Gearing up for success

Dubai has gone all out to develop its tourism offerings, with a focus on sustainability, in the hopes of attracting more travellers from Asia

Dubai is on track to becoming one of the most visited international destinations of 2023, welcoming 4.67 million overnight visitors in 1Q2023 – and it has its eyes firmly pinned on the Chinese rebound to further bolster arrival. According to figures from Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET), this marks a 17 per cent uptick on the same period last year, positioning Dubai as the fastest recovering destination globally, with the nation achieving 98 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

DET’s director general said this has been achieved by rolling out aggressive marketing campaigns worldwide, as well as attracting a string of major international business and leisure events.

Dubai cityscape

“As we look ahead to further accelerating momentum in our tourism sector, the pillars of sustainability, gastronomy, trade, and technology will form the foundation of our future success,” said Helal Saeed Almarri. He added that as Dubai prepares to host UN climate change conference, COP28, Dubai is focusing on promoting sustainable tourism.

During 1Q2023, South Asia accounted for 16 per cent of total international arrivals, with North Asia and South-east Asia taking in six per cent, and Australasia one per cent. In fact, South Asian arrivals have almost reached pre-pandemic tourism levels.

India was Dubai’s top source market, attracting 612,000 visitors in the first three months of 2023. China came in at 11th place with 94,000, the Philippines 18th with 57,000, and Australia 19th with 56,000.

Mohamed Al Rais, deputy managing director of Al Rais Travel, said the Asian market continues to grow, with all eyes pinned on China’s full rebound, which is predicted for the 2H2023. He added that with Dubai slated to host COP28 from November 30 to December 12, the company’s main focus is on promoting sustainable tourism.

“We are trying to increase awareness of sustainable tourism, with a focus on sustainable travel, accommodation and other related segments within the market,” he said, adding this is also increasingly what travellers are demanding.

In addition to hosting the UN climate change conference, Dubai will welcome a series of major international events in 2023 that are expected to attract more international visitors to its shores. These include Dubai Summer Surprises, Dubai Esports and Games Festival, which Dubai Tourism expects to be a hit with Asian nations, and Dubai Fitness Challenge.

Anabela Radosevic, manager of B2B sales and service at Arabian Adventures, said desert safaris, private city tours and morning desert adventures remain popular activities with the Asian market, in particular Japanese, South Korean and Chinese visitors. Arabian Adventures has sales offices in Japan and China.

Tourists in the ancient covered textile souq Bur Dubai in the old city centre

“Asia remains a top source market for Arabian Adventures in its capacity as a DMC, offering end-to-end destination services to international travel trade partners, as well as Dubai desert safari and UAE city tour offerings, cruise handlings and events services,” said Radosevic. “Of all Asian markets, for Arabian Adventures, Japan has been showing the strongest recovery post-pandemic, followed by South Korea and China.”

Attractions are also eyeing up Asian visitors. Madame Tussauds Dubai, which opened in 2021, said India is currently its strongest market from the region, while Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are growing source markets.

“An increase in visitors from Asia is definitely evident since travel resumed. We are excited to welcome more visitors as this trend continues,” said Samantha Joffe, marketing manager at Madame Tussauds Dubai.

She added that visitors from the Asia region are excited to see international stars in the attraction, mainly Tom Cruise, Audrey Hepburn, and Taylor Swift’s wax figures, as well as the dedicated Bollywood Zone with figures of Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan and Ranveer Kapoor, and wax figures of Xi Jinping and Jackie Chan.

“China remains an important source market for both Dubai as a destination and Madame Tussauds Dubai, with strong growth potential and focus as travel resumes,” she added.

In 2019, Dubai welcomed almost one million visitors, marking an almost 15 per cent year-on-year (YoY) increase.

In 2022, 177,000 Chinese visitors landed in Dubai. While this represents a 131 per cent YoY increase, China only lifted its Covid restrictions in January 2023 and tourism players are awaiting the big rebound.

Al Rais said that other than Dubai, AlUla in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are destinations that are traditionally marketed to Chinese visitors – he anticipates these will be among the first to benefit from the Chinese travel rebound.

In a bid to cement its title as the most visited destination of 2023, Dubai is continuing to provide simplified entry and stay measures for international arrivals, such as the golden visa, five-year multi-entry visa, virtual working, and retirement in Dubai programmes.

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