The success that Dubai's tourism sector has seen can be compared to no other city. A highly focused effort by the government to put Dubai among the world's premier tourism destinations has not only succeeded, but also resulted in the city moving to the forefront of innovation and has made the sector a seemingly endless source of foreign cash. The strong growth in tourist arrivals coupled with continued high investment from both the government and private players means the sector's success will only continue.
According to the Dubai Tourism Authority, 15.8 million international tourists arrived in the city in 2018, representing a 7.5% increase from the previous year, placing the Emirate in a comfortable position in its effort to reach 20 million tourists by 2020. Visitors come from a diverse range of source markets. India represents the top source market for Dubai, with almost 390,000 visitors arriving in 2017. Among the rest of the top five are Saudi Arabia, the UK, China, and Russia, the last of which saw a 137% increase in visitors from the previous year.
As of February 2018, Dubai has approximately 686 establishments for accommodation. Among these are 105 five-star facilities, 122 four star, 262 one to three star, and 197 hotel apartments. Dubai has added five new establishments since February 2017, raising the total available supply of rooms from 103,579 in 2017 to 108,060 in 2018. The average occupancy rate was 87%, with standard hotel apartments accounting for the highest level of average annual occupancy, at 90%. All segments, however, performed well, the lowest being five-star establishments, which saw an average occupancy rate of 85%, according to the Dubai Tourism Authority.
In 2017, Dubai saw a total of 5.23 million occupied room nights, with visitors' average stay lasting 3.6 nights. The average daily rate stood at AED589, with average revenue per available room at AED516.
One of the main attractions for visitors to Dubai is the shopping. Often referred to as the shopping capital of the Middle East, shopping tourists are drawn to the city from all around the world. Visitors from the Gulf make up a substantial portion of these shopping tourists, but the city draws in shoppers from as far as Africa, India, and Europe. The Emirate has more than 60 malls, with a score under construction as well. One of the world's largest malls, the Dubai Mall has more than 1,200 stores, and it attracted more than 90 million visitors in 2015. The Dubai Shopping Festival is an annual event held throughout January that essentially turns the entire Emirate into a mall, attracting millions of visitors each year.
What truly makes Dubai the shopping capital of the world is that, on average, tourists to the Emirate spend more than in any other city in the world. According to a 2017 report by Savills, visitors to the Emirate spend an average of USD2,050, more than other cities surveyed, which include London, Pairs, Tokyo, and New York. This in total equates to nearly USD10 billion in retail spending, and just under USD5 billion in food and beverage spending.
Duty free shopping represents a large portion of retail sales in Dubai. TBY met with Colm McLoughlin, the Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free (DDF), to learn just how successful duty free has been in the Emirate. “2017 was the highest-selling year in our history," McLoughlin said, “with sales amounting to USD1.93 billion. We sold 73 million pieces of merchandise, with 27 million transactions on our registers. Our penetration rate is the highest in the world, and our sales per capita is near the top of global rankings as well. We are budgeting higher than 2017 for 2018; January already ended up 7% over 2017. February has also started well, and we are optimistic about the coming year and the new things that we have done."