KT's 40th Anniversary

UAE tourism: Happy and you know it

nivriti@khaleejtimes.com Filed on April 15, 2018 | Last updated on April 18, 2018 at 01.47 pm
UAE tourism: Happy and you know it
This newspaper has for effectively 40 years reported on the sentiments of tourists

Visa on arrival is a massive boom, especially for last-minute travellers merely hopping on to a flight for a long weekend of the good life

The best way to get a feel of a city is to talk to the cab drivers. And the best way to get feedback on a city is to talk to the tourists. It's easy to figure which ones are the tourists: bright clothes, cameras, heads pivoting up towards the skyscrapers, headed in the direction of a mall or beach.

Tourists love the Metro. Phones affixed to selfie sticks recording time-lapse videos of the cityscape are the give-away. Save for the few minding their own business, tourists are often happy to talk to residents. In several conversations with visitors to Dubai, I have heard praise for the Metro, for the cleanliness of beach-front neighbourhoods, the discovery and subsequent love of za'atar croissants, kunafa, camel meat burgers, and the shawarmas of Satwa, the joy of riding abras at Dubai Creek - seagulls enhancing atmospherics as well as photo backdrops. They hint at feeling overwhelmed by how much walking is needed to properly suss out The Dubai Mall (but they love the fountains and won't skip the general Burj Khalifa area for anything, not The Dubai Mall, at least not on their first trip to the UAE), and often need tips on which are the best sellers of spices that might give them a discount, and if they can be guided to any. Several visitors that I have spoken to around the Dubai Museum neighbourhood have expressed delight at the museum. 'We weren't expecting a young country to have so much history' being the overriding sentiment.

This newspaper has for effectively 40 years reported on the sentiments of tourists. What they love about the city, and what keeps bringing them back.

The Dubai Airport routinely issues figures for the massive numbers of people passing through Dubai. We routinely publish those figures. It's clear that tourists flying into the UAE is not abating anytime soon. Visa on arrival is a massive boom, especially for last-minute travellers merely hopping on to a flight for a long weekend.

Given how every year we report on the shopping festivals, we know how big that draw is, and how many tourists make it a point to be in the city for the New Year and for a few days in January. With new attractions every year, such as Dubai Frame, Dubai Parks and Resorts, to name a few, adding to an already long list of things to do (The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the peaks of Jebel Jais, etc.), tourists who fly into town are spoilt for choice.

And given the increasing options, it should surprise no one that the number of Dubai residents working in the travel and tourism sector is projected to increase (from 169,100 folks in 2016) to 223,600 by 2026, creating 54,500 new jobs in the emirate over the next eight years. This means that over 12 per cent of people in Dubai will be working in tourism by 2026 (in 2016, it was 10.8 per cent).

"Travel and tourism, which already supports one in every 10 jobs on the planet, is a dynamic engine of employment opportunity," said Gloria Guevara Manzo, president and CEO of The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)

"Over the past 10 years, one in five of all jobs created across the world has been in the sector, and with the right regulatory conditions and government support, nearly 100 million new jobs could be created over the decade ahead," she added.

Khaleej Times constantly reports on the industry and we've reported also about the UAE economy being set to rise by five per cent to Dh72.6 billion in 2018, and to reach Dh108.4 billion in the next 10 years.

For those who might have missed the report in our business pages in 2017, the tourism sector had a direct contribution of 5.1 per cent of UAE's total gross domestic product at Dh69.1 billion, and is expected to account for 4.9 per cent of the GDP by 2028. Clearly, tourism is on an even, soaring keel.

If you've ever spoken to holiday-makers in the city about how and why they pick Dubai as their destination, the answers are largely: To visit family, cheap tickets, but also the weather, the beaches, the malls, and equally the dining-out scene, the hotels and the calibre of service at the hotels - all big factors. How many British and Russian expats come to have a lay about in the sun, away from the winter in their countries?

Two years from now, Dubai's hospitality sector is set to host more than 20 million visitors - #WorldExpo2020. Dubai leads in the total number of hotel keys per resident at 29.9 per 1,000 people when benchmarked against international hub cities. Paris is the next highest with 17.6 keys per 1,000 people, Knight Frank, a real estate consultancy, said in its 'Hub Report'.

By 2020, we'll see more hotels opening: Dubai Pearl in Dubai Marina, Joya Verde in JVC, Raffles-branded residences, The Pointe, Palm West Beach, The St Regis Beach Club and Palm Beach Residences in Palm Jumeriah, The Banyan Tree Residences Hillside in Jumeirah Lake Towers.

The common impression about the UAE is that it's a swanky, tech-forward place that has flying taxis on the agenda. And the data backs it up. We've reported on how the UAE has witnessed the biggest increase in living standards - over 12 per cent - in the region.

There is a reason hundreds of international companies set up their regional headquarters in the UAE that caused the influx of expatriate employees. Dubai and Abu Dhabi - and the smaller emirates - have also concentrated on developing their tourism offerings. Visit the five-star properties in Al Ain and RAK, and you'll see what we mean.

Adding to achievements, Dubai also topped the region in Mercer's Quality of Living 2018 index and maintained its 74th global rating worldwide in Mercer's 2018 ranking, followed by Abu Dhabi (77).

Romika Fazeli, Founder and Managing Director of Emirates World Club, a networking club, said Dubai has the best restaurants, supermarkets open 24/7, including laundry and valet parking services. "Dubai is a place which makes your life more comfortable. The country is so welcoming towards all the nationalities that it makes you feel at home."

"From luxurious lifestyle to pocket-friendly places, Dubai always has something to offer to everyone," adds Naveen Sharma, Chairman, The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (Dubai Chapter). Sharma believes that tourism plays an important role in making Dubai what it is. It follows that investment in the UAE travel and tourism sector was Dh25.4 billion in 2017, 8 per cent of total investment.

Further growth is predicted. Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Khaleej Times that some of the factors expected to fuel growth in the tourism sector were "Expo 2020, expansion of the emirate's retail, attractions, leisure and entertainment offerings, new mega projects, and further development of Al Maktoum International Airport."

What are they coming in to treat? Bad knees, skin issues and eyes: Orthopaedic, dermatology and ophthalmology were the most sought health tourism specialities. There are 35,000 health specialists from more than 110 different nationalities working in the sector. By 2020, Dubai will have 40,000 specialists and 4,000 health centres.

For a country this young, these achievements are indicative of where the country will reach in the coming decades. We're just the oldest paper to have been tracking that journey.


Nivriti Butalia

Nivriti is assistant editor with Khaleej Times. She brings out the features pages on Fridays and Saturdays (see 'Blogs' at https://blogs.khaleejtimes.com, and writes a weekly slice-of-life column called Meanderings. Her Twitter handle is @butniv.

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