening, socioeconomic or geopolitical, that we needed to be aware of," Issam Kazim, the chief executive of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) told The National in an interview in Dubai.
“We started off targeting six or seven traditional markets which helped us get to the 10 million mark [in 2013], but, since then, we’ve broadened out and had campaigns going on in approximately 44 markets last year. So we’ve come a long way."
Dubai Tourism – an agency of the government of Dubai – recorded 15.8 million overnight visitors in 2017, a 6.2 per cent increase from 2016, according to figures released in February. The emirate has also boosted the average length of stay for leisure visitors by 0.3 days to 6.2 days over the course of 2017, Mr Kazim said.
The traditional top three source markets held their positions last year, with India contributing 2.1 million visitors in 2017, followed by Saudi Arabia with1.5 million tourists, and the UK with1.3 million.
However, newer source markets saw the biggest growth in tourists, including China which moved up to fifth position with 764,000 tourists, a 41 per cent year-on-year increase, and Russia in 8th position with a 212 per cent increase in visitors to 530,000.
Dubai’s top 10 source markets accounted for 59 per cent of total tourist volumes, noted Dubai Tourism’s 2017 Annual Visitors Report, published on Sunday ahead of the first quarter 2018 figures due for release later this week.
Mr Kazim told The National he aims to maintain the flow of visitors from traditional source markets in 2018 while ramping up efforts to lure tourists from Russia, the CIS, Latin America and the Nordics, especially Sweden, which registered strong growth in 2017.
Promotional activity in China will also continue this year, he added, following a “highly successful” marketing campaign in collaboration with Chinese social media influencers in 2017.
Dubai Tourism this week launches the ‘Dubai Pass’ discount pack – aimed at tourists and residents alike and offering cheaper rates on most of the city’s main attractions and venues, Mr Kazim said.
Also in the pipeline this year is the launch of a new campaign to promote Dubai’s Al Marmoum desert region, popular with cyclists, star gazers, nature enthusiasts and hikers. It is also the area where the emirate’s camel races take place.
“Our campaigns are focused on the lesser known areas of Dubai – its hidden gems,” he said. He noted that the majority (73.8 per cent) of tourists in 2017 travelled to Dubai for leisure purposes, while business travellers made up 11.5 per cent of the total.
“There are further opportunities to engage this segment of travellers, by communicating why Dubai is recognised as a knowledge hub, and as a centre for the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) industry,” he said.
The expanded code-share partnership announced last year between Dubai-based airlines Emirates and flydubai is an opportunity for Dubai Tourism to push “transit tourism”, according to Mr Kazim. The government announced proposals last week to grant special visas to transit passengers to leave Dubai airports and explore the city during their stopover. “We are working with Emirates to find ways of encouraging passengers to step outside and just try it out,” he said.
Stabilising oil prices is a positive growth driver for the tourism sector, increasing demand for luxury accommodation in the emirate. However, the prevailing demand in 2018 will be for three- and four-star hotels as visitors seek more affordable options, he added.