The number of tourists to Dubai fell in the first nine months of last year as the global economic slowdown resulted in fewer travellers from Europe. Visitor numbers fell 5.7 per cent in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2008, according to figures from the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), published by the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
"In terms of the drop-off in visitor numbers to Dubai they're actually quite healthy if you look at the rest of the world," said Sean Tipton, a senior spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). "It's not necessarily a reflection on Dubai as a destination." The UK, still hurting from the global economic crisis, has long been the emirate's largest market for tourists. Mr Tipton said Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia were the only destinations that experienced an increase in visitors from the UK last year because they were short-haul destinations outside the euro zone.
Tourism is an important part of Dubai's economy, directly contributing 19 per cent to its GDP in 2008. The emirate, which attracted 7.5 million hotel guests in that year, was aiming to double the number by 2015. The data showed a 1.3 per cent fall in international hotel guests in the emirate for the first three quarters of last year compared with the same period in 2008, boosted by 3 per cent growth in international guests in the first quarter. In the second quarter, international guest numbers fell 1.5 per cent.
International tourist arrivals are estimated to have declined by 4 per cent last year to 880 million due to the global economic downturn and fears over swine flu, according to the UNWTO. But this was better than expected as growth returned in the fourth quarter. Other figures from the DTCM show that the drop-off in international tourism was offset by an increase in the number of UAE-based guests staying in Dubai's hotels. As a result, in the first three quarters of the year hotel guest numbers actually grew by 3.2 per cent to 5,467,808. Analysts have said that cut-price rates at hotels in Dubai attracted more UAE residents.
Occupancy levels in Dubai fell to 69.4 per cent last year from 77.2 per cent in 2008, while average daily rates were down to US$235.48 (Dh864.94) from $308.51, according to the London-based arm of the research firm STR Global. In the first three quarters of last year the number of hotel rooms grew 19 per cent to 59,372 from 49,875 in the same period in 2008, the DTCM said. There were 533 hotels and hotel apartments, up from 493.
"Despite the significant falls in performance, Dubai continues to achieve some of the highest average room rates and REVPAR [revenue per available room] in the region even as new supply continues to flood the market, which is good news for hoteliers," the UNWTO said in the latest edition of its World Tourism Barometer, which monitors the short-term evolution of tourism. Abu Dhabi has seen a similar trend in terms of a drop in demand from Europe and an increase in UAE-based guests.
"Key western European markets continue to be soft with lower arrivals," a spokeswoman for the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said. "Domestic visitors from the UAE have made a strong contribution to holding up the overall market, particularly in the hotel sector, in addition to improving performance from regional markets and Asia." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org