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MENA Watch: Dubai to shatter tourism records in 2023?

The high ratings Dubai has been receiving serve as a crucial indicator of the success of its awareness campaigns

In the first two months of 2023, Dubai saw 3.1 million visitors, with February seeing more travellers than before the COVID. According to Emirates NBD, Dubai may surpass its record-breaking 16.73 million visitors set in 2019.

Despite an increase of 50% year over year (YoY) in January 2023, the number of tourists was 9% lower than the pre-pandemic times. But there were 1.63 million visitors in February, up 7% from pre-COVID levels and 35% from 2022.

Western Europe accounted for 22% of all tourists’ arrivals in January and February, while the GCC nations and South Asia each contributed 16%, according to an update from Emirates NBD.

With 401,000 visits in the said period, India was the top source of tourists, followed by Russia with 229,000, Oman with 201,000, the United Kingdom with 196,000, and Saudi Arabia with 183,000.

While the number of tourists from Oman was 15% higher than pre-pandemic levels, the arrivals of visitors from Saudi Arabia are still almost a third below those levels.

China, one of Dubai’s primary visitor sources since 2013, sent 52,000 tourists in January and February of 2023, a 75% decrease from 2022.

Emirates NBD also stated that while the number of Chinese arrivals will continue to increase, it may not return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

Hotel Occupancy

Although guests’ average length of stay decreased from 4.3 nights and the average daily fee decreased by 2% to AED 623 (USD 169.64), the average hotel occupancy for January and February of 2023 increased to 84.4%, a 6.4% rise YoY and 0.2% higher than 2019.

Despite the significant increase in availability, the average revenue per available room climbed by 6% YoY to AED 514 (USD 140), a 19% increase from 2019.

The available rooms increased by 7% year over year to 148,450. The majority of the inventory (34%), comprised five-star hotels, followed by four-star hotels (29%), and hotels with one to three stars (20%).

Awareness Campaigns & Tourism Ads

With the help of several awareness-raising strategies, including hiring African celebrities to spread the word, Dubai’s Department for Economy and Tourism (DET) has continued its attempts to establish the Middle Eastern metropolis as the centre of the world’s hospitality industry.

Using tactics like on-the-ground “Road Shows” in Southeast Asia and Africa, media and stakeholder FAM trips to Dubai, celebrity campaigns, and general publicity, Dubai has increased its brand recognition globally and established itself as a leader in hospitality.

The high ratings Dubai has been receiving serve as a crucial indicator of the success of its awareness campaigns. For the second year in a row, Dubai was named the top destination on Trip Advisor, and most recently, Dubai Airport was named the busiest airport in the world.

According to the aviation consulting company OAG, the hub continuously outperformed all its international competitors, including London Heathrow, as it logged 4.2 million seats in February 2023.

Liberal Stance On Alcohol

As part of its plan to attract more tourists, Dubai recently postponed a 30% levy on alcohol and eliminated fees for personal alcohol licences.

“Decisions like (the reduction of the alcohol tax) only help make the city a lot more attractive,” said Paul Bridger, chief operating officer of the Dubai-based hotel operator Rove Hotels.

“Providing travellers with a better-priced assortment of beverages is always advantageous. Thanks to a lower tax rate, we can pass on these savings to our guests, who ultimately experience better value and more options,” the official remarked further.

However, despite having rigorous alcohol regulations, Dubai’s actions have yet to encourage its neighbours in the Middle East and North Africa to follow suit. These regions are looking at alternative strategies to increase tourists without loosening alcohol restrictions.

Returning To Normalcy

As the UAE gets ready to host important international events like the Dubai Airshow and the Cop28 climate summit, state-owned operator Dubai Airports predicts that by the 2023 end, 78 million passengers will pass through the hub, up from 66.1 million in 2022.

“If monthly passenger numbers hit 7.5 million, a total return to pre-pandemic levels every month could occur by the end of this year or the beginning of next,” Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Airports Paul Griffiths said.

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