TBY talks to Khalid A. Bin Sulayem, Director General of the Department of Tourism, & Commerce Marketing, on Dubai's tourism strategy and the bid to host World Expo 2020.

Khalid A. Bin Sulayem
Khalid A. Bin Sulayem joined the Dubai Commerce and Tourism Promotion Board in 1989, and was Director of the Board before becoming its CEO in 1993. In 1997, the board transformed into the Department of Tourism, Commerce, & Marketing, and he was appointed Director General.

How does the strategy of the Department of Tourism, Commerce, & Marketing (DTCM) tie into Dubai's integrated 2015 strategy?

All sectors of the economy and the corresponding governing bodies contribute to that strategy. Over the past few years, Dubai's tourism numbers have been very positive compared to many other destinations. The sector is growing, and the results have been pleasing. We have made several changes according to various global issues. At the moment, the sector is one of the leading segments boosting the economy. The government and the private sector work closely to achieve the targets we set.

Dubai currently has some of the highest hotel occupancy rates in the world. What factors have led to this success?

There are a number of reasons. Looking at the steady annual growth we've experienced for many years, we have built Dubai as a tourist destination. Marketing is done through our overseas offices. We have chosen the right markets and reviewed our work and changes year after year. We are up to date with the changes happening in other markets, and we are evaluating our source markets. We consider our opportunities very carefully. Looking at the average global performance, Dubai is far ahead. Working together with the private sector and the other government organizations, we were able to achieve success through marketing campaigns that suit each market. With the exception of the 2008-2009 period, when our source markets suffered financial troubles, we have always had good occupancy rates. The right things happen in Dubai because we enhance our products in the right way and the right place and also launch new products.

How have your source markets changed and developed?

Up until now, and for the past two decades, Europe had been one of our main markets. The UK is one of our main markets, and Saudi Arabia is also one of our strategic markets. However, now we can see that the value of the pound has fallen. In Australia, it's the other way around; the value of the Australian dollar has been much higher in the last few years, and that is a market where we are advertising Dubai. This is part of the evaluation that we do when we consider a market; we look at the economy, the value of the currency, the aircraft capacity, and the competitors' offerings.

Are there any sectors in the hospitality segment for which the DTCM is trying to attract FDI?

We are always trying to attract FDI. However, local involvement is so great that we find that those investments are actually enough to support the tourism sector. The hotels and resorts are mainly funded by local investment. In terms of related services, there is large interest from foreign investors, who are active in various segments.

What can Dubai offer as a venue for international events?

When you consider the primary requirements that event organizers from around the world are seeking in a destination, Dubai delivers it all. It's almost as if Dubai was designed specifically for events. Firstly, it's easy to get to. With Emirates Airlines, the ease of access is incomparable to most other destinations. Dubai International Airport also offers services and conveniences that make arriving and departing from Dubai easy and enjoyable. The recently expanded Dubai International Conference and Exhibition Centre offers over 90,000 sqm of flexible event space. Additionally, Dubai has over 74,000 hotel rooms to fit all types of delegates' budgets. The city has exciting excursions, unique catering venues, in addition to cultural and heritage sites that bring it all together. Getting around Dubai is also well planned with the use of any of our ground handlers or the Dubai Metro, which connects Dubai International Airport, the convention center, and over 18,000 hotel rooms on the Red Line. The DTCM has focused on increasing its share of this market by creating the Dubai Convention Bureau. This section of the DTCM is solely focused on bringing more MICE opportunities to the Emirate.

What do you think the World Expo 2020 would bring to Dubai from a tourism perspective?

The primary sectors that are greatly affected by hosting a World Expo are infrastructure, retail, and tourism. Tourism stands to gain a great deal by hosting this event, with an expected attendance of 25 million visitors. The impact that this amount of visitors has on a destination over a six-month period is truly staggering. The tourism projects that are developed for this large-scale event will also have a legacy affect on the region. Many cities that have hosted the event in the past are still benefiting from the expo, even 50 or more years after the event, such as the case with Seattle, which is this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the event taking place. As a candidate city and hopefully the host city, promotional campaigns around the bid and event will be included in all of the DTCM's overseas activities.

Dubai is a very cosmopolitan location. How do you work to keep the Arabian spirit alive?

We've been building Dubai as a tourism destination for over 23 years. Everything is highly controlled, and people understand each other. The cultures have blended very well. Dubai has been cooperative with the international community for many years, with many people from every region doing business here. This integration hasn't created any conflicts or clashes among the population, and the transition has happened very smoothly. People have come to respect and appreciate what we have here.

What is the significance of the Green Tourism Award?

Green tourism is of course now a trend for many cities. For us, tourism is one of the main sectors we are developing, and green tourism is attractive for a large segment of people from around the world. When we presented the Green Tourism Award to our partners, we received many requests from organizations and individuals to take part from across Dubai and the UAE. The development of green tourism is very important for people and it is also a useful marketing tool for us.

How will the impact of knowledge transfer impact the tourism industry?

Our product has become better, and the demand is growing. However, our source markets are still suffering from terrible economies. We have to monitor the market to make quick changes and launch rapid promotional activities. Our flexibility is what is helping us grow actively in the area, and this evaluation is happening on a daily basis. The knowledge transfer is helping us better understand how the markets are evolving and changing, and this in turn has led us to better select our targets.

What are the key events and activities happening for the DTCM in 2012?

We will be marketing Dubai as a tourism center in different and direct ways. Our strategy from a few years ago cannot function as such today; we have to update our targets and plan. We will seek new markets, and we are hoping to be present in markets where we haven't been before, such as Latin America, where we are doing events and exhibitions. We are establishing an office base in Latin America. The potential in Latin America is greater than it was before, especially as Emirates has opened new destinations throughout the continent, and we work closely with the airline to develop new routes. We are also seeking to open up in markets such as Belgium and Spain. We are entering new markets and enhancing our current markets through increased representation.