Dubai continued to see steady growth in tourist arrivals last year on the back of its traditional markets, led by India, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
Latest data released by Dubai Tourism disclosed that overnight visitors reached 15.92 million in 2018, an increase of 0.8 per cent over the previous year. India topped with over two million visitors followed by 1.6 million from Saudi Arabia and 1.2 million from the United Kingdom.
While the number of visitors from China and Russia increased 12 per cent and 28 per cent to 857,000 and 678,000, respectively. Both the countries were fourth- and fifth-largest markets in terms of visitor arrivals in Dubai last year.
Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of Dubai Tourism, said they remain focused on ensuring that the emirate becomes the most visited city in the world in line with Dubai's Tourism Strategy 2022-25. "Throughout 2018, we developed and deployed a custom-market specific approach to deeper penetrate our target markets," he said.
"Our strategic investments, innovative destination promotion programmes, responsive federal policy reforms, and long-term global partnerships - all backed by the tremendous support of our stakeholders across the government and private sector - continue to yield strong results as we ramp up efforts to increase Dubai's accessibility, visibility and overall appeal, minimise barriers to travel, deliver new standards in global travel experiences, and ultimately drive both first-time and repeat visitation," he added.
Germany, the United States, the Philippines, France and Italy rounded off the top 10 markets.
The number of visitors from the US grew four per cent to 656,000 while the Philippines entered into the top 10 for the first time with 387,000 guests.
Tourists from France jumped 17 per cent to 348,000. Nigeria witnessed the highest growth of 36 per cent, bringing it back into the top 29 with 185,000 Nigerians visiting the emirate last year.
According to Dubai Tourism, tourist arrivals from stronghold markets of Oman and Pakistan declined last year.
Manu Midha, regional head for the Middle East at OYO Hotels and Homes, said the tourism industry in Dubai in 2019 will be largely driven by leisure and trade tourists with India, Saudi Arabia and China driving the numbers again.
"Last year, there were over half-a-million trade visitors alone in addition to millions of leisure visitors. The third promising category would be that of medical tourism as Dubai is home to some world class hospitals. There is a lot of traction from Africa within this category," he said.
"Dubai has so much to offer every kind of traveller, whether it is theme parks or shopping the city has covered it all. Then there are investors who are looking for their second homes in the UAE. This industry will also drive the numbers as investors would like to get a feel of the destination before parking their real estate dollars. The fourth category that will drive the tourism sector would be the world of sports which will go on an overdrive in 2019."
Ammar Kanaan, group general manager of Central Hotels, sees tourist arrival growth trend to continue due to multiple attractions and demand drivers. "At the moment, there is a lot more supply coming into the market in preparation for Expo 2020 Dubai and hence, temporarily, supply is expected to exceed demand. This may put pressure on ADR and RevPAR. While some hotels might compromise on the average room rates to boost occupancy levels, others with stronger room rates will see an impact on the occupancies."
He said this year the summer season will be longer due to the advent of the holy month of Ramadan in May, which could prove challenging for business. "From September onwards, we expect the market to pick up better."
Chris Nader, vice-president at Shaza Hotels, said, Dubai is faring better by creating new demand generators in existing and new destinations.
"There is definitely room for hotels that can offer unique experiences in these new locations. Unfortunately, hotels that have no USPs will continue to suffer and reduce rates in order to maintain some market share, and this will be reflected in their negative RevPAR growth index," said Nader.
According to Dubai Tourism, there were 716 establishments across the emirate with 115,967 rooms, an increase of 8 per cent in terms of new rooms supply last year. Currently, 33 per cent of inventory is controlled by five-star hotels, 26 per cent by four-star properties and one-to-three stars command a 20 per cent share. Hotel apartments constitute 21 per cent of the total inventory.
With average occupancy reaching 76 per cent, occupied room nights were up to 30.13 million, while guests' average length of stay remained unchanged at 3.5 nights.
From a regional perspective, 21 per cent of the visitors came from Western Europe, followed by 18 per cent and 17 per cent from GCC and South Asia, respectively. North Asia and Southeast Asia, meanwhile, accounted for 11 per cent of the total.
Mena arrivals grew 10 per cent and 9 per cent from the CIS and Eastern Europe, respectively.
By Waheed Abbas
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