20 MILLION VISITORS BY 2020

Dubai 2018 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), on 2020 targets, source markets for tourism, and trends in the hospitality sector.

How well is Dubai on track to reach the target of 20 million visitors by 2020?

Despite a challenging year for the global travel industry, Dubai has seen significant growth. In fact, in 2017 our growth rate was 6.2%, reaching 15.8 million visitors, and we welcomed 4.7 million tourists in the first quarter of 2018 with a 2% increase in traffic, so we are well on our way to achieving our target of 20 million visitors annually by 2020. We are now present in 41 countries and are actively interacting with people who engage with Dubai content, especially since we own and manage over 100 social media channels and drive engagement in over 20 languages. Our target is to not only increase the number of visitors, but also the length of their stays. People might perceive Dubai as a two or three-day destination because they are only aware of a small layer of what Dubai has to offer. Lately, we have been focusing on making sure people realize the depth of the options and opportunities to explore the city – looking beyond landmarks that most people are familiar with by highlighting new attractions and experiences across diverse areas including history and heritage, and cultural spots related to arts and fashion. Dubai has always been a trendsetter in the region when it comes to fashion and retail, and we have amplified that in our marketing communications. Another key factor that we are taking advantage of, is the easing of visa regulations. Dubai currently offers visas on arrival for citizens of 50 different nationalities including nationals of Russia and China, two of our main source markets. Further, the UAE has extended visas-on-arrival to Indian nationals with a valid American visa or Green Card, which should encourage even more visitors from India to choose Dubai. For the effective implementation of our tourism strategy we work hand in hand with our private and public sector partners. New route launches by our home-grown airlines, Emirates and flydubai are leading the way to help boost visitor numbers while we are also continuing to work closely with our public and private sector stakeholders, specifically in the hotel, retail and events sectors to further enhance Dubai's value offerings to encourage more people to visit the emirate.

What are the main source markets for visitors to Dubai?

Our top source markets for the first few months of 2018 are India, Saudi Arabia, the UK, China, Russia, Oman, Germany and the USA. In 2017, India was our top source market, breaking the two million mark, whilst China was our fifth source market, though it was barely in the top 10 when our strategy was set out. Other GCC countries and the US and Germany are equally important, as well as Russia, a new source market that continues to show impressive growth and the UK has remained consistently in our top three markets for several years. We have adopted a multi-pronged approach to keep up the momentum and ensure an increase in tourist arrivals to achieve our strategic goal by 2020. We have continued to look beyond our six or seven traditional key source markets, to ensure we are always present in multiple markets, both traditional and emerging where we see significant growth potential, in this way we are able to protect ourselves from socio-economic factors that may impact visitor numbers from any particular market by making up the numbers elsewhere.

What are the key trends that Dubai's tourism and hospitality sector needs to address to stay ahead of the curve?

The quality of hotels, rooms, and facilities in Dubai are second to none. The same goes for the level of service and staff friendliness. The next level would be to have them even more thoroughly trained about what the city has to offer. The personalized approach to help tourists discover Dubai is the best and easiest way to keep visitors engaged and interested in the destination. This goes not only for the hotel space, but also for retail. If tourists receive a sincere and personalized experience, this will reflect across the city and will result in repeated visitation. Dubai Tourism has taken the lead in empowering staff with such knowledge with the 'Dubai Way' initiative launched by our Dubai College of Tourism. This is a training program designed to give tourist-facing staff such as those employed at hotels, airlines, airports, malls, transportation systems and theme parks the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the emirate and its tourism industry as well as improving their guest relations and service skills. However, the entire city of Dubai has a role to play in this regard. We would like everyone who choses Dubai to be home to be advocates of the city.

How do you forecast the impact of Expo 2020 on tourism in Dubai?

Expo 2020 is a landmark event for Dubai, and especially for our tourism industry as it opens up many opportunities, both in terms of investment and infrastructure development and promoting the city to thousands of new visitors. The fact that Dubai was awarded Expo 2020 is also a reflection of Dubai's capability to host mega events. From a tourism perspective it shows that Dubai has all the basic necessities and world-class infrastructure that are so crucial to ensuring the success of a tourism destination. When we talk about the Expo, people will start to focus on what Dubai has to offer, and then we can start checking all the boxes: Dubai has earned itself an international reputation as a 'must-visit' tourist destination for the diversity of value offerings and experiences that tourists are able to enjoy; the emirate's strategic geographic location on the crossroads of East and West, providing accessibility to two-thirds of the world's population within a flight time of eight hours; excellent air connectivity from Dubai International Airport, the world's No. 1 airport for international passengers, and simplified immigration procedures; Dubai International Airport, which is the home base of Dubai's international airlines, Emirates and flydubai, facilitates a vast network of airlines that together operate flights to over 240 international destinations. Further, as the fourth most popular destination in the world on the MasterCard Global Destinations Cities Index, Expo 2020 also helps us highlight Dubai's quality facilities and amenities. Tourists have a variety of accommodation choices in over 680 hotels that are equipped with over 100,000 rooms, from budget hotels to luxury resorts, as well as the opportunity to go on a unique shopping journey at the many malls and souks and select from a multitude of dining, leisure, and entertainment options for families and children.