Interview: Helal Saeed Almarri
How will regulatory changes in the sector help cement Dubai’s position as a leading destination?
HELAL SAEED ALMARRI: At the federal level, the easing of UAE visa policies has made it easier for tourists 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 countries to the existing 15 member states already eligible. August 2014 saw the announcement of the UAE multi-entry cruise visa, opening up cruise holidays to the UAE as a more attractive option to additional potential source markets such as China, India, South America, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
At the Dubai governmental level, legislation is also geared towards encouraging hotel construction and making it easier to visit Dubai. In September 2013, Dubai introduced a financial incentive aimed at the mid-market segment, encouraging hotel owners and investors to bring forward their construction time-lines, thus speeding up the construction of three- and four-star hotels. This was followed, in January 2014, by the issuance of a series of directives designed to enhance and streamline hotel investment and development. These included the reduction of the hotel construction pre-approval process to two months, the standardisation of all approvals for hotel planning permission through the Dubai Municipality, and the allocation of government land for the development of three- and four-star hotels. This has resulted in further diversification of Dubai’s portfolio of hotels.
To what extent should the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism sector become a main area of focus in 2016?
ALMARRI: Business events are of major importance to tourism growth. Dubai’s position as the region’s leading destination for business events and our progress in the MICE sector was acknowledged at the latest edition of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence Global Conference, where Dubai won the Crystal Award – the highest in the incentive travel industry – while the World Economic Forum recently ranked the UAE’s Business Environment fourth out of 141 countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report published in 2015.
Driven by an increase in passengers arriving in the emirate, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) has secured its position as the Middle East’s premier platform for business networking and international trade. DWTC has completed work on a 15,500-sq-metre extension to its indoor complex space, taking the available multi-purpose indoor event and exhibition capacity to over 122,000 sq metres. To support MICE sector growth, we have the best infrastructure in the region – underlined in an April 2015 study commissioned by Simon-Kucher & Partners, which placed Dubai’s public transport services higher than 14 other established metropolises around the world.
What measures will be taken to double visitor numbers in time for Dubai Expo 2020?
ALMARRI: There are three key areas to ensuring we meet our Tourism Vision for 2020 goals. First, we seek to maintain market share and momentum in our traditionally largest key source markets, where growth will lead to a natural rise in visitors from these markets. Second, there are a number of markets that we have identified as having high growth potential, including a number of emerging markets, and our goal is to tap these. Third, we aim to increase repeat visitors from all markets and encourage them to stay longer.
Our target is to welcome 20m visitors per year by 2020, doubling the 10m that arrived in 2012. This will require annual growth of 7-9%, and our growth over the last five years has averaged 8%, indicating that we are very much on track. To accommodate the extra visitors, Dubai is expanding its hotel portfolio, with a total of 140,000-160,000 keys targeted by 2020.
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