Almost 120,000 Chinese tourists will visit the UAE over the upcoming Lunar New Year period, according to Colliers, an international consultancy with offices in Dubai. To put this into perspective, this many people would fill 240 large 500-room hotels - so expect Dubai's tourist attractions to be busy.
Ctrip, a major Chinese travel agency based in Shanghai, said the UAE was one of the top 20 most popular Chinese New Year destinations and that its holidays to Abu Dhabi and Dubai sold out a month ago.
Why the UAE?
Chinese New Year, which takes place this year from February 16, marks the start of a two week holiday period during which millions of mainland Chinese take trips, both at home and abroad. In the UAE, safety and a respect for cultural traditions, a reasonable 7-10 hour flight time, the recent introduction of visas on arrival for Chinese guests, combined with a plentiful supply of high-quality hotels and shopping malls with specially-trained staff and a range of sufficiently exotic cultural attractions, as well as local efforts to mark the Chinese New Year, are helping to boost the country's attractiveness as a destination.
Annually, the UAE attracts some 15 million tourists spending almost $20bn (almost Dh75bn), according to data published by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). According to Colliers International, some 154 million Chinese tourists are expected to travel abroad in 2018, rising to 244 million by 2022.
GCC countries combined are currently believed to attract almost 2 per cent of China's total outbound tourism market, and are expected to host a total of 2.5 million visitors per year by 2021. As a percentage of total international visitors to the UAE, China accounted for 4 per cent in 2016, according to Colliers, but according to Dubai Tourism, the number of Chinese visitors has grown by 46 per cent in the past year, meaning it now ranks as 5th in the list of its top 10 source markets.
"Based on our calculation, we estimate that nearly 119,000 Chinese travellers are likely to visit the UAE this year in conjunction with the Chinese New Year Holiday," said a spokesperson for Colliers International. Ctrip, a major Chinese provider of travel services including flights, accommodation, package tours and corporate travel management, said its UAE trips for this year's Chinese New Year sold out a month ago and that it had taken over 1,000 group and individual bookings. "Our hot sale items are five or six-day package tours to Dubai and Abu Dhabi," said a spokesperson for the company, which was founded in 1999, is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, employs over 16,000 people and has over 90 million registered members.
While Chinese travellers are still attracted by safe destinations offering visas on arrival and high-quality hotels and shopping, "Chinese tourists are slowly transforming and rebranding themselves and 'experience-seeking tourists' and moving away from the habit of lavish shopping sprees abroad," says Colliers International's report on GCC source markets.
According to data published last month by the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), China is still the world's top source market in terms of expenditure, with a 7 per cent growth in tourism spending recorded in the first nine months of 2017.