Dubai to win over tourism leaders

Officials hope to dispel negative perceptions of Dubai in a campaign that will attempt to show the emirate as it really is.

Dubai, 1st October 2008.  Tourists and expatriates shops at these small shops along the creek in Bur Dubai.  (Jeffrey E. Biteng / The National) *** Local Caption ***  JB1022-Shoppers.jpgJB1022-Shoppers.jpg
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Tourism officials hope to dispel negative perceptions of Dubai in a campaign that will show world travel's opinion makers the emirate as it really is. "Keep Discovering Dubai" will bring more than 2,000 travel industry professionals and media to Dubai from now until May. The campaign would help change "current negative perceptions" of the emirate, a source at Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing said.

The source was referring to illegal dumping of sewage on Dubai beaches and reports of an outbreak of legionnaire's disease at a hotel, which were later disproved. At stake is the emirate's largest single revenue generator, worth Dh57 billion every year - 19 per cent of its economy. Hoteliers and tour operators welcomed the move by Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), in partnership with Emirates Airline.

"Bringing in people to see the emirate first-hand is going to make a huge difference," said Kulwant Singh, the managing director of Lama Tours, one of the largest operators in Dubai. "At a time when countries such as Malaysia and Singapore are at war with Dubai to snatch tourists from us, the DTCM is supporting the brand it has created and putting up a fight." The department will pay for familiarisation trips of three to four days to more than 1,000 of the travel agents and tour operators, and more than 300 members of the media, the source said.

"These two groups have been identified as our main target through which we will effectively influence potential travellers." The objective of the familiarisation trips is to provide travel agents and media with first-hand experience of desert safaris, restaurants and cultural attractions such as the Bastakiya neighbourhood near the Dubai Creek. "It looks like a great initiative to educate the retail travel agents," said Jeff Strachan, the area director of Marriott Hotels in the Middle East.

Since the start of the crisis, the leisure capital of the UAE has seen hotel occupancy rates and margins fall. So far, some hotels have decided to slash room rates by as much as 60 per cent, leading to a 26 per cent drop in margins in December compared with a year earlier, according to the US-based travel research firm STR Global. "As a result of the global credit crisis Dubai is witnessing a marked reduction in the number of international visitors," said the DTCM source.

"The objective of this initiative is to give people an experience that would positively impact them ... and to protect the future growth of the Dubai tourism sector." Some hoteliers said they thought the campaign should have been launched earlier. "DTCM was a little bit slow in its reaction," said Habib Khan, the chief executive of Planet Group, which has three mid-range hotels in Dubai. "We had already started to see that business was slowing down since last summer and nothing was being done."

The effects of the campaign would not be felt immediately, he added. "I expect that as hotels managers we will start to feel the difference in about six to 12 months time because the impact of these marketing plans is always long term." Ivor McBurney, the vice president of development at Hilton Hotels and Resorts in the Middle East, disagreed. "Sometimes if you launch a initiative too fast or right after a crisis, it gets lost in all the noise and becomes less effective," he said.