Dubai welcomed a total of 13.2 million international overnight visitors in 2014, according to new statistics issued by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism). Representing a year-on-year increase of 8.2 per cent – significantly higher than the global average of 4.7 per cent – the growth reflects the continuing strides that the Emirate is making towards realising Dubai’s Tourism Vision for 2020, which aims to welcome 20 million visitors by the start of the next decade.
The 13.2 million figure is the headline statistic of the inaugural ‘Dubai Annual Visitor Report’, issued at this week’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM). Differing from previously announced statistics on guests staying at Dubai’s hotel establishments, the figure is a measure of all international visitors travelling to Dubai and staying for at least one night, in hotel accommodation and holiday rentals, with friends and relatives, and on board cruise ships.
The Dubai Annual Visitor Report is a collation of key tourism metrics, trends and insights drawn from Dubai Tourism’s comprehensive research, which involves monitoring performance across global demand and competitive intensity, the effectiveness and supply of Dubai’s proposition, and the emirate’s ability to deliver a rounded destination experience to leisure and business travellers.
Commenting on the results, His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director-General of DTCM, said: “The Dubai Annual Visitor Report provides insights into how and why Dubai achieved significant visitor growth in 2014, continuing the upward trend of recent years. With the year-on-year increase of 8.2 per cent being significantly higher than the global average, the report demonstrates Dubai’s broadening appeal as a tourism destination among multiple geographies and audience segments, highlighting both the success achieved to date and the opportunity for continual growth.
“The 2014 success is especially promising considering pressures on a number of source market economies and the 80-day partial closure of Dubai International Airport (DXB). The results are a tribute to the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and the continued resolute partnership between the government and the private sector.
Having traditionally released annual data on hotel establishment guests, the new report encompasses all international overnight visitors, painting a broader picture of the successes, challenges and opportunities of the Emirate’s tourism economy. The research behind the report enables us to further enhance our targeted marketing activity, which in the past year has included the development of extensive digital, social media and PR partnerships with some of the most influential channels in the industry.”
Significantly, while sustained momentum in Dubai’s traditional source markets saw the majority of the Emirate’s top ten source markets growing around eight per cent, there was also double-digit growth from a number of emerging travel source countries home to fast-growing middle-class populations with high disposable incomes. Examples include China, Nigeria and Brazil, in addition to several Eastern European nations – a result of the easing of UAE visa policies applying to 13 EU member states in March 2014.
His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director-General of DTCM, said: “Dubai has strategically sought to ensure a fragmented source market approach, mitigating risks associated with over reliance on any specific region or geography. Fifty-five per cent of last year’s visitors came from our top ten source markets, the majority of which saw sustained growth, and there was healthy acceleration in many emerging feeder geographies. We will continue to work with our partners to further diversify our markets and leverage opportunities for growth, with one example being maximising the potential of Eastern European markets, from which we have already seen a positive result from the easing of visa regulations in March last year and the subsequent flight launches to the region by Emirates and flydubai towards the end of 2014.”
Reasons for growth
Despite an 80-day partial runway closure from May to July, 2014 saw Dubai International Airport emerge as the world’s busiest for international passengers, surpassing London Heathrow for the first time. The airport welcomed 70.5 million passengers in 2014, an increase of 6.1 per cent, while overall seat capacity to Dubai increased 7.2 per cent year-on-year to 48.6 million. Dubai’s two home-grown airlines, Emirates and flydubai, achieved exceptional growth in fleet size and global footprint expansion; the former launching new routes to eight destinations and adding circa 420,000 seats, the latter to 18 destinations and approximately 180,000 seats. The growth in aviation capacity supports the World Economic Forum’s assertion that “Dubai’s greatest competitive advantage in tourism is its ability to provide a world-class international hub for global air travellers.” Dubai’s cruise industry, meanwhile, also contributed to growth thanks to the opening of Dubai’s third cruise terminal, and 425,000 passengers are expected to arrive on cruises into Dubai in 2015, a 30 per cent increase over the previous year.
2014 also saw improved accessibility to Dubai, driven by the easing of UAE visa policies that have it made it easier and cheaper to visit the emirate. Citizens from a total of 46 countries can now obtain a visa on arrival, boosted by the March 2014 addition of 13 EU member states to the existing 15 member states already eligible. Positive results can already be seen in the increase in visitors from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, for example, up by 104 per cent, 86 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.
At the same time, the breadth and depth of Dubai’s destination proposition has continued to evolve and diversify, attracting more visitors and contributing to increasing visitors’ length of stay. A total of 46 new hotel and hotel apartment establishments opened in 2014, including the likes of Marriott Hotel Al Jaddaf, Warwick Hotel Sheikh Zayed, Sheraton Grand Hotel and Four Seasons Resort Dubai, as well as a host of new attractions such as The Beach at JBR, Jumeirah Corniche and At The Top, Burj Khalifa SKY. These additions, together with Dubai’s world-class approach to customer service across all tourism sectors and continued infrastructure developments, have contributed to the ongoing enhancement of Dubai’s destination offering and its global appeal.
His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri commented: “Dubai’s sustained growth is a result of the pursuit of excellence across all parts of the tourism economy by the private and public sectors, constantly seeking to be the number one destination for both leisure and business travel. This applies to both creating a compelling proposition and delivering a superior end-to-end experience, and has resulted in the creation of a destination offering that appeals to both leisure and business visitors, and to families, couples and solo travellers. Continuous enhancements to the offering have contributed to an average length of stay of 7.8 days, surpassing that of London and similar to that of New York, and there are numerous additions to the offering, across attractions, experiences, hotels and restaurants, due to open in 2015 and 2016.”
A key statement within the Dubai Tourism Vision for 2020 is the ambition to become the world’s number one family destination, with the objective of capturing a substantial share of one of the highest potential segments in the global tourism market. According to Thomson Reuters, family travel accounts for over 12.5 per cent of the USD 1.7 trillion global tourism market, and is projected to grow at circa 5 per cent up to 2020. With Dubai’s top source markets for families being the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman and India, the Emirate continues to expand its offering for the segment, with the next two years seeing the opening of attractions including Dubai Safari Park, Dubai Opera House, Legoland Dubai, Hollywood-themed Motion Gate and Bollywood Parks Dubai.
Business travellers are another stated target segment for the Emirate, and in 2014 the number of visitors travelling for meetings, exhibitions, conferences and events (MICE) grew by 10 per cent.
His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri concluded: “In delivering the ambitious targets of our Tourism Vision for 2020, there are no doubt challenges ahead, but the continued collaboration of all stakeholders within the tourism industry and related sectors ensure we are well positioned for success.”