In the lead-up to Expo 2020, Dubai’s masterplan is finally coming to fruition to form an awe-inspiring setting for an event that will push its touristic offering to new heights. By Aleksandra Wood.
It is the most ideal time for updates within Dubai’s inexhaustible tourism industry, as the emirate is nearing the end of all preparations for a prolific year, ahead of the 173-day Expo 2020.
Industry movers and shakers are all fired up to welcome an influx of visitors and are making changes left, right and centre to accommodate all types of travellers.
LEAD THE CHANGE
Dubai’s tourism sector has seen continuous growth since the beginning of the year, with its Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) recording 1.61 million visitors in January, compared to the 1.59 million in the corresponding period the previous year. Positive trends are surfacing across all segments, including business, leisure and MICE, and with the hustle and bustle of the nearing Expo 2020 event, the outlook for the hospitality industry is positive.
Keeping a watchful eye on these emerging trends is Grand Millennium Dubai Barsha Heights. Head of marking, Feras Al Sadek told TTG exclusively: “Dubai is maturing as a destination for both mass tourism as well as niche tourism, so we need to be conscious of the changing requirements of our travellers in order to maintain their loyalty and also attract new market segments.”
Dubai has long been famed for its ultra-modern and ultra-luxurious offering. In recent times however, the emirate has seemingly captured the interest of a newer market: the cost-conscious, bargain-hunting traveller.
“As a result [of this trend], we have found that most of our clients are choosing to book online and tend to prefer travel destinations that are within four hours of their country of residence, and there are many travel options that cater to that demand nowadays. Short-haul travel has recently become very popular due to its affordability,” CEO, Al Naboodah Travel, Nasir Jamal Khan stated.
Echoing a similar sentiment was general manager, Arabian Adventures, Samir Mehta, who claimed that the tour operator is witnessing a more diverse profile of travellers visiting Dubai, with a notable rise in money-conscious tourists coming from various markets.
“This compliments the existing profile of visitors that we see from around the world, with increasing emphasis on greater value for travel,” Mehta disclosed.
This upwards movement in the value-for-travel trend has, unsurprisingly, had a direct effect on the city’s hospitality industry, as the destination’s movers and shakers focus on a more accessible and affordable offering.
Just last month, InterContinental Hotels Group marked the grand introduction of its voco brand in Dubai, a hospitality branch appealing to guests seeking the quality and reassurance of a renowned brand, with the informality and spirit of an independent hotel.
“While Dubai has traditionally been famous as a luxury destination, we continue to see demand for mid-scale, branded accommodation,” vice president operations InterContinental Hotels Group, Bastien Blanc opined. “This is being influenced by the rise in Millennial travellers, and, as the landscape diversifies, we are placing a bigger focus on developing and growing our midscale hotel portfolio.”
The rise of the Millennial traveller has not only caused newer trends to emerge within the tourism industry, but has also reshuffled the ideologies of modern hospitality. For today’s travellers, quality is a must, as they become more discerning and demanding, seeking value across every touch point.
Explaining the concept of an all-accommodating industry to TTG was CEO, Emaar Hospitality Group, Olivier Harnisch: “We are facing an interesting intersection in our business where Gen Y meets Gen Z and Gen X. This means we must factor in the needs of Gen X – the baby boomers – who are accustomed to the traditional role that our industry has played. We must also reinvent our business for Millennials, considering their aspirations for connectivity, mobility, personalisation and cultural experiences. Not to be left behind must be our focus on Gen Z – our future guests – who are growing up in a culture of gaming and Virtual Reality.”
According to Harnisch, the way in which hospitality players bring together a powerful model for Dubai’s industry that considers the aspirations of all three generations, will be the driving force of the sector’s success in the years to come.
With all this in mind, hospitality entities are drawing on the power of digital technologies to up the ante and remain relevant to its multi-generational audience.
“Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, speech recognition and wearable technology are the innovations that will likely take over the industry, as travellers continue to demand bespoke experiences and seek Augmented Reality to help them familiarise with the destination before they arrive,” regional director of sales and marketing, Millennium Hotels and Resorts Middle East and Africa, Alexander Suski commented.
The digital trend has not only taken the hospitality industry by storm, but the smaller tourism segments in Dubai are jumping on the bandwagon too, according to vice president of operations, Troon International, DJ Flanders. “Technology is playing a large part in golf travel too. People want to be able to play golf at a click of a button. The Troon International app, supplying booking times for golfers worldwide at Troon venues, booked over 35,000 rounds at Troon courses in 2018. 2019 will see more courses added to it and will make playing golf even easier for those going to our courses,” Flanders explained.
As boldly stated by Arabian Adventures’ Mehta, success lies not only in adapting to, but leading the change. And as new trends continue to weave their way around the dynamic tourism industry, Dubai moves with them.
On that note, chief operating officer, Al Bustan Centre and Residence, Moussa El Hayek concluded: “Over the years, the tourism industry has been adapting to new technologies and the way the hotels will be operated in the future will definitely be innovated, hence, we must keep up with the trends.”
ROAD TO EXPO
An estimated 20 million tourists are anticipated to flock to the emirate during Expo 2020, which will stimulate more flights and more tourism activity, and will require more retail and transportation options.
“Dubai will be welcoming a number of new tourism attractions in 2019, as it gears up to host the World Expo, including Ain Dubai on Bluewaters Island, Dubai Creek Harbour in Ras Al Khor, Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Al Jaddaf and Deira Islands in Deira,” said Al Naboodah Travel’s Khan.
DMC’s and tour operators are staying on top of hospitality entities’ developments during this crucial time, in a bid to ultimately maximise visitor influx with unrivalled experiences.
“Expo 2020 will lead to more first-time visitors and potential repeat ones over time. Meeting Point Emirates is ensuring that we offer packages and services that this clientele seeks, and this means building a better relationship with hotels that have a clear offering related to the event, as well as with excursion, food and entertainment providers,” explained the company’s CEO, David Loiseau.
Finally, Dubai’s cruise sector eagerly awaits the enormous event, with efforts already in motion to offer its contributions towards the emirate’s vision of reaching 20 million arrivals by 2020.
General manager – Middle East, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, Mohamed Saeed detailed: “With thousands of international leisure and business travellers arriving in Dubai, Royal Caribbean is looking forward to providing bespoke experiences to those who wish to explore the oceans in this region.
“Improving our cruise ships by implementing the latest technologies and enhancing cruises itineraries are things we always work on. This in turn will elevate cruising to a new level,” he further noted.
Dubai has set a unanimous goal to prove to even those with the slightest of doubt its capabilities in hosting the gargantuan Expo 2020, which is set to change the face of its tourism industry forever.
Emaar Hospitality Group’s Harnisch concluded: “Expo 2020 will further strengthen Dubai’s position as one of the world’s most open and technologically advanced cities. We are delighted to be part of this journey, and in this, every hospitality operator in the emirate can partner by highlighting the exceptional hospitality standards and encouraging visitors to make return-visits to Dubai.”