Dubai’s tourism volumes surge to over 12 million overnight visitors in first three quarters of 2019
A surge in arrivals over the summer months accelerated Dubai’s tourism momentum, as the city welcomed 12.08 million international overnight visitors in the first nine months of 2019, according to the latest visitation figures released by Dubai’s Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism). The strong 4.3 per cent increase in volume growth compared to the same period last year was supported by highly participatory contributions from both traditional and emerging markets, that has continued to capture strong shares of the tourist wallet, further stimulating Dubai’s GDP impact, and the city’s remarkable consistency in transforming itself to respond to global competition.
The positive performance, which drew over 1.23 million visitors to the city in September, an above market average increase of 7.3 per cent over the same month in 2018, coincided with Dubai being ranked the fourth most visited city in the world for the fifth year in a row in Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index 2019, a clear indication that Dubai is continuously renewing its attractiveness to remain a leading global destination.
Dubai Tourism’s multi-dimensional market-specific strategies, and customised campaigns continued to yield tangible results particularly showcasing the city’s ability to reinvent itself and remain ‘top-of mind’ to both new and repeat audiences across regular strongholds – India, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and Oman. Together with China that remained the world’s largest tourism volume driver, these five leading feeder countries surpassed the five million threshold for the first nine months of 2019.
India retained its position as Dubai’s leading source market, with over 1.39 million visitors during the first nine months of 2019, reaffirming the effectiveness of various innovative promotional activities launched by Dubai Tourism, including the continued success of its multi-award-winning collaboration with Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan, campaigns across digital and broadcast platforms, as well as capitalising on a federal government decision to exempt children under 18 from visa fees during the summer months. This reaped dividends as evidenced in the increase in travel share of Indian families with children by a substantial 13 percentage points from 32 to 45 per cent during the nine month period in 2019 over the same period last year.
Solidifying its position as the highest traffic volume generator for the GCC, Saudi Arabia registered a two per cent year-on-year growth for over 1.25 million visitors, largely driven by the KSA National Day holiday on 23 September, which saw Saudi arrivals registering a massive 36+% growth compared to the same holiday period in 2018. With Dubai emphasising its priority focus on Saudi families, tourism campaigns and promotions dominated digital, social and multi-media platforms ensuring that the city’s custom line-up of events, entertainment and lifestyle offerings for KSA were always relevant, accessible, and unmissable.
Despite the devaluation of the pound against the dollar, and continued Brexit uncertainty, UK remained Dubai’s third largest source market with 851,000 visitors, largely due to the intense ‘Always On’ series of in-market activities ranging from seasonal campaigns and promotions, to heavy stakeholder engagement including high-level envoy visits to drive one-to-one dialogue and strategic destination partnerships with leading media, publishers, and travel sector stalwarts. Dubai retained high demand from families with children, one of the focus segments of the tourism strategy in the UK, accounting for 25 per cent of the share during the first nine months of 2019, up by five percentage points compared to the same period in 2018.
Oman stayed the course as one of the key drivers within the top performing markets, delivering 778,000 visitors for a 28 per cent increase year-on-year, making it the fourth highest traffic generator. Similar to the others, families were the priority for Dubai’s marketing efforts and the results were a resounding endorsement not just of the efficacy of the regional seasonal campaigns and event programming, but also of the packed retail and events calendar, offering rewarding summer packages and value offerings designed specifically to deliver memorable lifelong experiences for new and repeat audiences.
Maintaining consistency, China, one of the fastest-growing source markets, further increased tourism volumes, taking fifth spot with an impressive 14 per cent increase that saw 729,000 Chinese tourists being welcomed in the first nine months of 2019. It is a reflection of Dubai’s successful 4-pronged approach: (i) regulatory changes that were introduced earlier such as granting Chinese citizens free visa-on-arrival access to the UAE, (ii) strategies aimed at retaining relevance and attractiveness for this market through platform-based awareness programmes, (iii) tailored trip-planning via leading social and digital ecosystem partners, and (iv) in-city experiences through its ‘China Readiness’ initiative aimed at offering Chinese visitors exceptional experiences across all tourism touchpoints.
The United States, which saw a one per cent increase, and Russia, maintained their sixth and seventh positions with 481,000 and 433,000 visitors respectively in the first nine months of the year. Steadily building on the quest to become the #1 family destination for global travellers, Dubai prioritised this segment effectively in Russia as well to see a four point increase to 34 per cent in the first nine months of 2019. Within the top 10 source markets, Germany and Pakistan also retained their eighth and ninth positions with 392,000 and 378,000 visitors respectively while Philippines, one of the fastest-growing feeder markets, staged an impressive comeback to the top 10 with a 29 per cent increase delivering 352,000 visitors.
With renewed impetus from KSA the regional leader, and Oman, the GCC further consolidated its regional foothold by increasing its share of visitor volumes to 20 per cent to match the 20 per cent in volumes from Western Europe, as they secured the joint leadership position from a regional perspective. France, which climbed two places with a 10 per cent increase and Italy with a four per cent increase boosted visitor numbers from the Western Europe region, to support UK and German volumes. South Asia was the next highest regional contributor to visitor volumes with 16 per cent, followed by a 12 per cent contribution from North Asia and South East Asia dominated by China.
Markets across the MENA region maintained a volume of 10 per cent, with Egypt climbing one place to No. 13 with a nine per cent increase in visitors. Russia, CIS and the Eastern Europe region contributed eight per cent of the volume base, with the visitor influx from this region seeing the emergence of Kazakhstan as a top 20 source market for the first time with a 24 per cent increase in volumes – thanks in part to the visa on arrival provisions which were extended to cover a wider range of countries within this region. The Americas and Africa, each with a six per cent contribution to the regional share, are testament to the success of Dubai’s market diversification strategies and its global appeal. Nigeria, the fastest growing emerging market continued to bolster the regional performance out of Africa with a massive 34 per cent increase in arrivals. Australasia rounded off the regional mix with two per cent of the market share.
His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Dubai Tourism, said: “With Dubai cementing its ranking as the fourth most visited city in the world, the positive growth achieved in the first three quarters this year is exemplary of the unfailing support and confidence of our leadership – His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in our collective ability with our partners and stakeholders, to steadily accelerate towards making Dubai the #1 most visited, preferred and revisited global destination.
“Our market-specific diversified strategy aimed at driving consideration from a broad spectrum of countries and visitor segments, continues to help us successfully navigate macro-economic vagaries over a nine-month period, culminating in a record number of visitors between January-September, particularly those choosing Dubai as their summer destination of choice. These latest figures affirm the strength of the emirate’s tourism industry, and our strong seasonal performance speaks to the effectiveness of our ‘Always On’ campaigns across key feeder markets coupled with ecosystem collaboration to deliver value, variety and diversity to all our audiences. The robust increase in travel by families from key markets, and specifically from Saudi Arabia, exemplifies Dubai’s growing appeal as a year-round ‘must-visit’ family destination, replete with events, attractions and activities for all ages.
“The ongoing consolidation in traditional strongholds and a concerted outreach in tapping the vast potential in emerging markets, yielded further dividends especially at a regional-level across Europe and GCC, in addition to the very encouraging performances from our Asian and African markets. As we head into 2020, our efforts will remain focused on attracting new, first-time and repeat visitors from emerging, as well as established markets, to ensure that Dubai stays at the forefront of the world’s widely recommended travel destinations,” HE Almarri added.
Dubai Tourism continued to launch targeted destination-focused campaigns and strategic activations across global source markets through a combination of customised programmes, stakeholder and trade partnerships. Complementing the runaway success of the diaspora focused #BeMyGuest campaign, Dubai Tourism expects to amplify the volume across the world with the latest-just launched brand campaign – Hollywood mega starrer Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson and Zoe Saldana. The new project is a short film ‘A Story Takes Flight’ directed by award-winning filmmaker Reed Morano, featuring the three women embarking on highly individualistic journeys of exploration through Dubai, only to culminate in a harmonious story of inspiration, discovery, and human connections.
New campaigns in the first three quarters of the year included a highly successful ‘Monsoon’ promotion across digital platforms for Indian audiences that showcased Dubai as the perfect getaway from grey skies to over 30 million frequent travellers in India, driving urgency to book a Dubai holiday. Further, trade roadshows in three key Indian cities – Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad – helped promote Dubai’s destination offerings to over 750 travel agents.
As Dubai continues to see positive gains in visitors during the summer – particularly from regional markets – several segment specific innovative campaigns were launched during the first nine months across the GCC, such as the first-ever partnership with TikTok – the world’s leading short-form mobile video application – for the #ThisisDubai campaign. The programme that saw GCC users sharing their unique Dubai stories with specially themed music for a chance to win an exciting holiday to the emirate, resulted in over 30 million video views and over 47,000 user generated videos featuring the song ‘This is Dubai’. Familiarisation trips for KSA’s top travel agents, tour operators and media were also hosted with more than 90 representatives from trade companies and 70 journalists and influencers invited to explore the latest offerings to help them develop or showcase tailor-made itineraries for GCC audiences.
Efforts to boost arrivals from the UK market have paid off with Dubai’s omnipresent including but not limited to spearheading the marketing ongoing 360 outreach featuring the distribution of creatives across digital, social and video channels, which aims to position Dubai as the “Always In Season” destination for UK travellers. The first three quarters of the year also saw the launch of niche programmes that increased interest from traditionally strong audiences and tapped into emerging ones with a punchy celebrity activation featuring Rochelle Humes and Giovanna Fletcher urging consideration from families, fashionistas and fitness enthusiasts alike. Continuing to highlight the city’s thriving gastronomic portfolio, a special partnership with online food distribution network, Twisted London featured inspiring recipes and invited viewers to win a chance to experience Emirati cuisine in London. Content partnerships with The Telegraph, and News UK, enabled far-reaching editorial coverage across The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Sun to authentically substantiate Dubai’s appeal and competitiveness in this priority source market.
With China being the social and digital hotspot for marketing innovation, Dubai Tourism launched several firsts including one featuring the popular Chinese emoticon and internet character “Tuzki” in partnership with Turner Asia Pacific, a WarnerMedia company, to get over 78 million Chinese netizens engaged with Tuzki’s holiday adventures in Dubai across Weibo, WeChat and online video platforms. Similarly, partnerships with Tencent Games enabled launch of The Map as part of the successful online LEGO@Cube game application, offering players an inventive platform to explore and create Dubai’s famous landmarks in a virtual world on command.
Pakistan saw its monsoon season being welcomed by a prospective visit to Dubai as leading broadcaster ARY Network offered Pakistanis a chance to book great value holiday breaks to Dubai via ARY’s e-commerce platform, Sahulat Bazaar. The campaign yielded significant traditional and social media exposure in both Pakistan and the UAE with its unique “Chalo Dubai!” feature leveraging ‘box office king’ Humayun Saeed, and popular game show ‘Jeeto Pakistan’ host Fahad Mustafa, among others, to invite fans to travel with them to Dubai on special packages.
Apart from the visit by a high-level Dubai Tourism delegation to the UK and participation most recently at WTM, top officials also visited other leading feeder markets including Russia and Nigeria, as part of the global outreach efforts to engage with key strategic partners. In Nigeria, Dubai Tourism participated at the Akwaaba African Travel Market, West Africa’s most prestigious travel trade event, for the fourth consecutive year with a strong delegation of 21 Dubai-based partners, which included a team from Expo 2020 Dubai.
Dubai’s cruise industry continued to play a pivotal role in contributing to the emirate’s tourism sector, with Dubai strengthening its appeal as the favoured destination amongst international cruise lines and cruise tourists. Dubai concluded its 2018/2019 cruise season with a record increase of over 51 per cent in cruise tourist inflow and a 38 per cent increase in cruise ship calls season-on-season. To actively support this segment, Dubai has also taken enabling steps for cruise tourists from over 50 countries to have hassle-free access.
Further growth in visitor figures is expected, supported by an ever-evolving annual Retail Calendar featuring an attractive schedule of sales, and promotional shopping campaigns during key festivals and events, season launches, holiday periods and sales, all of which will kick off for 2020 with the 25th edition of Dubai Shopping Festival this December. Additional investment in tourism-related infrastructure will drive continued first time and repeat visitation with even more icons in the pipeline like the Museum of the Future, a unique stainless steel torus structure adorned with Arabic calligraphy that will explore the future of science, technology and innovation and Ain Dubai, a giant observation wheel that will stand at a staggering height of over 210 metres on Bluewaters Island and is set to offer 360-degree views of the Dubai skyline.
Dubai’s hospitality sector continued to expand and increase the diversity of its portfolio to offer tourists a variety of choices even as July to September alone saw openings of the Five Hotel Jumeirah Village, Vida Creek Harbour Hotel and Millennium AlBarsha. The hospitality sector has benefited from the rapidly expanding tourism market with 716 establishments offering a cumulative 119,779 available rooms in the emirate as of September 2019, a seven per cent increase over the same period last year. Average occupancy for the hotel sector stood at 73 per cent, one of the highest in the world, with establishments delivering a combined 23.12 million occupied room nights during the nine months of the year.