The UAE’s implementation of visa-on-arrival for Chinese tourists in November 2016 has yielded dramatic results, spurring greater efforts from tour operators and hoteliers to reach out to Chinese visitors.
Speaking to TTG Asia at the recent Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, Naveen Saldanha, managing director at Royal Arabian, observed: “The UAE has been promoted in China for the last 10 years but the tremendous change and growth came after the visa-on-arrival facility was introduced for Chinese citizens. We saw a year-on-year growth of 30 per cent from the Chinese market last year.”
Similarly, Mark Kirby, general manager of Armani Hotel Dubai, remarked that the visa-on-arrival facility “has resulted in strong growth” from the Chinese market.
The hotel recorded a year-on-year growth of 70 per cent from China in 2017. Year-to-date, the growth has been 40 per cent compared to same period last year.
Jamal Abdulnazar, CEO, Cozmo Travel, shared: “The visa relaxation inspired us to open our offices in China. Our focus is on tier-two cities in China, where there is an excellent volume of business.”
On top of the relaxed visa policy, inbound tour operators said the UAE’s tourism offerings – including newer products – has also helped to attract Chinese tourists and better compete with other popular destinations in Europe and Asia.
“More and more Chinese are looking to visit new and unexplored destinations. The UAE offers a host of new and unique leisure attractions like Louvre Abu Dhabi, which debuted last year,” added Jamal.
Even emirates like Fujairah, currently getting few Chinese tourists, are devising strategies to tap this market.
“Our source markets have been European countries like Germany but now our focus is also on China. We are planning to open our representation office in China to help us market our destination. We are also meeting many tour operators from China to understand the needs of travellers from there,” said Omar Bani Hamour, coordinator, marketing and exhibitions, Fujairah Tourism and Antiquities Authority.
Hotel players such as Emaar Hospitality Group are also working towards making its properties appealing to the Chinese market through initiatives like launching a website in Mandarin.
Armani Hotel Dubai’s Kirby also shared: “Besides translating our website in Mandarin, we have hired Chinese-speaking staff not only in the front office but also in our kitchens. We have also introduced signage in the hotel in Chinese. Going ahead, we plan to use popular social media platforms in China like WeChat and Weibo to target affluent Chinese travellers.”
Official figures show that Dubai recorded 764,000 overnight tourists from China in 2017, a growth of 41 per cent over 2016, while Abu Dhabi recorded more than 372,433 hotel guests from China last year, up over 61 per cent. And with a growth of 45 per cent over the previous year, Sharjah recorded 126,000 hotel guests from China in 2017.
A recent report by the consultancy firm Colliers International projected Chinese tourist arrivals to the UAE to grow by 20 per cent in the coming years.