Dubai tourism chief sees rebound in 2020 as emirate opens to visitors

Helal Al Marri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce, expects 'aggressive' growth by year-end

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Dubai expects its tourism industry to rebound this year as it opens its doors to international visitors and other countries begin to ease travel restrictions.

“We’re looking forward to seeing aggressive growth coming once things normalise towards year-end,” Helal Al Marri, director general of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.

“We’ve gone through this pause phase, where the whole world was paused, and now we’re seeing a gradual opening up of the markets.”

The emirate opened its doors to international visitors on July 7, more than three months after the UAE’s airspace was closed as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Dubai, the Middle East’s tourism and business hub, welcomed 16.73 million travellers last year to its beaches, luxury hotels and shopping malls, with the sector contributing 11.5 per cent to the emirate’s gross domestic product.

“It has definitely been a rollercoaster over the [past] 10 weeks [and] we’re definitely in a much better place today. People are much more optimistic and we’re seeing it as definitely something very positive,” Mr Al Marri said. “As people are looking through this pandemic, as countries get things under control, as things normalise, we definitely see the other side as being a very quick rebound to tourism.”

Mr Marri said “we are definitely looking to see good growth” over the summer months of July and August as Emirates resumes flights and expands its network to 52 destinations.

Flydubai has also resumed flights to 24 destinations, with more routes expected to be added over the summer months.

“[After] the summer, assuming things go well this quarter ... and the rest of the world opens up, we expect to see the last quarter of the year much improved,” he said.

He stressed the importance of governments, such as those in Europe or the UK, lifting quarantine measures for travellers.

“We need to get past this phase and we need to make sure that people can travel without [the fear of being put in] quarantine,” he said.

The International Air Transport Association has called for alternative measures to quarantines, which it calls a "demand killer".

Mr Al Marri said he expects a revival in tourism-related businesses this year as the economy reopens.

“We envisage, as we move towards the year-end and as markets do open up, [that] people are going to start recruiting again [and] ... start really trying to drive growth because that is what they are there for with their businesses,” Mr Al Marri said.

Asked about co-ordination between the emirates with regards to re-opening, he said: “I expect over the course of this summer [that] tourists [will] be able to enjoy the whole of the UAE once more. The opening up is not happening over one day, it’s happening over the course of a period of time.”