Dubai, like any other city globally, has changed over the years. But, unlike others, the pace of that change has been frenetic. There is perhaps no other city anywhere in the world that has grown so fast and so big in just more than two decades.
The emirate is now a global hub for tourism, a logistics and transportation hub, home to the world’s busiest airport, a globally recognised
financial centre and much more. The metropolis is on the rise across different dimensions, from business activity and human capital to governance and the underlying connecting infrastructure.
Many visitors to Dubai are attracted to the Emirate’s retail offerings, hotels, beaches and unique experiences, such as Burj Khalifa, desert safaris, souks, glitzy malls, sun-baked beaches and high-rise condos.
Dubai is, however, much more than this. The cornerstone of the emirate’s economy isn’t just the pace of development, it’s the branding and marketing strategy behind that development that helps to make Dubai stand out from all the other cities in
The head of Tourism and Hospitality at Dubai Holding, Gerald Lawless, says Dubai fosters an entrepreneurial spirit that lends itself to innovation and levels of growth and development he has yet to see anywhere else in the world. Moving to Dubai in 1978, Lawless spent 23 years working for Forte Hotels, before moving to Jumeirah Group in 1997.
Having served at the helm of Dubai’s iconic hotel group, Jumeirah, for 18 years, Lawless spearheaded the expansion of the group’s portfolio to become an international brand, helping to shape the company into one of the world’s best-known luxury hospitality brands, while simultaneously playing a pivotal role in establishing Dubai as the world-class tourist destination it is today.
Jumeirah’s portfolio includes ground-breaking developments such as the Burj Al Arab, widely regarded as the most luxurious hotel in the world, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Madinat Jumeirah.
According to global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, Dubai is one of the world’s top five cities for imports and exports, and serves as the major business trading hub in the GCC region. Home to the headquarters of Emirates airline and two international airports, Dubai is also a major destination for international tourism. The city scores high in human capital, with a variety of international schools and many foreign-born residents.
A.T. Kearney’s latest report, Global Cities of the Future, a GCC Perspective, noted that recent changes in public sector administration will serve Dubai and the UAE well, with future-oriented and innovative concepts such as the Ministries of Happiness and Tolerance.
The newly launched Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030 aims to transform the city into a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable, innovation-
focused businesses. Foreign direct investment (FDI) continues to push the city’s business activities to global levels, while entrepreneurship and private investments are beginning to shape a culture of innovation.
Principal with A.T. Kearney and co-author of the report, Michael Romkey, says: “Dubai is a fantastic example of how a city plans ahead, building on its robust progress in many areas to position itself as a leading global city. It has a high growth potential among the cities in the GCC region across all dimensions and continues to capitalise on its current capabilities and position. Its current ranking in the market is a testament to what has already been done and the groundwork implemented for continued success.”
The colour of money
Dubai is also the place for fashionistas and shoppers to update their wardrobe with the new season’s hottest trends and new styles. Last month, Spring/Summer ‘17 collections hit the shelves of stores and boutiques across the emirate. From Cavalli to Coach, Marc Jacobs to Michael Kors, Topshop to Tommy Hilfiger, shoppers could purchase the latest trends, hot off the catwalks, at the city’s leading shopping malls.
The executive director, retail and strategic alliances, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), an agency of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism), Saeed Mohammad Measam Al Falasi, says: “Dubai is a leading global retail destination and is known as the fashion capital of the Middle East. For discerning shoppers looking to stay at the forefront of the latest high-end fashion trends from around the world, Dubai is the place to be this season. Whether looking to purchase couture or ready-to-wear, there is something to suit every budget and fashion taste in Dubai.”
Boasting almost 100 shopping malls and ranked second in the world (just behind London) in terms of representation of international brands, Dubai has become not just the go-to destination for best-in-class shopping, but is recognised as a global retail destination.
With the biggest collection of fashion marques in the Middle East, Dubai is home to world-famous luxury brands, department stores and high-street retailers, and offers everything a fashion-conscious shopper could want.
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A caravan of tourists
Last month, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) released its annual visitor figures, showing Dubai attracted 14.9 million overnight visitors in 2016, recording a healthy five per cent increase over 2015, and an impressive four-year CAGR of eight per cent (2012-2016) since His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the 2020 tourism strategy.
This performance trajectory reflects twice the global travel industry growth – roughly four per cent – over the same period as forecast by the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO).
The strong performance of the emirate’s tourism industry in a particularly turbulent year assures progress towards not only the annual target of 20 million visitors by 2020, but also the increased sector-driven economic contribution to Dubai’s GDP. In an assertive reinforcement of the tourism sector’s resilience and competitiveness, Dubai has continued to grow its share of the outbound travel market, despite three of its largest source markets witnessing unique disruptions, debilitating international factors and a cautious global consumer sentiment that characterised 2016.
The director general of Dubai Tourism, His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, said: “With our international overnight traffic reaching 14.9 million, Dubai has cemented its ranking as the fourth most-visited city in the world, critically delivering the highest value to the domestic economy with our number one ranking in terms of spend per tourist, compared to any other competitor destination.”
“Our growth through a period of unforeseen macro-economic upheavals, particularly across our feeder markets, validates the ability of Dubai’s tourism sector to (1) adapt and respond with agility in all our markets; (2) effectively diversify investments and deploy strategies to minimise single-market exposure; and (3) dynamically converge as an industry across government, private and public sectors to grow our destination appeal and competitiveness,” he added.
“The effectiveness of our three-pronged approach is evidenced by the encouraging 13 per cent growth in volumes from South Asia, led by India, despite the demonetisation and cash pressures facing the market. Similarly, KSA remained the dominant market within the GCC, bringing first-time and significant repeat travellers to Dubai. Another case in point is our tenacity in the UK, post the Brexit announcement and the ensuing more than 20 per cent currency devaluation, where we delivered a commendable five per cent visitation growth,” Almarri summarised.
“Highlights of 2016 include the massive 20 per cent boost in Chinese visitors, crossing the half-million mark for the first time, with 540,000 tourists arriving in Dubai, and the definitive resurgence of inbound Russian tourism, recording a 14 per cent growth in overnight traffic. Both countries are only expected to further accelerate through 2017, thanks to the UAE’s recent implementation of visas-on-arrival for all their citizens,” he added.
Rooms with a view
Dubai’s performance over the past 12 months reflects not only the efficacy of the emirate’s outward-facing measures and regulatory enablement, but also the in-country proposition enhancement, ranging from new attractions and the breadth of offerings across entertainment and culture, to the five per cent increase in room supply, as Dubai crosses the 100,000-mark, reaching a tally of 102,845 rooms.
As Dubai celebrated the opening of numerous new luxury properties, such as The St. Regis Dubai, W Dubai and Westin at Al Habtoor City, Palazzo Versace Dubai and Jumeirah Al Naseem, there has been a marked focus on broadening the destination’s appeal to the family segment, as well as the mid-market audiences.
Reflective of the success of this strategic agenda, 2016 saw a significant boost in the number of properties in the three- and four-star range. Three-star hotel room capacity grew by a stellar 24 per cent in 2016, while four-star capacity grew by eight per cent, as several stylish and boutique new entrants, such as the Rove Hotels, carved a niche position for themselves in the market.
A world of leisure
Beyond accommodation, new additions to the destination portfolio include the opening of attractions such as IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world’s largest indoor theme park, and Dubai Parks and Resorts, the region’s largest integrated theme park resort. Additionally, 2016 witnessed the opening of Dubai Opera, a world-class entertainment venue, hosting some of the most internationally acclaimed performances and productions, and CITY WALK, the city’s trendiest new retail destination.
With these significant investments in tourism-related infrastructure coming on-stream during 2016, Dubai expects to fully realise the benefits of these enhancements in the coming years. The parks serve to dramatically raise the family-attractiveness of Dubai, while the recent openings of the Etihad Museum, Dubai Opera and the development of the Dubai -Historic District, all deliver strong appeal to travellers seeking art, culture and heritage.
Additionally, the emirate’s well-established business and consumer events industry continues to be a key economic contributor, with the delivery of a strong and regularly renewed annual calendar of global pillar events, central to the value-creation agenda for tourism.
Also established in 2017 is the Dubai Retail Calendar, showcasing a strong programme of anchor retail activities driven by an active, city-wide effort across shopping festivals, promotions and seasonal offer periods, mega-sales and clearance events, exclusive retail experiences and activations – all designed to truly elevate Dubai’s positioning as a ‘must-visit’ shopping destination offering the best of the world’s brands in one convenient location, as well as the newest and most diversified range of collections, with exemplary customer service that redefines the retail experience for global travellers.
Serving as the backbone of one of Dubai’s core tourism pillars – shopping – this calendar developed in consultation with public and private sector stakeholders, is actively marketed across targeted markets and audience segments that seek shopping experiences as an integral aspect of their travel, ultimately generating increased traffic and retail spends, within Dubai.
The competitiveness of the city’s ever-evolving entertainment calendar was reinforced as Dubai earned the honour of being named the 2016 World Festival and Event City for the fifth time since 2011, by the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA), the premier association supporting and enabling festival and event professionals worldwide.
Dubai Tourism’s Brand and Event Marketing Operations VP, Moaza Buti Alyouha, says: “2016 saw Dubai significantly grow its business and leisure event portfolio, hosting close to 2,000 events across the city, spanning the trade, sports, community, heritage, arts and culture, lifestyle, entertainment and business sectors. The 2017 calendar is just as packed, with stand-out events including annual mainstays, such as Dubai Food Festival, Art Dubai and the Dubai World Cup, as well as one-off performances by the likes of Tom Jones, Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias and Justin Bieber.”
Additionally, being awarded the status of the World’s Leading Festival and Event Destination at the annual World Travel Awards emphatically underscored the continued appeal and success of Dubai’s ability to host an impressive array of flagship events and city festivals.
The 22nd edition of the recently concluded Dubai Shopping Festival, the gastronomic delights of the Dubai Food Festival and the family-focused Dubai Summer Surprises all serve as leading city anchors to the emirate’s strong event proposition, supplemented by a plethora of others.
In recent months, Dubai won recognition as the Overseas Luxury MICE Destination of the Year 2016 at the China Travel & Meetings Industry Awards – Business Travel & MICE, and was named the Middle East’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination 2016 at the World Travel Awards
Middle East, in addition to also winning the People’s Choice Award.
“Infrastructure, accommodation, air connectivity, access and policy enablers continue to be the facilitating levers that ensure Dubai remains price-competitive and hugely attractive for a broad range of global travellers. By consistently outpacing the global forecast for visitors, we remain extremely confident about the future outlook for Dubai, especially considering the global headwinds we faced last year, as we remain in the top four most-visited cities in the world,” Almarri notes.
The macro-economic indicators point towards a gradual improvement in the overall UAE economy that is relatively resilient to the impact of the slump in oil prices. However, economists beg to differ on the economic growth outlook.
The Washington-based institute of International Finance (IIF) cautioned in its February report that the key risk for the UAE, including Dubai, is lower-than-expected oil prices. Challenges include spillovers from slowing neighbouring economies and real exchange rate appreciation. The IIF says financial conditions have tightened, while stock and property prices are under pressure. At the same time, the strong dollar, to which the dirham is pegged, has compounded the challenges faced by the non-oil sector.
Another cautionary note is from a report by PwC, titled UAE’s transformation into a world-class Leisure & Entertainment destination. While acknowledging that the UAE has a reputation of constantly evolving, having yet again reached the inflection point of the next transformation, it cautions: “To achieve these ambitious targets, the country cannot rely on a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. If the UAE takes a holistic approach to its destination management, offering an Emirates-wide vision and coordination, encouraging collaboration and partnerships between all stakeholders, it can exploit its unique geographical location and deliver high-quality attractions that can weather the diverse cultural requirements of the Middle East and the extreme summer weather conditions.”
‘Something for every type of visitor’
In your opinion, what forms the core of Brand Dubai?
Dubai has built its reputation as a global mega city by going big and bold, and it is this limitless ambition and fearlessness that have transformed the city into a hugely successful global brand. The city offers something for every type of visitor, with a diverse and endless list of tourist attractions, and is also a major hub for trading, finance and commerce. Dubai’s myriad charms have been marketed to audiences around the world in a compelling, deeply engaging manner. Basically, you could say that Brand Dubai is a good story told well.
How has Brand Dubai reinvented itself over the years, according to your experience?
Any conversation on the amazing pull of Brand Dubai has to start with the foresight and determination of its leaders, who not only had the vision and resourcefulness to turn a barren stretch of desert into a modern metropolis, but also the passion and commitment to keep building on that vision to make the city’s success story an ongoing one.
Throughout its modern history, Dubai has consistently found a way to keep reinventing itself, adding new surprises at every turn to entrench its position as one of the world’s leading tourism destinations. As the premier hotel management company in Dubai and the region, Rotana is proud to have played a part in the evolution of the hospitality industry, which is a pillar of the city’s tourism ecosystem.
Dubai is today the fourth most-visited city in the world and it remains on track to achieving the seven to eight per cent annual growth in visitor numbers that will catapult it into the position of the world’s top tourism destination.
What more needs to be done to transform UAE and the GCC region into a must-see experiential destination?
The UAE is the perfect destination for the experiential traveller. From skydiving and dune-bashing to experiential dining concepts, enchanting cruise excursions and a variety of thrill rides and extreme sport experiences, the country offers a plethora of experiential and adventure travel options.
This shift in focus is evident in the hotel industry too, where players are rapidly adapting their strategy and service offering to cater to the experiential appetite of today’s travellers, particularly millennials. As with the country’s own growth story, the private sector has made immense contributions to boosting the UAE’s credentials as a world-class experiential destination. Incentivising players in the tourism and hospitality sector could help take the growth of this segment to the next level.
‘Dubai has reinvented itself successfully’
In your opinion, what forms the core of Brand Dubai?
At the core of Dubai’s brand is simplicity and trust. Today, Dubai is an international, multicultural city [known] around the world, which has been able to readily welcome one and all. The Dubai logo is a strong example, as it has alphabets in both English and Arabic, and is ‘cool’ and ‘welcoming’.
Dubai has used to its advantage the several landmarks, such as Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa, in the earlier version of the logo. This has led many people to have a visual association of these iconic landmarks with Dubai. Tourism has also played a large part in its position – Dubai’s focus on airports and the aviation industry has contributed immensely and it has successfully leveraged its position as a hub between the East and the West.
How has Brand Dubai reinvented itself over the years, according to your experience?
Dubai has reinvented itself successfully as a leading international city by addressing the public’s needs quickly and efficiently. The government has openly launched a number of strategic initiatives and plans for a happy and prosperous community. Similarly, the country is leading a digital revolution with plans to become a ‘Smart’ City. Other examples are the inductions of Ministers of Happiness as well as Tolerance.
Residents, in particular, have seen continuous progress and the government has led these initiatives from the front and actively encouraged participation from private companies towards achieving these objectives.
How has Dubai maintained its identity despite being the melting pot of many nationalities from around the world?
Dubai has become a benchmark for other cities in the GCC region, through its acceptance and tolerance of ideologies, cultures and religions from around the world. However, despite its diversity, the city has kept its own symbolically important cultural identity by building on its foundations. The city aptly names many of its infrastructure, roads and projects in honour of its leaders from both past and present as well as its heritage. In addition we have seen the government play a big part in actively enforcing a curated culture – which caters to the city’s needs.
– By Sunil Kumar Singh
A detailed version of this article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Gulf Marketing Review. To subscribe please call: +971 4 369 7573