Dubai wants to attract more repeat visitors


An aircraft flying over Dubai recently. The city has long thrived as a gateway for transfer travellers connecting between global destinations. — AFP

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is looking to add more airline capacity and is betting on a new visa that facilitates return trips to attract more visitors, as it shifts its focus from serving as a transfer hub and short-term destination.

Among the regions the city is targeting is Africa, with Dubai flagship carrier Emirates announcing that it’s reinstating its service to Nigeria from Oct 1. Dubai is also seeking to market itself as a year-round destination, touting sports like padel – a popular cross between tennis and squash – and indoor shopping to overcome its image as an unbearably hot place best avoided in summer.

While Emirates and low-cost partner FlyDubai are important channels to push traffic into Dubai, “... we don’t tie ourselves to them,” Issam Kazim, the chief executive officer of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Economy, said in an interview.

“Whenever it makes business sense to them, we match our plans together and we work with them,” Kazim said in Dubai. “But at the same time, if they’re restricted by ceilings or their own growth factor or their own strategy, I immediately go and work with local carriers.”

Dubai has long thrived as a gateway for transfer travellers using its hub to connect between global destinations. With the number of available hotel beds more than doubling in a decade, including more facilities for budget-minded travellers, the city has managed to turn itself more into a destination in its own right. The number of repeat visitors within a year now stands at 25%, Kazim said.

A city of superlatives – home to the world’s tallest tower, deepest diving pool and largest airline by international traffic – Dubai has managed to set itself apart from other regional destinations, including Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are making a major push to market themselves as a tourist destination and business centre, also with their own airlines as conduits.

A new tourist visa allows for multiple entries into Dubai for five years, far in excess of the 90 days previously offered. Among those that have discovered Dubai as a destination are Chinese tourists, with more coming in as independent travellers rather than in large guided tours, Kazim said.

At the same time, capacity to the country remains below pre-pandemic levels, holding back growth, he said.

The UAE is bracing for a bigger influx of visitors by spending heavily on the expansion of its second airport in the next decade. After halting the project for years, Dubai is now proceeding with building a new passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport as part of a US$35bil (RM164.74bil) plan announced recently.

Dubai has welcomed more than five million tourists this year through March, and Kazim said that the city broke through its 2019 record last year, when 17.5 million people showed up. The city has managed to remain attractive even as other parts of the region suffer from a knock-on effect of Middle East conflicts that are holding back some tourists, Kazim said.

“We’ve managed to keep our head above all of that,” Kazim said. “It does require effort, for sure.” – Bloomberg

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