Destination Dubai

Dubai

Wholeheartedly committed to its tourism industry, Dubai is admired for its vibrant concoction of options to satisfy even the most fastidious traveller. Eager to stay ahead of the pack, the city is fully engaged in further elevating its offering and targeting key markets. Tatiana Tsierkezou writes.

When one reflects on how Dubai used to look in the 1990s, the city of skyscrapers has come a remarkably long way since then. Who would have believed at that point in time that this tiny port town in the desert would transform into this buzzing metropolis?

“Starting its tourism development in the early 90s, Dubai has seen an exponential growth in the past 20 years, especially comparing with well-established tourism destinations in Europe, the Caribbean or Asia,” noted David Loiseau, the newly appointed CEO of Meeting Point Emirates. “The outlook for Dubai also shows great potential, especially with the upcoming events and new attractions in the years to come, including Expo 2020, Ain Dubai (the wheel) and a new building taller than Burj Khalifa to be completed by 2020,” he added.

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Also impressed with the emirate’s evolution since the 90s was vice president development and acquisitions – MENA, Louvre Hotels Group, Rami A. Moukarzel, who told TTG: “Through the 90s to today, the emirate has developed the infrastructure and offerings in retail, hotels, commercial and entertainment projects to rival any other destination. It has evolved into a global brand and a glamorous luxury destination for travellers, however the time has come to establish itself as a destination for all segments and profiles.” And the destination is working on just this, eager to gain a healthy slice of the strongest tourism markets and keen on developing the most sought-after tourism niches.

FRUITFUL YEAR

During the first half of 2018, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) reported that the city welcomed a record 8.10 million visitors, with India, Saudi Arabia and the UK contributing the most tourists during this six-month period. China, an up-and-coming market, came in at fourth place, while Russia came in at fifth place. The latter two markets are high on DTCM’s agenda, something that has been made clear with the numerous initiatives, campaigns and events taking place in recent months. One such example of these events was the Dubai China conference, which took place at Atlantis, The Palm, from September 19-20. The two-day event welcomed more than 900 attendees and entailed integrated workshops and informative guest speakers, who offered valuable insights from both Chinese and local industry experts.

China is one of Dubai’s fastest growing source markets, and during the first eight months of the year, the city welcomed a record 578,000 visitors – a nine per cent jump on the corresponding period last year. This number is supported by a 9.5 per cent rise in air capacity over the last five years, as well as competitive ticket pricing.

Highlighting Dubai’s commitment to increasing footfall from the Chinese market, DTCM partnered with China’s leading mobile services provider, Huawei, earlier on in the year. This partnership entails ongoing collaborations and joint campaigns to promote Dubai and make it a destination of choice for Chinese tourists.

And while DTCM has been forging ahead with its new projects and goals this year, how has the city’s hospitality industry been progressing?

General manager, Amwaj Rotana, Mark Deere told TTG: “2018 has certainly been slightly more challenging than 2017, but we have still had a very healthy year with good levels of occupancy.”

Deere explained that this year, the hotel has witnessed a growth in the family market, and therefore, it is continually looking to improve its product for these types of travellers.

“We have added one more dining destination,” he said, “Namely a shisha lounge, as we have had requests from guests from abroad for such a venue. We have also introduced many new offers to stay in line with market demand, both on the dining front and also for room stays, and we ensure that we have something offering guests value for money every season.”

Meanwhile, ever-working to improve its product to satisfy guests’ expectations and stay ahead of fierce competition, Al Bustan Centre and Residence has reported a healthy 2018 so far.

The hotel’s chief operating officer, Moussa El Hayek, remarked: “As competition gets tougher, innovating and updating our packages and offers is a must. So far in 2018 we have had good occupancy levels, and usually the last three months of the year are considered to be healthy months in Dubai, particularly for us in the hospitality industry, as there are a lot of events, business activities and exhibitions.”

And while some hospitality entities are focusing on their packages and offers, some are embarking on new renovation projects. Copthorne Hotel Dubai, for example, has enhanced its leisure areas. Highlighting the importance of keeping a product fresh was general manager, Copthorne Hotel Dubai, Glenn Nobbs: “We have upgraded some of our leisure areas (the gym, the Gazebo Pool Terrace and the outdoor area of Crystal Restaurant) and the plan is that next summer we will embark on the start of a room renovation programme.”

Nobbs explained to TTG that the hotel has implemented a number of guest service training exercises to further improve the way guests are looked after. “This is already paying dividends as we are seeing a strong increase from last year on our guest satisfaction ratings,” he said.

“To be honest, 2018 has been a challenging year. However, we are optimistic for the final quarter, as we have seen business demand pick up since the end of summer and we are ahead of last year in our F&B revenues, which is a very positive sign,” he concluded.

Another property that has been busy with renovations is the Fairmont Dubai, which has recently refurbished its hotel lobby. This luxurious hotel is also strongly focusing on its F&B portfolio, with various upgrades in the pipeline, including new dining and entertainment venues that will come to life in Q4 of 2018.

And with various hoteliers referring to the year 2018 as ‘challenging’, TTG was eager to find out why this has been the case. Answering this question was chief operating officer, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, Kevork Deldelian: “The increased supply of hotel rooms in the region has resulted in high levels of competitiveness within Dubai across all sectors. The fast-paced growth nature of the business means that we need to always remain on top of our game and we need to be creative in finding unique selling points in order to differentiate ourselves from other hotel operators.”

MID-MARKET APPEAL

Dubai is world-renowned for offering some of the most luxurious accommodation one can only dream of, with all of the extras, all of the frills and all of the glitz and glam. But as today’s travellers rapidly become more budget conscious and less demanding of ultimate luxury, the emirate is latching on to this mid-market trend and is working hard to develop this specific segment.

Deldelian of Millennium Hotels and Resorts exclusively told TTG: “I believe the market needs more three- and four-star properties, such as Studio M, as they provide increased opportunities to attract larger numbers of potential travellers to the UAE. There is an international audience that was previously unable to travel here due to budget. Now, with a higher number of flights offered at a lower cost, and the fact that Dubai is known as a short stop for a wider travel itinerary, we get a chance to capture these guests if we can offer them the right accommodation to suit their needs. With the right hotels and price lines, we are able to open markets.”

Millennium Hotels and Resorts is gearing up for the opening of the brand-new three-star Studio M Arabian Plaza in Q4 of 2018, which will house a total of 223 rooms and 100 apartments.

Meanwhile, also highlighting the need for more midscale options in the city of skyscrapers was Moukarzel of Louvre Hotels Group: “We believe we can play a big part in Dubai’s evolution, as the city pushes to welcome more than 20 million visitors a year in the next two to three years. These visitors require affordable yet quality services and experiences, and at the core of this shall be the hotel sector that is quickly ramping up with midscale affordable offerings.

“Given the global roll out of a new Golden Tulip positioning, as well as the introduction of new midscale brands, our focus is to create new experiences and product offerings that are focused on the midscale, value conscious traveller. Developers are seeing value in midscale hotels more and more (historically the focus has been on upscale) as a more attractive investment.”

He explained that Louvre Hotels Group’s focus going forward is to cement its brands and properties as the go-to place for affordable, modern and tech-savvy hospitality for leisure or business travellers.

Equipped with a phenomenal, ever-progressing tourism product, as well as industry stakeholders with incredible vision for the emirate, Dubai is on its way to reaching greater heights.