The UAE’s popularity as a must visit destination will only continue in 2019, with experts predicting that new leisure additions, improving connectivity from carriers, and word of mouth references from returning visitors, will all continue to draw in a steady stream of tourists.
Sameer Bagul, EVP and managing director of Cleartrip Middle East, said that the UAE’s travel and tourism sector continued to expand in 2018, driven by a steady growth in overnight international tourist arrivals. He noted that even though growth was slightly slower in the country’s prime markets such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a solid increase in tourism visitation to the Northern Emirates, which have focused on improving investment in culture, heritage and adventure offerings, has helped offset the decline and maintain the momentum in the market. The country has also seen a sharp rise in visitor spending during the year.
“With its diverse attractions and dynamic hospitality offerings, the UAE’s tourism sector is bound for significant growth in 2019,” Bagul said. “The country’s ongoing efforts in shaping and promoting it as a well-rounded destination will pay off with increased visitor footfall from traditional feeder markets, and arrivals from new feeder markets during the year.”
He added: “The global travel and tourism industry will continue to see an uptick in the number of tourists from emerging and developing countries well into 2019, driven by a steady economic expansion in key feeder markets. We also believe that there will be a tremendous increase in experiential, solo and green travel across destinations worldwide, while the UAE, in particular, will see greater demand for its medical and wellness tourism offerings as well as its famous beach resorts.”
According to the latest data compiled by Expedia Group from the third quarter of 2018, the number of Asian travellers to the UAE, particularly from China and India, has significantly increased, furthering the country’s position as a top tourist destination. While travelers from the US and UK topped the list for travel into the country, travellers from China and India showed the highest growth in demand compared to the same period last year – both showing almost 245 per cent and over 60 per cent respectively.
“The UAE continues to be a tourist hotspot, especially for Chinese and Indian travellers who have displayed a steady increase,” said Orla Lee, VP of Market Management EMEA at Expedia Group. “This growth could be driven by various incentives introduced into the region, which include an increase in air capacity by budget carriers from China and India, increased business opportunities, strategic marketing tie-ups and promotional activities. All these factors could be adding to the appeal of UAE to Indian and Chinese visitors.”
According to the latest research by Colliers International for the upcoming Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2019 exhibition, the number of Chinese tourists travelling to the GCC is expected to increase 81 per cent from 1.6 million in 2018 to 2.9 million in 2022. In the UAE, China is the fifth largest source market behind India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and Oman. Over the last 12 months, the UAE has stepped up its efforts to attract more Chinese visitors with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing recently signing an agreement with Chinese internet giant Tencent to promote the emirate as a preferred destination for Chinese travellers.
Danielle Curtis, exhibition director ME, Arabian Travel Market, said: “China is set to account for a quarter of international tourism by 2030 – and owing to its many business and investment opportunities, as well as a new generation of leisure attractions and retail destinations, the GCC is set to capitalise on this growth with millions of Chinese tourists about to make their first international trip.”
The Colliers data shows Saudi Arabia will experience the highest proportionate increase in arrivals from China, with a projected Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 33 per cent between 2018 and 2022. The UAE will follow with a forecasted CAGR of 13 per cent.
“It is interesting to note that just seven per cent of the total Chinese population possess a passport, compared to approximately 40 per cent of Americans and 76 per cent of British. The outbound Chinese market, therefore, represents a vast, untapped pool of affluent and adventurous travellers and the GCC is stepping up its efforts to ensure it remains a destination of choice,” Curtis added.
Over the last 10 years, airports in the Middle East and China have shown the fastest increase in hub connectivity worldwide with Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Air, China Eastern and Air China all providing direct flights between the GCC and various destinations in China. Emirates, the leading passenger service provider from the GCC to China, now offers 38 weekly flights between both destinations.
Helal Almarri, director general of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, noted that events such as the Chinese New Year and Diwali, aimed at two of Dubai’s top source markets, have played a key role in drawing visitors, and have been met with great success. “Dubai has been continually growing as a leader in global travel, with the highest average spend per tourist and ranked fourth most visited city in the world, according to the latest MasterCard surveys.”
Offering insights on outbound travel, Lakshmi Anand, operations manager at International Travel Services Galadari Group, noted that UAE travellers always crave new destinations to explore. “Countries such as Georgia, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Thailand are the latest popular destinations for UAE residents, where the visa hassle is limited and where tours are within their budget.”
She added: “Most of the travellers plan their holidays either during school holidays or public holidays, so, when choosing the destination, they also ensure that its ideal for the whole family. The focus is on great deals, however, they ensure that they don’t compromise on the activities that are catered to both kids and adults. Knowledge on the travel destination, tour packages that cover all the major attractions of the country, visa compliance, and travel insurance are some of the major points that are looked at before travelling.”