Marketing UAE as one destination offers long-term benefits

Published December 15th, 2009 - 10:08 GMT

Branding the UAE as one destination, rather than focusing solely on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, would greatly benefit the country's tourism industry, especially in light of the economic downturn and the Dubai World debt crisis, according to an industry expert.


The economic crisis has hurt tourism across the globe, but it has had a particularly harmful impact on the UAE's hospitality sector, which has seen some of the sharpest declines in the world.

In Dubai, revenue per available room (revPAR), a key indicator in the industry, fell 35.3% to $198.22 in October compared to the same period a year ago, according to STR Global. The revPAR decline was nearly matched by the 29.3% drop in average daily room rates that was recorded in the same month in the emirate.

Hotels in Abu Dhabi also witnessed declines in October, with revenue per available room down 14.8% compared to the same period last year. Overall, hotels in the UAE were the worst performers in the Middle East and Africa region, with RevPAR tumbling 32.1% to $194.5 and occupancy slumping 10% to 74.4%.

The increased supply of hotel rooms, especially in Dubai, was one of the main reasons cited for the declines in the country. The UAE has the largest number of hotel rooms in the 'In Construction' phase (30,039 rooms) and total active pipeline (53,789 rooms) among countries in the Middle East.

Nationwide appeal

Given the challenges it has faced in the wake of the economic downturn, the UAE should market itself as one mega-destination in order to take advantage of all that the country offers to visitors, says Ibrahim Lahoud, Director of Strategy and Brand Communication at BrandCentral.

'The UAE should look at one strategy for marketing itself, rather than focusing on Dubai and Abu Dhabi as separate destinations,' he told 'The country should follow the strategy used by Egypt, which has several areas that are popular with tourists but still markets itself as one country.'

Abu Dhabi and Dubai complement each other well as destinations, as the capital is focusing on sports and cultural tourism, while Dubai offers 'power' tourism, by which the emirate offers a bit of everything, he noted.

'If you combined the two together it would give the country a lot more momentum,' Lahoud said. 'After all, I might be a tourist looking for culture as well as indoor skiing.'

Often overshadowed are the attractions in the smaller emirates, such as the mountains in Ras Al Khaimah and the diving in Fujairah, which add to the variety of offerings in the country.

'It's true that these emirates will not reach the size of Abu Dhabi or Dubai, but it is not just about size when you are talking about a tourist destination,' he noted. 'When we are looking to get away we want to go to the smallest island or the remotest destination. So there is a danger lurking for the larger emirates as the smaller ones improve their offerings. We don't want to see the UAE competing against each other.'

Changing perceptions

One benefit of marketing the UAE as one destination is that it can help counter the image of the country as a luxury destination. 'It's a game of perception. What we see of Dubai on TV and in the media is always that luxurious aspect that you hear about. And when the economic crisis arose some tourists stayed away.

'But you can have a lot of fun in Dubai and the rest of the UAE on a relatively medium budget. You don't have to go to expensive restaurants. So what Dubai, and all of the emirates, have to realize is that they survive from expatriate manpower, expatriate tourism, expatriate everything. And they have to always keep this in front of their eyes to keep the momentum going.'

The importance of Dubai and Abu Dhabi working together was highlighted recently by the debt crisis impacting Dubai World and the perception that Abu Dhabi will likely have a larger role in Dubai's economic decision making in the future.

'I think it's a big mess, but what we need to do is focus on the rescue plan. It is totally redundant to sit down and debate about what happened and what might have been. We all have a task to move forward and time is running on. In economies today things don't go as slow as us, they go much faster. So it's about moving and moving fast,' he said.

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