Chinese tourists embrace Dubai

Dubai is set to welcome increasing number of Chinese tourists this year as unrest elsewhere in the region makes the emirate the safe bet for a holiday.
Tourists visit the Gold Souq in Deira. Last year, more than 50 million Chinese tourists went overseas. Pawan Singh / The National
Tourists visit the Gold Souq in Deira. Last year, more than 50 million Chinese tourists went overseas. Pawan Singh / The National

BEIJING // The number of Chinese visitors to Dubai is expected to surge by more than half this year as turmoil elsewhere in the region encourages tourists from the country to holiday in one of the Middle East's most stable cities.

The steep growth in disposable incomes in China, coupled with a relaxation of visa restrictions, have already fuelled a dramatic rise in the number of Chinese visitors.

Mohammed al Sheikh, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing's (DTCM) head of region for Australia and Asia, said at the Dubai Business Opportunity Forum his expectations for this year were "really high". The two-day forum, held in Beijing, ends today.

About 152,000 Chinese hotel guests stayed in Dubai last year, Mr al Sheikh said, and the figure for this year was expected to be at least 50 per cent greater. In the first half of last year, visitor numbers were 57 per cent up on the first six months of 2009.

Hotels in Dubai have introduced several measures to accommodate the growth in the number of visitors from the country to the emirate, such as hiring Chinese employees and adding Chinese food to their menus. The Burj Al Arab reported almost 80 per cent of the hotel's guests were from China during Chinese New Year this year.

"With the problems in [other parts of] the Middle East, people going to Egypt, Tunisia and other countries affected have been mostly transferring to Dubai or going through Dubai," Mr al Sheikh said.

He added that the decision by the Chinese authorities to give the UAE "approved destination status" from September 2009, which makes it less difficult to travel to the Emirates and easier to advertise the UAE in China, was also behind the growth.

China's outbound tourist industry is increasing dramatically thanks to the country's double-digit economic growth and the increasing ease with which Chinese people can secure visas. Last year, 54 million Chinese tourists went overseas, up 13 per cent on 2009's figure of 47.5 million. The China Tourism Academy predicts the number will grow by at least 3 million this year.

Airline capacity between Dubai and China is growing. This week, Emirates Airline began operating the Airbus A380 on its Shanghai route, after starting to use the superjumbo on its Beijing and Hong Kong services last year.

New hotels in Dubai such as the One & Only on the Palm Jumeirah, which opened in November last year, and the Zabeel Saray, which launched in January also on the Palm Jumeirah, will further drive growth in Chinese tourist numbers, Mr al Sheikh said. The Palm Jumeirah has already proved to be a magnet for Chinese visitors, with 5 per cent of guests at the Atlantis The Palm hotel coming from the world's most populous nation.

"Also, we know the Chinese tourists, they like trying the seven-star hotel. They don't mind shifting from one hotel to another, but they need to stay for a night in the Burj Al Arab," Mr al Sheikh said.

One of Dubai's major attractions to Chinese visitors is its shopping malls, and Mr al Sheikh said the spending power of Chinese tourists was formidable.

"Chinese have disposable income," he said. "They are among the best candidates in shopping in Dubai Mall. At the LV [Louis Vuitton] shop, 70 per cent of its sales go to Chinese people."

Dubai is particularly popular with Chinese tourists because they often have only five or six days at a time for holidays, and the emirate is easy to get to for trips of this length, said Eric Li, the Middle East and Africa manager for Beijing Jin Jiang International Travel Company.

"It's easier than Europe," Mr Li said. "Also, some areas like Egypt have problems with the government, so people supposed to be going there changed their minds and went to Dubai."

* with reporting by Rebecca Bundhun

Published: April 29, 2011 04:00 AM


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