Difficult year for Dubai reflected in the statistics

Declines in completed buildings, hotel guests and occupancy rates, but airport passengers are up.

Men watch an Indian cricket league match outside a cafeteria on a side street in the Meena Bazar area of Bur Dubai.
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From divorce rates to car registration renewals, figures released by Dubai provide an insight into the city's economic and social state over the past year. Dubai leads the way among the emirates in trying to improve transparency by providing such statistics, but some gaps remain, said Paul Dyer, a researcher at the Dubai School of Government who specialises in demographics and labour.

"This provides a picture, but to understand the situation it would be better to have a more detailed snapshot," he said. The Dubai Statistics Centre released key indicators on Monday night. However, figures on residency visas and breakdowns of overall numbers that provide insight for policymakers remain murky, Mr Dyer said. The number of buildings completed dropped to 2,501 last year from 2,728 in 2008, and the number of buildings finished declined each quarter.

David Butter, the regional director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the 8.3 per cent drop "seemed about right" considering the impact of the financial crisis. Mr Dyer said the impact has yet to be fully realised, as many buildings that were under construction at the end of 2008 were completed last year. "We'd expect to see bigger drops in the future because there will be fewer starts," he said.

Tourism indicators included hotel occupancy rates and air travel statistics. According to the figures, the room occupancy rate at the end of the second quarter of 2009 fell to 72 per cent from 81.5 percent at the end of 2008. "If you look at a whole year's figures, it masks a lot in a market as complex and fragmented as Dubai," said John Podaras, the associate director at Tri Hospitality Consulting.

The number of rooms increased by 16.5 per cent over the same period, while the number of hotel guests fell by 2.7 per cent. While 2009 was a difficult year, "if you are achieving 72 per cent occupancy in a market in a year as bad as this, some markets think it's actually a good rate", he said. Figures for the last two quarters of the year were not available, but Mr Podaras said he expected them to have remained stable as hotels slashed their prices.

Dubai International Airport saw a rise of 9.2 per cent in the number of passengers, up to 40,902,000 from 37,441,440 in 2008. The number of flights also went up, by 3.7 per cent. "I would say that Emirates' strategy of using the airport as a regional hub - has worked in maintaining numbers," Mr Podaras said. Nadejda Popova, an analyst for travel and tourism at Euromonitor International, said the transparency provided by the Government is essential to Dubai's success.

"Communication is key in Dubai," he said. "The Government continues to encourage investors, thus maintaining a positive stance and keeping forecasts optimistic." She said "dark clouds" remained over the tourism industry as more projects, such as Dubailand, were delayed. Some statistics surprised the experts. Mr Dyer said an increase of 85 per cent in car registration renewals looked like a "statistical anomaly". Statistics on divorce and marriage, which came from the Dubai Courts, showed a 24 per cent divorce rate among Emiratis in 2009.

Meenaz Kassam, an assistant professor in sociology at American University of Sharjah who has done research on divorce, said she was "quite puzzled" by the figure. Figures released by the Juma'a al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage show a national divorce rate of 34 per cent, but Dubai courts put the rate much lower, at 27 per cent in 2008 and 21 per cent in 2007. The number of Government schools declined from 152 in 2008 to 145 in 2009.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority said some schools that were licensed in 2008 were in the process of relocating or changing, and some had ceased operations. lmorris@thenational.ae kshaheen@thenational.ae