Dubai’s luxury tourism continues to thrive
London - Dubai, the land of sun, sand and exuberance, is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world and its share of the global luxury tourism market continues to impress, despite economic challenges facing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.
The emirate, which was recently selected as the world’s most cosmopolitan city by the International Organisation for Migration, has seen its profile as a luxury tourist destination rise in the last decade, a distinction Dubai authorities deliberately set out to achieve.
However, low oil prices that have reduced the spending power of many potential visitors and new austerity measures, including a value-added tax in Dubai beginning in 2018, have left many asking: Are the good times over? The situation at home coupled with economic condition in some of Dubai’s key markets, such as the Russian federation, has meant the emirate has had to look elsewhere.
There was a rise in tourists from the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and India in 2015, said Gerald Lawless, chief executive officer (CEO) of Jumeirah Hotels, which owns the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel. He said the Chinese market offset a drop in the number of Russian tourists. In an interview with the Financial Times, Lawless said the Chinese tourism market was up 25% from 2014 and 58% from 2013.
Nurturing the tourism industry is a must for Dubai, as its energy revenues pale in comparison to neighbouring Abu Dhabi, and the luxury aspect of the tourism industry is an important component for it to achieve the needed growth.
“At the end of last year, we had more than 90 five-star hotel properties representing over 31,000 rooms, equating to almost a third of all hotel room inventory in the city, which further underlines the destination’s propensity to appeal to a strong luxury travel segment.” said Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
Kazim said Dubai continues to develop offerings to appeal to a more diverse visitor segment as it looks to meet its target of 20 million visitors per year by the end of the decade. “Yet, premium experiences, whatever the budget, will still be the hallmark of what Dubai represents,” he said.
At the Burj Al Arab hotel, which was recently named the most popular hotel for celebrity spotting by the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, guests can expect 24-karat gold iPads upon their arrival.
One of New York’s most historic and luxurious hotel chains, the St Regis, recently began operating in Dubai, boasting 234 rooms, 52 of which are suites. The crown jewel of the hotel is its Imperial Suite. Spread across two floors and 913 square metres, the three-bedroom accommodation contains a living room, a dining room, a study, an Arabic-style majlis lounge with a spiral staircase leading to the hotel’s domed roof and swimming pool.
The competition for a piece of the Dubai big-spender pie has led to luxury travel operators setting up shop in the emirate. Britain’s Elegant Resorts and Singapore’s Lightfoot Travel offer desert-themed, seven-day luxury tour packages starting at $8,800 per person.
The lucrative medical tourism market is also thriving in Dubai and catering to this demand will be the Middle East’s first five-star luxury hospital, the construction of which is to begin in 2016. The hospital is to contain 150 luxury suites and, according to developer Advet Bhambani Ventures, will offer, “top-notch” concierge and fine dining, personalised limousine service to and from the hospital, tailor-made spa treatments and other wellness packages to aid patients’ recovery.
In the first half of 2015, Dubai attracted 256,097 medical tourists from within and outside the United Arab Emirates.
But what really separates Dubai from other luxury destinations? Kazim said it is what Dubai has to offer as an overall experience.
“One can stay in a seven-star hotel like the Burj Al Arab, play a round of golf on championship-ready courses, have lunch in the world’s tallest tower, shop for leading global brands, be amazed by the dazzling Dubai fountain show, then have a romantic dinner in the sand dunes — all in one day,” he said.
“In addition, Dubai also offers experiences that you cannot find anywhere else, such as sky diving over the iconic Palm Islands to skiing in a shopping mall, whilst also being able to juxtapose this with a cultural journey through the historic districts of Dubai for a more rewarding and rich insight into the city’s past.”