As tourism in the MENA region evolves day in and day out, Dubai is determined to go all in with its unrelenting passion for the industry. Aleksandra Wood writes.
Dubai is the word on everyone’s lips. Crowned the sixth most visited city on the planet, this magnificent metropolis, which stands in the midst of a desert, is the motherland of upscale commodities, home to iconic attractions that are the epitome of 21st century innovation. It is a cultural powerhouse, whose ultra-modern attributes are perfectly complemented by genuine Arabian hospitality.
This awe-inspiring city is taking the year 2018 in its stride, with tourism movers and shakers maintaining a firm grip on the reigns and expertly manoeuvring around any obstacles.
“We witnessed a healthy first quarter,” chief operating officer, Al Bustan Centre & Residence, Moussa El Hayek told TTG. “There surely has been an increase in the number of tourists, particularly from the Russian and Chinese markets. We have also seen a good flow of leisure tourists flocking in from Saudi Arabia.”
According to El Hayek, events and exhibitions taking place in Dubai have stimulated footfall, with approximately 77,000 guests having visited Al Bustan Centre & Residence in the first quarter of 2018.
Citymax Hotels also witnessed a robust start to the year, as the group’s head of marketing, Rohit Challapalli explained: “January and February brought forth an overall growth on last year’s figures, with a surge in bookings from the leisure segment. The hotels noticed an uplift in volume from the CIS, China and India markets.
“[With the help of] online travel agents, our hotels were able to attract a high volume of visitors, mainly from the GCC and India, driven via various attractive packages, along with various deals and promotions on online portals,” he added.
Indeed, Dubai observed a promising start to 2018, and recent data released by Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing reported 1.52 million international visitor arrivals in January. The GCC market made up 22 per cent of the total number of visitors, followed by Western Europe (19 per cent) and Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe (10 per cent).
Nevertheless, hoteliers are simply unwilling to settle for any less than bigger and bolder market ventures. As the UAE continuously reforms its visa policies, allowing even more travellers to explore this profuse destination, hospitality experts are keeping their eyes wide open for new potential markets on the rise.
General manager, Arabian Adventures and Gulf Ventures, Samir Mehta elaborated: “In 2018, we will be looking to further tap into the Americas and East Asia markets. Increased travel flexibility made possible by expanding visa on arrival options – such as the recent waiver for Ukrainian and Argentinian visitors, along with Russian and Chinese tourists added last year – is expected to significantly boost travel to the UAE.”
Retaining this driven mindset is Emaar Hospitality Group, one of the emirate’s most prominent real estate development companies, as declared by its CEO, Olivier Harnisch: “Our hotel brands already enjoy a strong reputation among tourist segments from Russia, China, India, the rest of the GCC region, Europe, the USA, Japan and Southeast Asia. This puts us in good stead in growing our physical presence and taking our homegrown brands to newer markets.
“In fact, we now have hotel management contracts to operate projects in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey and The Maldives. We have several exciting new partnerships in the cards, details of which will be announced in due course,” he further noted.
2018 has stirred the hospitality industry with a heavy current of trends, one of which is the ongoing phenomenon of technology. Millennials across the globe are keeping up with the latest travel updates almost as quickly as hoteliers themselves, and this is undeniably due to the ease of access to online information. Travellers are now able to control each and every step of their journey online via mobile phones or computers, thus making procedures more efficient and travel experiences more personalised.
Dubai is not one to be intimidated by this trend, as innovation lies at the core of its beating heart.
General manager, Copthorne Hotel Dubai, Glenn Nobbs said: “Our current love of mobile devices and being ‘online’ on social media remains a very important part of the dreaming and planning phase of a potential tourist.”
Further corroborating the effects of technological advancements was general manager, Millennium Plaza Dubai, Nemo Acimovic: “Every year, the travel industry takes an evolutionary step forward, as hospitality businesses offer innovative solutions. Our smartphones will serve as navigators, itinerary managers, booking tools and taxi catchpoles. Social media profiles will open doors and unlock deals at hotels, and connect us with useful business contacts.”
Unfazed by the tech movement, Emaar Hospitality Group recently announced game-changing projects that entail the digital transformation of its offering, as revealed by Harnisch: “With the UAE and the region’s focus on innovation and digitisation, for us being innovative means blending the warmth of the human touch with the power of technology.
“At Emaar Hospitality Group, we have already marked the digital transformation of all our assets, working with world leaders in technology, such as Microsoft and Accenture Strategy. We have unveiled three new projects for digitisation that leverage the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence to enhance the guest experience, promote organisation-wide digital innovation and drive operational excellence.”
The first of the monumental projects focuses on removing the inflexibility of transactions and bringing outstanding yet seamless service to the guest, ensuring they can check-in or check-out at their convenience, while the second digital initiative involves the transformation of hotel rooms to intelligent rooms, that are 100 per cent adaptive to guests’ preferences, through machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.
Room control, motion sensors and integrated TV and voice control are some of the distinct features of the project.
Lastly, the third project will draw on digital collaterals to free up space in guest rooms and public spaces, using digital storage and connected processes.
Dubai’s ‘bring it on’ attitude towards the constant evolution of technology shows no sign of submission, and thus, its hospitality players remain at the height of their confidence – and rightfully so. For who can hold back this innovative powerhouse?
Dubai’s has a fiery desire to dominate all competition. Its hunger to thrive is key to its success and infinite developments take place year-round in order to preserve this quality.
“There is plenty of room to grow on many fronts, including traveller volumes, new hotels and brands coming into the region, and investment opportunities,” declared Millennium Plaza Dubai’s Acimovic. “The travel and tourism industry will definitely prevail and grow. Not only is Dubai the most sought-after destination, but it’s also enhancing its offering year-on-year. With its strategic location, it is a hub for all kinds of travellers – be it work, leisure, affinity or just a stopover.”
According to Nobbs of Copthorne Hotel Dubai, the emirate is seeing an inflow of lifestyle and boutique hospitality brands that are marking their territories within its fruitful industry.
“This type of accommodation is giving the existing, big brand hotels a shake up, and challenging all facets of our industry, from the way you check in, right down to the uniforms,” he said.
Another flourishing sector in Dubai is the cruise industry. Mehta of Arabian Adventures and Gulf Ventures revealed to TTG that this year, the tour and safari operator has kept a focus on the cruise segment. He stated: “The cruise business to the region is projected to grow year-on-year and as dnata and Arabian Adventures, we will continue to play a key role in supporting this trend towards establishing this region as a cruise hub.”
Overall, Dubai’s segment mix is predicted to mature in 2018, what with the ongoing addition of family-friendly activities and world-class experiences such as theme parks, and the significant increase in mid-price to budget accommodation options. Al Bustan Centre & Residence’s El Hayek aptly said: “The year of tourism in 2018 for Dubai will be brighter and bigger. It is a dynamic market, with a lot of newer developments in terms of infrastructure and attractions. We are positive the tourism industry is set to have a promising inflow.”