Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) released its annual visitor figures showing Dubai attracted 14.9 million overnight visitors in 2016, recording a healthy five per cent (5%) increase over 2015, and an impressive 4-year CAGR of eight per cent (8%) (2012-2016) since His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the 2020 tourism strategy. This performance trajectory which reflects twice the global travel industry growth of circa four per cent (4%) over the same period as forecasted by the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO), cements the foundation for Dubai Tourism to maintain stable momentum over the next three years and attain its 2020 goals.
The strong performance of the emirate’s tourism industry amidst a particularly turbulent year across the world assures progress towards not only the annual target of 20 million visitors by 2020, but also the increased sector-driven economic contribution to Dubai’s GDP. In what is an assertive reinforcement of the tourism sector’s resilience and competitiveness, Dubai has continued to grow its share of outbound travel market despite three of its largest source markets witnessing unique disruptions, coupled with debilitating international factors and a cautious global consumer sentiment that characterised 2016.
His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Dubai Tourism, said: “Under the visionary leadership and support of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, 2016 was another milestone marker for Dubai’s travel sector, as we rallied strong, and ramped up the momentum to significantly outpace the four-year global industry average by double. With our international overnight traffic reaching 14.9 million, Dubai has cemented its ranking as the fourth most visited city in the world, critically delivering the highest value to the domestic economy with our number one ranking in terms of spend per tourist compared to any other competitor destination.
“Our growth through a period of unforeseen macro-economic upheavals particularly across our feeder markets, validates the ability of Dubai’s tourism sector to (1) adapt and respond with agility in all our markets; (2) effectively diversify investments and deploy strategies to minimise single-market exposure; and (3) dynamically converge as an industry across government, private and public sector to grow our destination appeal and competitiveness.
“The effectiveness of our three-pronged approach is evidenced by the encouraging thirteen per cent (13%) growth in volumes from South Asia led by India, despite the demonetisation and cash pressures facing the market. Similarly, KSA remained the dominant market within the GCC, bringing first time and significant repeat travellers to Dubai. Another case in point is our tenacity in the UK, post the Brexit announcement and the ensuing over twenty per cent (20%) currency devaluation, where we delivered a commendable five per cent (5%) visitation growth. Highlights of 2016 include the massive twenty per cent (20%) boost in Chinese visitors, crossing the half million mark for the first time with 540,000 tourists arriving in Dubai; and the definitive resurgence of Russian inbound tourism recording a fourteen per cent (14%) growth in overnight traffic. Both countries are only expected to further accelerate through 2017 thanks to the UAE’s recent implementation of visas-on-arrival for all their citizens,” Almarri summarised.
Taking a closer look at Key Figures and Growth Drivers: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remained the number one volume generator for tourism to Dubai, delivering the highest share of visitor volumes for 2016, with a total of 3.4 million, up five per cent (5%) over 2015. In terms of country-specific performance, KSA spearheaded the contribution with over 1.6 million visitors, a six per cent (6%) increase, with Oman next in line accounting for over 1 million travellers. Kuwait and Qatar retained their top 20 status, registering an annual growth of two per cent (2%) and nine per cent (9%) respectively. On a regional level, Western Europe followed closely as second highest demand driver for travel to Dubai, accounting for twenty-one per cent (21%) of the total 2016 tourism volumes with more than 3.1 million tourists, which represents a solid four per cent (4%) annual growth. The UK retained its position as Dubai’s number three market bringing in nearly 1.25 million visitors, while Germany stayed comfortably within the top 10 list maintaining stable performance with 460,000 visitors.
South Asian markets spanning the Indian sub-continent continued to deliver impressive volumes of both first time and repeat traffic, demonstrating the ability of Dubai to drive regular reconsideration through a diverse range of evolving destination offerings. Leading the list of traffic generators to Dubai in 2016, India brought in just under 1.8 million overnight tourists reflecting a twelve per cent (12%) growth, while Pakistan also featured in the top 10 markets, delivered 607,000 tourists and growing at a strong eighteen per cent (18%) over 2015. Expectations on tourism growth from India remain high for 2017 with even stronger bilateral ties being forged between the UAE and India, highlighted by the recent presence of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, as The Chief Guest at India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations.
Dubai remained a preferred destination for proximity markets across the wider Middle East and North African region that collectively contributed 1.6 million visitors despite heightened regional challenges. Much of the remaining volumes came from countries within the top 20, including the likes of Egypt and Jordan, that showed signs of returning back to stability and poised to drive future regional growth.
Across North and Southeast Asian markets, Dubai welcomed a total of 1.36 million travellers in 2016, making the Asian region the next largest contributor, accounting for nine per cent (9%) of the overall visitation, reflecting the highest increase over 2015 at fifteen per cent (15%). With 540,000 Chinese tourists last year, China dominated the demand from Asia, firmly cementing its status as a top 10 market, and is predicted to strengthen its contribution in light of the visa exemption policies that came into force in November 2016. Philippines also had an impressive year with stellar twenty per cent (20%) growth delivering 390,000 visitors, maintaining its position as number 11 in the source market rankings.
The Americas collectively brought in just short of 1 million overnight travellers, maintaining stability in performance, led by the United States with a steady contribution of 607,000 visitors despite 2016 being an election year that is known to impact outbound travel volumes, followed by Canada, which stayed within the top 20 list, delivering 176,000 visitors, up five per cent (5%).
Rounding off the major regional contributors were Russia, CIS and Central European markets, accounting for circa five per cent (5%) of the overall tourism volumes to Dubai in 2016, led strongly by recoveries from both Russia and Ukraine. The former delivered a particularly resilient comeback with 240,000 visitors, up fourteen per cent (14%) over 2015, and remains on a positive upward trajectory that is expected to spike now that Russia has become the latest entrant on the list of 47 countries exempted from UAE entry visa requirements, as of February 2017.
Positive growth across resolute markets and new frontier countries for Dubai has helped offset negative trends in the African region, which saw a seven per cent (7%) decline in travellers, as well as the Australasia region, which dropped nine per cent (9%) year-on-year.
His Excellency Almarri continued: “Our strategy has always hinged on pursuing a long-term diversified market approach one that enables us to prudently balance and mitigate excessive risk exposure within a specific geography. With an expensive dollar, we are focused on innovative value creation and superlative experience delivery as fundamental to future growth. In this, we not only expect to drive volumes from the stronghold countries by identifying and further developing niche segments, but also seek to activate frontier markets that offer considerable potential for growth. Our investments in these prospective territories are already yielding positive returns with noteworthy volumes coming from outside the top 20.
“Collaboration with our industry partners and key government stakeholders is integral for sustained growth and 2017 will see an even greater impetus as our collective efforts will define our ability to stay ahead of the curve in the months ahead. From a governmental perspective, in addition to streamlining visa requirements and easing barriers to entry for tourists from all parts of the world, we have also been working on enabling airlift and direct connectivity to Dubai to ensure that we, as a destination, are able to offer the convenience and accessibility that are key decision-triggers for prospective travellers. With both our Chinese and Russian markets now being brought even closer to Dubai, in 2017 we will seek to improve our attractiveness to them and similarly to our global audiences with a deep and diverse portfolio of offerings for all core segments. Additionally, we continue to work very closely with airline partners, the travel trade, and the hotel sector to create compelling transit programmes for stopover-specific markets such as Australia, USA and the Far East.
“Our traditional core markets spanning the GCC, India, UK and Germany, continue to deliver over forty per cent (40%) of our tourism traffic and we remain committed to investing further in driving greater penetration and frequency from these bases where we have built a credible recognition of the Dubai destination offering. Our ongoing goal here is to further build advocacy, and continuously communicate the evolution of our city’s proposition so visitors can start to extend their stays and return more regularly to discover a new side to Dubai. Today, armed with sophisticated analytics, we are developing a more granular understanding of customised segment triggers, and we expect to progressively be able to tailor our communications and our propositions, making them more relevant, encouraging higher consideration and ultimately driving conversion.”
Dubai’s performance over the past 12 months reflects not only the efficacy of the emirate’s outward-facing measures and regulatory enablement, but also the in-country proposition enhancement, ranging from new attractions and the breadth of offerings across entertainment and culture, to the five per cent (5%) increase in room supply as Dubai crosses the 100,000-mark reaching a tally of 102,845 rooms. As Dubai celebrated the opening of numerous new luxury properties such as The St. Regis Dubai, W Dubai and Westin at Al Habtoor City, Palazzo Versace Dubai, and Jumeirah Al Naseem, there has been a marked focus on broadening the destination appeal to the family segment, as well as the mid-market audiences. Reflective of the success of this strategic agenda, 2016 saw a significant boost in the number of properties in the three and four-star range. Three-star hotel room capacity grew by a stellar twenty-four per cent (24%) in 2016 while four-star capacity grew by eight per cent (8%) as several stylish and boutique new entrants like the Rove Hotels have carved a niche positioning for themselves in the market.
Beyond accommodation, new additions to the destination portfolio include the opening of attractions like IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world’s largest indoor theme park, and Dubai Parks and Resorts, the region’s largest integrated theme park resort. Additionally, 2016 witnessed the opening of Dubai Opera, a world-class entertainment venue, hosting some of the most internationally acclaimed performances and productions, and CITY WALK, the city’s trendiest new retail destination.
With these significant investments in tourism-related infrastructure coming on stream during 2016, Dubai expects to fully realise the benefits of these enhancements in the coming years. The parks serve to dramatically raise the family-attractiveness of Dubai while the recent openings of the stunning Etihad Museum, Dubai Opera and the development of the Dubai Historic District, all deliver strong appeal to travellers seeking art, culture and heritage.
Additionally, the emirate’s well-established business and consumer events industry continues to be a key economic contributor, with the delivery of a strong and regularly renewed annual calendar of global pillar events, central to the value-creation agenda for tourism. Also established for 2017 is the Dubai Retail Calendar, showcasing a strong programme of anchor retail activities driven by an active city-wide effort across shopping festivals, promotions and seasonal offer periods, mega-sales and clearance events, exclusive retail experiences and activations – all designed to truly elevate Dubai’s positioning as a ‘must-visit’ shopping destination offering the best of the world’s brands in one convenient location, as well as the newest and most diversified range of collections, with exemplary customer service that redefines the retail experience for global travellers. Serving as the backbone to one of Dubai’s core tourism pillars – Shopping – this calendar developed in consultation with public and private sector stakeholders, is actively marketed across targeted markets and audience segments that seek shopping experiences as an integral aspect of their travel, ultimately generating increased traffic and retail spends, within Dubai.
The competitiveness of the city’s ever-evolving entertainment calendar was reinforced as Dubai earned the honour of being named the 2016 World Festival and Event City, for the fifth time since 2011, by the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA), the premiere association supporting and enabling festival and event professionals worldwide. Additionally, being awarded the status of the World’s Leading Festival and Event Destination at the annual World Travel Awards, emphatically underscored the continued appeal and success of Dubai’s ability to host an impressive array of flagship events and city festivals. The 22nd edition of the recently-concluded Dubai Shopping Festival, the gastronomic delights of Dubai Food Festival and the family-focused Dubai Summer Surprises all serve as leading city anchors to the emirate’s strong event proposition, supplemented by a plethora of others.
The Dubai Business Events programme also continues to thrive and attract visitation through the growing portfolio of leading events in the city. In recent months, Dubai won recognition as the Overseas Luxury MICE Destination of the Year 2016 at the China Travel & Meetings Industry Awards – Business Travel & MICE, and was named the Middle East’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination 2016 at the World Travel Awards Middle East, in addition to also winning the incentive People’s Choice Award. 2016 also saw Dubai win a growing number of global MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) events to be held over the coming years including the World Congress of Cardiology 2018, Lions Clubs International ISAAME Forum 2018 and The International Federation of Health Information Management Associations International Congress 2019.
His Excellency Almarri concluded: “Infrastructure, accommodation, air connectivity, access and policy enablers continue to be the facilitating levers that ensure Dubai remains price competitive and hugely attractive for a broad range of global travellers. By consistently outpacing the global forecast for visitors, we remain extremely confident about the future outlook for Dubai, especially considering the global headwinds we have faced in last year, as we remain in the top four most visited cities in the world. Our ability to deliver excellence and consistency in experience delivery to every tourist from every corner of the globe drives high levels of repeat visitation. Launched under His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, our Happiness Index measures not just our ability to exceed service expectations but also to ensure that every visitor to Dubai becomes a passionate loyalist and a firm advocate. Our ultimate goal is aimed at not just attracting tourists, but also at capturing the highest value, ensuring that tourism contribution to the economy is further amplified. The solid foundations that we have put in place through diversification of markets, a broadening portfolio of attractions and facilities and a collaborative approach between the hotel and hospitality sectors and the retail community, as well as the collective contribution of government, public and private enterprises will allow us to accelerate the pace of growth in 2017 and well into the future.”