It is well known by now that the international tourism and the livelihoods dependent on it were greatly affected by the global pandemic. However, as the world opens up, the UAE's travel industry remains resilient. Governments and private sector partners have ensured destinations stay compelling and confidence increases as people begin to travel again.
Things were already looking up last year as Dubai welcomed 7.28 million visitors. Our mission is to strengthen Dubai's economy by delivering world-class experiences underpinned by sustainable principles. There is tremendous untapped potential in this area – to engage the private and public sectors and garner support from people who are passionate about sustainable tourism.
Since the launch of our Sustainability Requirements, which were implemented to improve and unify environmental practices across hotels and resorts in Dubai, we have ramped up efforts to strengthen the city’s responsible tourism credentials. The requirements also support the hospitality industry and strengthen the ecosystem, as hotels and resorts across the country progress towards achieving their goals. As part of these efforts, Dubai Sustainable Tourism delivered 18,000 hours of training to its stakeholders and partners last year.
A recent Tripadvisor report, Travel in 2022 – A Look Ahead that surveyed more than 10,000 adults aged 18 to 75, found that travellers are seeking destinations where they can immerse themselves in "authentic local experiences".
Research commissioned by the Centre for Sustainability through Research and Education for Expo 2020 Dubai has also shown that eco-tourism has an increased significance to those travelling to Dubai as 44 per cent of visitors considered sustainability an "important concept influencing their behaviour".
Catering to this growing demand for eco-tourism, Dubai offers wildlife observation trips, bird watching, stargazing, wetland exploration and visits to local communities. The same study also highlighted that 22 per cent of visitors surveyed identified themselves as responsible, sustainability-minded travellers who use public transport, consume water sensibly, and are willing to pay more for eco-certified products and services.
Like much of the UAE, Dubai offers a multitude of experiences where tourists have the opportunity to engage with local traditions, experience a cultural exchange and visit historical neighbourhoods to understand Emirati heritage.
One example is the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, a vast expanse comprising 10 per cent of Dubai's total area and the largest unfenced nature reserve in the UAE. Popular with both domestic and international tourists, the reserve is home to the 3,000 year old Saruq Al Hadid archaeological site. It is also a sanctuary for more than 200 species of native birds, 158 species of migratory birds and endangered species. The reserve is the perfect terrain for horse-riders and cyclists to explore the vast expanse comprising desert, wetlands and lakes.
The UAE boasts one of the largest ratios of protected areas per land mass in the world with 15.5 per cent of the country protected, and in Dubai protected areas include Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hatta Nature Reserve. However, the city is constantly expanding its sustainable tourism credentials.
The aim of Dubai 2040 Urban Masterplan is for the city to become one of the world’s most sustainable destinations, while reinforcing Dubai's reputation as a global hub for business, investment and tourism. The plan also emphasises enhancing the quality of life for Dubai's residents and visitors and preserving the environment.
By 2040, the length of public beaches across the Emirate will be increased by as much as 400 per cent. The expansion of tourism attractions, meanwhile, will increase by over 100 per cent, adding to the diversity of Dubai’s offerings. A 16km cycling track alongside Jumeirah beach will eventually connect to other coastal areas, building on the city's 520km bicycle network.
Dubai is committed to supporting ecotourism and environmental protection. And as the UAE looks forward to hosting next year's climate summit Cop28, which will address opportunities to create a more sustainable and progressive economic future, we believe that responsible tourism principles can help fulfil the country's sustainability goals.
We cannot, however, do it alone. It is imperative for the public and private sectors to continue to collaborate to accelerate moves towards a green economy, to achieve sustainable tourism goals and make the cities of UAE forward-thinking, world-class destinations for sustainable tourism.