Destination Dubai

Always one step ahead of the tourism curve, Dubai is showing its innovative flair and visionary spirit to ensure its brand image and product offerings morph and shift in tune with the evolving trends influencing the industry. Emily Millett reports.

Dubai as a destination needs no introduction, but after catapulting itself head first into the tourism spotlight, the emirate has managed to maintain the momentum of its growth and keep up with the ever-shifting trends dominating the industry.

According to CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), Issam Kazim, 2014 was another excellent year for the destination, with a host of new hotels and attractions coming on board including The Beach at The Walk in Jumeirah Beach Residence, the much-anticipated Dubai Tram and the completion of the final phase of Jumeirah Corniche.

IMEX Frankfurt 2020

New hotel openings included Marriott Al Jaddaf, the second tower of JW Marriott Marquis, Warwick Hotel, Sofitel Downtown Dubai, Doubletree by Hilton Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, Sheraton Grand Hotel and Manzil Downtown Dubai.

“The new additions further diversified our already broad accommodation offering and enabled us to target new markets and a broader spectrum of travellers,” said Kazim. “Dozens of new hotel projects were also announced, most notably the $1.4 billion Royal Atlantis Resort, due to open on The Palm Jumeirah in two years’ time.”

DCTCM recorded a 5.6 per cent year-on-year increase in hotel guests in Dubai in 2014. “These figures demonstrate healthy year-on-year growth for hotel establishment guest numbers, highlighting significant increases from Asia, Africa and Western Europe, and reflecting our work to further strengthen ties with key markets and ensure that Dubai is positioned as a destination of choice for both new travellers and repeat visitors,” Kazim told TTG.

“With regard to the latter, the UAE introduced new visa regulations that now enable all EU passport holders to obtain a visit visa on arrival in Dubai – making it easier for a wider European market to travel to Dubai.”

Constantly working to improve its range of offerings, Dubai is currently home to a wealth of mega development projects such as the Dubai Parks & Resorts project in Jebel Ali, which comprises three theme parks – the Hollywood-inspired Motiongate Dubai, the Indian film industry-inspired Bollywood Parks Dubai in addition to LEGOLAND Dubai.

According to Kazim, DCTCM is currently focusing on three of the major trends changing the face of global travel and tourism. These are the increase in experiential travel, the growth of the middle class in emerging markets such as India and China, and last but not least, technology.

“Technology, digital and social media are changing how and why people travel,” Kazim explained to TTG. “From back-end booking technologies to consumer-generated reviews, from travel bloggers to virtual tours, the entire travel sector has experienced and been impacted by seismic shifts, and this is set to continue. It is important to not only understand these new technologies and platforms, but also to pioneer and innovate their use to ensure future success. Dubai Tourism is firmly committed to being a leader in the digital and social space.”

HOT HASHTAGS

Advancements in technology have long been a firm fixture on the tourism industry’s radar, but with the online digital world moving at such a fast pace, it is increasingly important that companies keep up-to-date, and stay ahead of the tech curve.

Travellers to Dubai are both tech savvy, and also highly demanding, as general manager – Gulf Region, Ascott International Management Dubai, Vincent Miccolis told TTG: “We see a rising awareness and want for technology and connectivity; this comes in the form of faster WiFi that connects all devices for seamless use. Some of the initiatives that have been implemented to support these demands include Internet Protocol Television, digital alarm clocks with bluetooth speakers, mobile booking sites and instant time chat support.”

The demand for technology has now even overtaken the usual guest expectations such as breakfast, as general manager, Ramada Downtown Dubai, Samir Arora explained: “Technology is one aspect which one has to keep up with these days. Internet speed today is more important than breakfast for many guests, so we ensure that we do not lag behind in this aspect. We plan to invest more in technology this year.”

With the meteoric evolution of technology came the advent of social media, a far reaching platform which, when handled correctly, can be used by tourism businesses to communicate and interact with target markets and loyal customers.

Already a key player in the world of online social media destination marketing, DCTCM recently unveiled the #mydubai Twitter campaign which is fast on its way to achieving the highest Internet accolade – going viral. Aiming to create the world’s first autobiography of a city, the initiative, invites both residents and visitors to the emirate, to share real life, personal moments that show the true spirit and culture of the emirate.

Tying in with the increase in travellers searching for emotional attachments, the #mydubai initiative encourages Dubai’s tourists to search for genuine connections, giving the ‘city of the future’ a more human touch.

“With well over three million pictures and tweets to date, #mydubai has shown how to personalise a destination through imagery and words. The campaign has created a dialogue through social channels that impacts people’s emotions by seeing personal experiences through the eyes and words of advocates,” Miccolis explained to TTG.

The success of the campaign is evident as the image of Dubai morphs from corporate and detached to emotionally available, cultural and highly individual as general manager, Seawings, Colin Darmanin commented: “Given the success of the campaign, tourism in Dubai has become a bit more social with many visitors sharing their experience. The distant and remote image of Dubai has been transformed.”

The campaign has also helped to move the emirate’s image away from the exclusivity of luxury hotels, towards a more approachable Dubai, a sentiment that was echoed by head of sales and marketing, Meydan Hotels and Hospitality, Thomas Grundner, who commented: “Dubai used to be associated with high-end luxury travel. Over the years however, it has increasingly become a lot more accessible and affordable. The #mydubai campaign has definitely contributed to this renewed mindset.”

Social media doesn’t only help to shape Dubai’s international brand image, it also functions as an important search engine and decision-making tool as general manager, Meliá Dubai, Marko Janssen explained: “A lot of decision-making nowadays is driven through social marketing and businesses are recognising this trend. Recommendations posted on social networks and blog reviews have become much more valuable. DCTCM is no stranger to this as Dubai has been very active in creating social media campaigns with #mydubai being one of the most successful ever created.

“The campaign is such a simple but brilliant tool that has made people brand ambassadors of the city. Users get inspired to show the beauty and culture of Dubai through their eyes and as this city is a melting pot of different nationalities, people who come from other countries get more curious about what this city really is. This hashtag campaign has brought such a glamorous image of the city and even young celebrities with huge social media followings have pinned Dubai as THE tourist destination,” Janssen added.

The new culturally rich image being communicated through social media is also helping to raise awareness of some of the destination’s lesser-known façets. “Before the campaign, the perception of Dubai was about being the tallest and the biggest. Now tourists are seeing a different side; the culture, the traditions, the residents’ recommendations,” explained general manager, Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel, Paul Dunphy.

“We are seeing that more people want to visit the ‘undiscovered’ areas of Dubai. It has evolved into a city that you can immerse yourself in its culture at the Al Fahidi District and SMCCU, and it is now attracting another category of tourist and reaching a new market due to the use of social media as a tourism campaign.”

LIVING THE LIFESTYLE

As the #mydubai campaign opens the world’s eyes to a more personal and human side of Dubai, lifestyle and boutique hotels are also playing to the ever-more earnest search for genuine experiences.

“Dubai as a destination is in need of stylish boutique and lifestyle hotels tied to luxury brands such as Armani and Versace,” said general manager, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, Wael El Behi.

Once the home of only the biggest global names in the hospitality industry, Dubai is now opening itself up to more one-of-a-kind options. And in the absence of a great deal of choice in this arena, companies such as Ascott International Management are adapting their product to suit the demand.

“Ascott, as a serviced residence owner-operator, defines global living through offering guests environments that suit their lifestyle preferences,” Miccolis told TTG.

“We are seeing an increasing trend for guests wanting to furnish their own apartments, to feel like home. Our guest service teams regularly assist guests to remodel their apartments with their own furnishings, a service that continues to exceed expectations.”

According to general manager, Sofitel The Palm, Christophe Schnyder, the lifestyle trend is a result of guests wanting to enjoy luxury in a more casual atmosphere.

“Sofitel The Palm fits into the description of a lifestyle hotel. In terms of restaurants, guests are looking for unique concepts which need to have a clear identity and an atmosphere, hence our constant focus on organising special food promotions and adequate entertainment,” Schnyder told TTG.

And indeed, one important element of the lifestyle trend can often be unique and tempting dining concepts. Speaking to TTG about the appeal of unique dining options, Nassoura said: “Travellers are now focusing on more authentic experiences with an original touch. Fairmont Dubai constantly strives for ways to enhance the experience, through special offers and exceptional concepts such as Noire, the first dining in the dark restaurant concept in the Middle East.”

Already becoming internationally renowned for its culinary prowess, Dubai’s gastronomic scene is set for an expansion this year as a number of hotels improve their dining options. Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights has further plans to introduce a range of diverse F&B offerings including a Mexican-themed restaurant, while Novotel Dubai Al Barsha has recently opened Cravin’ Cajun serving American specialities. Grand Millennium Dubai has added an authentic Arabic dining outlet and is currently refurbishing its Asian restaurant on the 18th floor.

Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel is also upgrading its F&B options as Dunphy said: “We relaunched our bar and lounge, Vantage, in April after an extensive facelift. It was important to us to stay in touch with our guests and also market to a new guest looking for a sanctuary in the middle of the city. We are launching Vantage with a new menu, new concept and new look.”

Once so concerned with setting records for world superlatives, Dubai is now using social media and lifestyle experiences to boost its lesser-known cultural offerings.