The Dubai Effect

The emirate leads regional hospitality and tourism sectors with new attractions and innovative products

By Yahia Idris

With the latest opening of the Dubai Water Canal and the developments surrounding it, the emirate has once again proved to the world that a leadership with a vision will continue to set top-tier achievements and create breathtaking landmark projects, one after the other.

Spectators from across the globe were mesmerized by the dazzling opening of the Dubai Water Canal on November 9, which dragged the waters of the gulf deep into Dubai’s downtown district, an area that was once a desert, but now bustles with life and features international restaurants and hotels, in addition to the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa.

Since then, tens of thousands of spectators have frequented the canal’s sidewalks to inspect the marvel.

If anything, whatever Dubai now presents to the world becomes a word of mouth and viral news that attracts millions, from Burj Khalifa to the metro, and from its downtown area to its world-class airports, and its shoreline attractions including the world’s only seven star hotel.

From the best hotel in the world to the tallest, to international brands, the biggest resorts and definitely more development surprises in the future, Dubai continues to be a favorite travel destination for pleasure and business.

And that is exactly what Dubai aims to do: to attract tourists from the four corners of the earth.

In fact, Dubai welcomed 14.2 million visitors in 2015, a rise of 7.5 percent from 2014, according to the emirate’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. And the number of overnight visitors are expected to exceed 15 million in 2016.

“We’re targeting 7-9 per cent growth for this year [from 2015],” Essam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told reporters at the Arabian Travel Market in April.

Indeed, the emirate has truly set the base for real luxury and the highest quality of services in my time, in the hospitality industry, and I have witnessed its growth in every aspect.

In fact, everything that the emirate has produced will be remembered by those who’ve visited or resided there and it will not be forgotten.

Dubai is now highly recognized and looked at very seriously internationally.

It has been a host to numerous international events, including those related to hospitality and tourism, each being an indication of its prosperity.

Over the past 90 days, the emirate has opened the Dubai Opera house, numerous hotels, resorts, a safari park and recreation parks such as Lego Land, among others.

And for the next say 90 days, we will see the inauguration of the Dubai Eye on the manmade Al Mariya Island, in addition to the inauguration of the Dubai Frame, which will be set in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest frame.

Much like the Eiffel Tower served France and Paris in particular, the frame will be a promotion cornerstone for Dubai Expo 2020 that will run for six months, and it is anticipated that Dubai will attract 20 million people then.

To accommodate that number, Dubai’s goal is to add an extra 140,000 serviced rooms to the hospitality sector over the next four years for visitors attending the Expo.

All this activity will increase the average stay in Dubai by a minimum of four to five nights depending on whether it is a business trip or a family trip.

By the year 2020, the average stay is projected to increase by 7.5 percent with projections for the average occupancy to be over 80 percent.

Dubai is also heading the way as a leading location for international exhibitions and conferences. Its hotel facilities are capable of holding large or small conferences, including the most recent and sophisticated equipment to meet the needs of their clientele.

Of course, a successful hospitality sector needs a top of the line infrastructure, and the UAE in general and Dubai in particular have understood this from day one.

Dubai has enhanced and expanded its airports and its airline industry, both of which will benefit from Expo 2020 and the years beyond the Expo.

Dubai is also making headway in health tourism.

The Dubai Healthcare City now accommodates thousands of residents along with people who travel to Dubai, seeking healthcare in the emirate.

Dubai, in that domain, has nearly 3,000 healthcare facilities providing the latest and most innovative medical equipment for treatment.

Though Dubai said in 2014 that it aims to attract half a million medical tourists by the year 2020, the emirate’s health officials claim they tapped on that number in 2015 and have exceeded it by over 10 percent going forward.

Hundreds of thousands of medical tourists have visited Dubai, from neighboring GCC countries to those in Asia and Europe in 2015, and the number is expected to significantly rise this year as well.

SAFETY FIRST
But all of the above wouldn’t have been possible had it not been one of the main pillars that make or break an economy, and that is the safety and security pillar.

Today, Dubai’s residents and tourists alike feel safe in the emirate and the country as a whole.

They feel safe to live, to visit and to do business here. Visitors can come and feel at ease and comfortable due to the security made available for all.

AT A FINGERTIP
Pick any kind of food you want to eat and you will find a restaurant to please your palette. Dubai serves every kind of cuisine imaginable taking people around the world.

You can find 5-star restaurants with modern technology, making it easier in terms of bookings, payments and accessibility for visitors.

This is the future in the hospitality industry.

All you need is your mobile at hand to travel to Dubai, and have your needs met and ready for your arrival.

We also see how the Department of Immigration has made advanced steps with the latest technology and security to expedite the entry in and departure from Dubai, making it an easier process from the beginning, when visitors land in Dubai, to their departure.

Dubai will continue to lead the hospitality industry as it focuses on the first visitor, repeat visitors and residents as well, offering all new attractions and innovative means to enjoy their stay while keeping the momentum going.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE
With its diversified economy away from oil and its top security, Dubai poses a stark contrast to its neighbors, some of whom are battling lower oil prices and working on diversifying their economy, while others face instability elsewhere in the region due to ongoing conflicts.

Saudi Arabia is currently heavily focused on the holy cities: Mecca and Madina.

Going forward, we will see the government investing in future developments, especially those mentioned in the Kingdom’s 2030 vision, which, in part, focuses on the tourism and hospitality sectors with the aim of turning the Kingdom into a competitor in the region in the coming years.

Such developments will generate almost 20 percent revenue for Saudi Arabia, if not more, if well executed and on time.
In that regard, Saudi Arabia is also expected to invest in updating and the possible expansion and enhancement of its airports and infrastructure, all being the backbone supporting the hospitality industry.

And despite the fact that the number of pilgrims who performed Hajj, foreign and domestic, was 1,862,909 pilgrims in 2016, the least number of pilgrims in the last 10 years, it is expected that this number will increase with those performing Umrah, a pilgrimage outside Hajj season, and Saudi Arabia will thus be able to easily accommodate the increasing number of visitors once the development projects are completed.

Another plus would be the construction of the Medina train for easy transport, which is expected to link the holy cities at a later stage.

Meanwhile, the Sultanate of Oman remains slow in developing and expanding current and future hospitality-related projects.
The Sultanate is seen by many as a culture based country, which wants to preserve the culture and heritage.

However, it has also become a destination for those in search of peaceful locations to relax amid a diverse and vibrant scenery, from mountains to beaches and forests.

Therefore, Oman is not necessarily a destination for business, but is an upcoming holiday destination and could expand on becoming a highly valued holiday destination.

On the other hand, Qatar is engaged in a multitude of development projects all at once, including those related to the World Cup facilities and development of hotels to accommodate visitors, as Qatar is currently under in terms of the number of hotel and serviced rooms that are needed to cater to the masses that will be staying in the sheikhdom for the World Cup event. One thing for sure; Qatar has built one of the most advanced airports, not only in the region, but also worldwide, to the extent that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called it as an example for the U.S. to aspire towards.

Yahia Idriss is a hospitality advisor and expert with 25 years of experience in the U.S., GCC and Asia.

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