Chinese tourists are flocking to Dubai in increasing numbers in the wake of the introduction of several travel incentives including visa-on-arrival for Chinese citizens.
Dubai has been witnessing a big surge of 119 per cent in Chinese overnight visitors since 2014 with a year on year increase of 41.4 per cent overnight Chinese visitors in 2017 compared to 2016.
As one of Dubai's fastest-growing source markets, over the pas first five months, tourist from China reached a record 400,547 visitors, and the rate of growth is predicted to continue in 2018, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) said in a statement ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's arrival in the UAE.
Key milestones contributing to such rapid growth include visa-on-arrival for Chinese citizens and recent partnership agreements with Huawei, Fliggy and Tencent, according to Dubai Tourism.
Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of Dubai Tourism, said the department's approach to engaging Chinese tourists is two-fold. While landmark partnerships, investments and marketing activities have been undertaken in 48 cities across China, Dubai Tourism has partnered with a city-level China-readiness strategy in Dubai to enhance the experience of Chinese tourists.
The introduction of visa-on-arrival for Chinese nationals in 2016, working in conjunction with the increase in air capacity by national carriers from China - currently standing at 30 flights a week, a 13 per cent increase in non-stop seat capacity in 2017- has also contributed to rapid growth, he said.
In January, Dubai Tourism signed a memorandum of understanding with Huawei, which saw images of Dubai's key tourist attractions, including the Burj Khalifa and Atlantis The Palm, pre-loaded on to Huawei mobile phones.
Similarly, last year saw the authority partner with Tencent, which owns WeChat, a Chinese social media platform with an estimated one billion average monthly users, to promote Dubai across the app as a tourism destination.
In May, the agreement was expanded further, with Huawei Mobile Services agreeing to offer useful and accessible content about Dubai, in particular through the company's newly-updated SkyTone travel and roaming apps. Additional milestones include an MoU with Fliggy, Alibaba's online travel platform, and strategic alliance with China's mega Internet conglomerate, Tencent to elevate the positioning of Dubai as the preferred destination for Chinese travellers and to launch an audio guide feature on WeChat. Dubai Tourism is also working towards several projects concentrating on innovation and artificial intelligence.
"These strategic agreements not only increased market penetration with native language content and complimented the marketing activity of Dubai Tourism's four in-market offices, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu; but also advanced the China-ready commitment of Dubai Tourism for visitors," Dubai Tourism said.
Over 760,000 Chinese tourists visited Dubai last year, while about 258,000 Chinese visited Dubai in the first quarter of 2018, up 12 per cent year-on-year.
"Based on the latest statistics, we are truly confident that Chinese visitors will play a huge role in helping us realise Dubai's Tourism Vision, which aims to welcome 20 million visitors per year by 2020," Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said.
Other activities being initiated by Dubai to promote tourism flow from China included private and public sector collaboration on activities such as city-wide Chinese New Year celebrations as well as programmes for the travel trade to improve skills to cater to Chinese travellers. In addition, through Dubai College of Tourism, an entity of Dubai Tourism, tour guide training in Mandarin has been conducted with over 200 guides trained to date, Dubai Tourism said.
"The outbound Chinese market represents a vast, untapped pool of affluent and adventurous travellers and the GCC has been a destination of choice for years. Owing to its many business opportunities and a new generation of leisure attractions, figures show the GCC is poised to further capitalise on these trends over the coming years as millions of Chinese make their first international trip," said Simon Press, senior exhibition director of the Arabian Travel Market.
China is the world's number one source market for tourism with 129 million outbound trips in 2017, according to research by Ctrip. Currently, the GCC attracts 1.9 per cent of China's total tourist outbound market. The upward trend is expected to continue as 154 million Chinese tourists are expected to travel abroad in 2018, followed by 244 million in 2022.
By Issac John
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