With the revival of tourist flow from Russia and the easing of visa rules for Chinese visitors, Dubai’s tourism sector has shown a significant upturn this year. Indians, of course, continue to dominate, with number of Indian tourists becoming the first country to record almost 580,000 visitors in any quarter, according to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
Chinese visitors were granted visa on arrival starting in November last year and recently the Russian visitors were also allowed the same facility. Thanks to the increase In the number of visitors from these two countries, the number of tourists visiting Dubai increased by 12 per cent year-on-year to more than 3 million during the first two months of the year. In the first quarter of the year, the number of overnight visitors to Dubai jumped 11 per cent year-on-year.
In the first three months of the year, Dubai hosted 4.57 million tourists compared to 4.1 million a year earlier. The growth was more than double the rate registered in the same period last year. Visitors from India, Saudi Arabia and the UK accounted for a third of the total number. The number of tourists from China increased by 60 per cent year-on-year to 157,000, while the number of Russian visitors rose 84 per cent to 65,000 in the first two months of this year.
Dubai’s hotels, shopping malls, airport and tourism agencies have increased the number of Mandarin-speaking customer service representatives. Chinese payment systems, such as UnionPay bank card, are more widely accepted now, while there are more food and beverage choices for Chinese guests, according to Dubai Tourism.
“Ultimately, our collective aim is to make it as easy and seamless as possible for any prospective tourist from our diversified base of source markets to visit and revisit Dubai,” Helal Almarri, the director general of Dubai Tourism, said. “We still have much to do as we face a dynamic global environment influenced by various macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges.”
“The first quarter of 2017 has set us off on a very strong trajectory for the year and we are pleased to see our strategic investments and policy reforms yielding such definitive impact,” said Helal Almarri.
“As Dubai continues to evolve and expand the breadth and depth of its tourism proposition, we expect to amplify the appeal of our city as the top consideration for not only first-time but also repeat business and leisure travellers,” he said.
Some hotels are introducing special packages for the Chinese tourists under the Welcome Chinese programme. The Welcome Chinese programme is a certification issued by Select Holding – a Shanghai-based consultancy and outbound tour operator – to hotels and hospitality outlets such as shopping malls that show that these are tourist-friendly to Chinese travellers.
.The Russian market has recovered after the rouble strengthened and Brent crude prices stayed stable for the majority of last year. Russia and China were top growth markets for the period, recording 106 per cent and 64 per cent increases in visitor numbers, helped by recent moves to allow citizens of both countries to obtain visas on arrival.
Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said that factors that were supportive of a rise in tourism in the first quarter included a moderation in the strength of the US dollar from the end of last year.
.The growth in tourism numbers is a welcome boost for Dubai and the UAE as a whole because of a slowdown in economic activity because of the crash in commodity prices and the impact of the strength of the US dollar on the affordability of the Emirates for visitors from Europe.
Since the end of 2014, the UAE economy has suffered from an oil price free fall, prompting cuts in public spending and softening consumer demand. The price of oil has dropped by as much as 70 per cent since June 2014, but has since partially recovered from record lows reached in January 2016 thanks in part to an Opec and non-Opec agreement last year to limit crude production.
“The 11 per cent increase in tourism figures in Q1 reported by Dubai Tourism is consistent with the message contained in our Emirates NBD Dubai Economy Tracker that shows the tourism sector enjoyed strong demand growth and output in the first quarter,” said Tim Fox, head of research and chief economist at Emirates NBD.
“As the report suggests, easier visa rules for Chinese and Russian visitors to the UAE have probably helped boost demand in this sector, which is expected to be one of the key drivers of Dubai’s overall growth this year.”