Jul. 8, 2015

HE Helal Saeed Al Marri

UAE, Dubai

HE Helal Saeed Al Marri

Director General, Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM)

TBY talks to HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of the Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM), on emerging markets, diversifying the hotel sector, and establishing Dubai as a business and tourism hub.


His Excellency Helal Saeed Al Marri is the Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), the principal authority responsible for strengthening Dubai’s position as a world-leading tourism destination and commercial hub. He was also a Higher Committee Member for the successful Dubai Expo 2020 bid organization and is Chairman of the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Sports Complex. He concurrently serves on the boards of government and UAE-based private sector entities including Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment, International Humanitarian City, ARAMEX, and Taaleem Education among others. Having previously been a consultant with McKinsey & Company and KPMG, his experience spans a diverse portfolio of industries across geographies. He holds an MBA from the London Business School, and is a Chartered Accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

How would you describe the performance of Dubai's tourism sector last year?

Dubai's hotel establishments welcomed more than 11.6 million guests in 2014, representing a 5.6% increase on 2013. The year's figures also revealed significant increases in hotel establishment revenues (up 9.8%), guest nights (up 7.4%), and average length of stay (up from 3.78 to 3.84 days). The growth in revenue is particularly notable considering the 9.2% increase in available rooms. Overall, figures indicate that our hospitality industry is in a healthy state and, most importantly, that growth is sustainable. The emirate's top ten hotel guest source markets remained almost unchanged in 2014, with China registering the largest growth (a 24.9% YoY rise in hotel guests), with India and the UK also showing significant increases, growing by 12.2% and 11.3% respectively. The devaluation of the Russian ruble resulted in a general global drop in the number of Russian overseas travellers, though Dubai was able to offset the decline with increases in guests from East Africa and CIS countries. In 2014, Emirates and Flydubai opened up new routes and expanded capacity on existing ones. At the end of the year, Dubai International surpassed London Heathrow to become the world's busiest airport for international passengers—an achievement that is all the more remarkable given that the airport underwent an upgrade project that resulted in an 80-day runway closure over the summer. Dubai made significant progress in further diversifying its hotel sector, increasing development of three- and four-star properties, as well as a number of five-star properties. In 2014, a range of attractions opened, such as The Beach at JBR and Jumeirah Corniche. Dubai has also added to its festival calendar with the launch of Dubai Food Festival and RedFest.

What are the primary source countries of visitors?

Dubai benefits from its strategic position between East and West, and its source markets are spread widely across the world. A key focus for us in 2015 is attracting first-time visitors from emerging markets, as well as new and repeat visitors from our established markets such as Saudi Arabia and India. Dubai is leveraging its geographic location to become a business and tourism hub for emerging markets in Africa and CIS countries. We expect to see increased visitor numbers, driven by the recent launch and upgrades of Flydubai and Emirates routes to these regions, as well as Emirates' plan to increase operations in Africa by over 40% over the next decade. Recent legislation in the UAE is also making it easier for tourists to visit. In March 2014, a UAE federal ruling exempted citizens of 13 EU member states from requiring pre-entry visas. This has already contributed to a 17% increase in hotel guests from these countries, and we expect this trend to continue.

What projects or developments will drive tourism market growth going forward?

In 2014 a range of new projects was announced, including the Dubai Parks & Resorts' plan to build three theme parks, with the first phase ready in 2016. The project will go towards realizing our goal of transforming Dubai into one of the world's leading family destinations. It will be accompanied by other upcoming projects such as Dubai Safari Project, Wire World Meydan Adventure Park, IMG Worlds of Adventure, and the recently announced Dubai Historical District. Besides hotel openings in 2015 and beyond, development of Dubai's events calendar will also foster progress. We will soon be announcing the addition of a new festival modelled after the Dubai Shopping Festival. Closely linked to this is the continued rollout of DTCM's new e-Ticketing platform, which aims to expand event ticket distribution channels, enable more in-depth analysis of the events industry, and ensure customer protection and satisfaction.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

For long-term growth and to achieve our Tourism Vision for 2020 targets, we need to increase the number of hotel rooms in Dubai, while balancing the planned increase in supply with demand. We need to ensure that Dubai maintains its high occupancy rates and avoids room rates that are too high or low. We are continuing to work closely with our hotel and other partners to guarantee that Dubai remains an attractive destination for every type of traveller, while aiming to foster growth from emerging markets and diversify Dubai's source markets.