HE Helal Saeed Almarri is a man with a mission: to attract 20 million visitors to the emirate by 2020, and trebling the economic contribution tourism makes to the city’s balance sheet.
Though over the last year, hotel guests visiting the city have soared to beyond the 11 million mark, there is still plenty of work to do to achieve the target. Nevertheless, the Director General of Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is quietly confident.
Almarri points out that many factors are now combining to make his ultimate target achievable. These range from the ongoing success of Emirates Airline, whose elevation onto the world stage has helped to drive the emirate’s growth, to the exceptional experience had by travellers using Dubai’s airports and the first class tourist offering of hotel operators like Jumeirah Group: together, aviation and tourism are spearheading the charge.
Eighty percent of tourism in Dubai is currently leisure-related, with the balance travelling on business – either on independent business travel, to a show, or visiting one of the many big firms now operating from Dubai. “The core impact in Dubai is from business events, and we have a very impressive calendar of global congresses and exhibitions backed up by many corporate meetings and incentive programmes,” says Almarri. “These add a great deal to the GDP.”
Major events are also an important driver of leisure tourism to the emirate. “People love to travel for arts, culture and sports.” Almarri cites the Dubai Shopping Festival as a prime example, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this coming January, together with Dubai Summer Surprises and newer events like the Dubai Food Festival. Art Dubai is another popular attraction, now a regular in the annual calendar. And today the emirate is also a natural stopping off point for major music tours, with international musicians such as Lady Gaga and the world’s number one boy band, One Direction, who are both due to play in the near future.
Perhaps the biggest untapped tourism market of all for the emirate is already in the country: the millions of transit passengers currently passing through Dubai without leaving the airport. Dubai is working as one in making a special effort to persuade these passengers to stay awhile.
“Once people experience our city, our home, they inevitably fall in love with it and want to come back,” says Almarri. “There is no marketing or PR as good as seeing it for yourself.”