Expo 2020 Dubai: UAE to be the most sought-after tourist destination


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File photo

Dubai - The event is expected to receive over 25 million local and foreign visits

by Anjana Sankar

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Published: Thu 16 Sep 2021, 5:31 PM

Last updated: Tue 21 Sep 2021, 10:08 AM

The UAE’s tourism sector is poised for a big boom in the next six months as Dubai is all set to roll the red carpet to welcome the world to Expo 2020 Dubai that will be held from October 1 to March 31.

With less than 16 days left for the start of Expo 2020 Dubai, one of the world’s most anticipated events that is expected to receive over 25 million local and foreign visits, hoteliers and hospitality industry experts say they expect Dubai to be the most sought-after international destination between October this year and March 2022.

The UAE is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world with 79.3 per cent of population being fully vaccinated until September 13. The number of coronavirus tests conducted being 78,651,247. About 90.5 per cent of residents have received their first dose. Experts say the preventive measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic are one of the significant factors that helped boost the country's stature as a safe travel destination, despite the pandemic continuing globally.

The boom in tourism is evident from the high reservation rates and many hotels say they have bounced back to the pre-pandemic rates. The hotel booking website, "Wego" registered over 500,000 searches for flights and hotel reservations for Dubai during the event period, according to state agency WAM.

The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) revealed the total number of passengers travelling to the UAE grew in August 2021 to over 2.5 million, compared to 814,000 in the same period of 2020, surging by 207 per cent.

In its statement to the Emirates News Agency (WAM), the GCAA highlighted increased figures in national air traffic statistics for August, which recorded 45,953 flights.

Hotels gear for surge in tourists

Alexander Musch, General Manager, Pullman Hotels and Resorts said the hotel industry has seen “better performance recently with increase in demand due to Expo2020” and expect a high pick-up due to the sheer scale of the event.

“As per STR projections, Dubai managed to rebound faster than other destinations to reach very close to 2019 demand levels. What we’ve witnessed as well is a shift in booking lead times from 90 days to a seven-day window,” said Musch.

Although travellers might still be hesitant in advance booking, he said their lengths of stays have been stretched up to five to seven nights.

Richard Haddad, Chief Executive Officer, Jannah Hotels & Resorts said they have seen bookings pick up. “We expect it to increase further closer to date. So far, we anticipate our Dubai properties to reach occupancies in the late-80s percentile and the rates to go back as they were pre-pandemic,” said Haddad.

Vinayak Mahtani, CEO of bnbme holiday homes said they are anticipating a built-up demand for visitors to come since the past 3-4 months.

One of the critical decisions that will help the tourism sector is the UAE’s decision to open its borders to vaccinated tourists.

Mahtani said since the decision, there has been a huge inflow of tourism. “We have increased our property portfolio especially in new areas like Dubai South where we are seeing 100% occupancy.”

Ayman Gharib, Managing Director of Raffles The Palm Dubai that is slated to open this October said events like Expo 2020 will make Dubai one of the most desirable and sought-after destinations on the planet and kick-start a surge in visitors.

“We are already experiencing an increase in enquiries from people all around the world and are looking forward to a rush of bookings, particularly when the winter season begins, and tourists look to leave their homes in places such as Europe and other destinations in search of warmer weather.”

“Our projections for the end of 2021 and into 2022 confidently point to a swell in the number of hotel guests, which will continue to grow throughout the six-month duration of Expo and even maintain its upwards trajectory well into the remainder of the year as the world rediscovers its passion for travel, hotels and incredible destinations such as Dubai,” said Gharib.

Hotel occupancy rates climb ahead of Expo

Dubai is the world's second largest hotel occupancy with 61% in the first seven months of 2021, surpassing Paris and London, according to data from STER, which specializes in providing analysis of the hospitality sector globally. Total hotel nights booked from January to July 2021 were 16.34 million nights compared to 10.74 million for the same period in 2020.

With Dubai opening up for vaccinated tourists, there is already an uptick in flight bookings to the city. According to Dubai Tourism figures, the emirate received 2.85 million international visitors from January to July 202. Total hotel nights booked from January to July 2021 were 16.34 million nights compared to 10.74 million for the same period in 2020. During the past seven months of this year, Dubai's hospitality sector has a capacity of 129,318 rooms spread over 718 hotel establishments, with available room revenues rising to Dh225 compared to Dh194 for the same period in 2020. The number of hotel nights booked from January to July 2021 was 16.34 million, a significant increase over the same period last year, which recorded 10.74 million hotel nights.

Uptick in flight tickets to Dubai

Raj Rishi Singh, Chief Business Officer, GCC, at MakeMyTrip said the UAE is one of the fastest growing tourism hubs globally, and they have seen an “instant spike” in searches and bookings from travellers on MakeMyTrip as soon as travel restrictions eased for countries like India.

“Over the past few weeks, we have seen a consistent increase in searches for flight bookings to UAE, and we anticipate that this trend will continue to grow stronger in September and the coming month as UAE gets ready to welcome visitors for the Expo,” said Singh.

“We are looking forward to see fully vaccinated travellers coming to the UAE again for leisure as well as business, and of course to attend the Expo. Sports tourism is also likely to see a great comeback around IPL and the T20 World Cup – inviting sports enthusiasts and cricket fans from India into the region,” he said.

However, a general trend cannot be established now, many said many travellers prefer to book closer to the date of journey due to uncertainties triggered by Covid-19.

UAE airlines’ special Expo deals like the ones announced by the Emirates Airlines and flydubai, offering a complimentary one-day pass to Expo for passengers, are also expected to woo international visitors.

Anjana Sankar

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