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Dubai’s revival spells hope for post-pandemic tourism

While Indian tourists are still not permitted to enter, the tourism sector in Dubai is showing signs of a dramatic recovery, months after reopening to international travellers.

It’s exactly a year since Dubai reopened its borders to international tourists on July 7, 2020. According to the latest data published by Dubai Tourism, the city welcomed 3.7 million overnight visitors from then until May 2021. Apparently, the emirate received more than 1.7 million visitors between July and December 2020 from markets that were open, and an additional two million visitors in the first five months of 2021. Not bad, considering the global shutdown that the global pandemic had enforced during this period.

Dubai, revival, reopening, post-pandemic travel
The city welcomed 3.7 million overnight visitors in the last year. Image: Courtesy Dubai Tourism.

Travel restrictions in key traditional source markets affected the overall performance of Dubai’s tourism industry over the past year but strongholds like India and UK retained their dominance to be among the top five traffic generators during this period, along with Russia, Pakistan and Egypt. The evolving travel landscape has, however, brought forth some noteworthy performances from other feeder and emerging markets, especially CIS countries like Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and East African markets Ethiopia and Sudan, that have all exhibited strong growth potential to be among the top 15 source markets for Dubai since it reopened its doors to global travellers.

Dubai’s recovery strategy, implemented in close coordination with stakeholders, proved crucial in reinvigorating the domestic hospitality market in May 2020, preparing the ground for the return of international visitors to the city in July 2020. Pent-up demand for staycations among UAE residents, both Emiratis and expatriates from over 200 nationalities, drove tourism growth with hotel occupancy rising significantly from 35 per cent in July 2020 to 58 per cent in May 2021. Hotel occupancy in Dubai peaked in December 2020 (69 per cent) and in January 2021 (66 per cent) with the city ranking second globally in terms of occupancy after Singapore and ahead of Paris and London, according to data from hotel management analytics firm STR.

Dubai, revival, reopening, post-pandemic travel
Hotel occupancy in Dubai peaked in December 2020 (69 per cent) as per hotel management analytics firm STR. Image: Courtesy Dubai Tourism.

Notably, the average daily rate (ADR) recovered from AED238 in July 2020 to AED383 in May 2021. Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19 across sectors, Dubai continues to represent a major opportunity for hotel developers. A total of 591 hotel establishments with 100,000 rooms were operating in July 2020 in full compliance with health and safety protocols. This has now increased to 715 hotel establishments offering 128,000 rooms in May 2021. The concerted efforts of Dubai Tourism and partners to drive demand for domestic travel saw city hotels welcoming 5.5 million domestic visitors for the period between July 2020 and May 2021, compared to 2.66 million domestic hotel arrivals during the period July 2019 to May 2020, an astounding year-on year growth of 106 per cent.

In addition to restarting leisure events, Dubai also developed a successful model for the recovery of the business events sector, which paved the way for the resumption of international events in October and subsequently the hosting of mega events such as GITEX in December 2020 and Gulfood, Arabian Travel Market and Arab Health in February, May and June respectively this year. Since September 2020 to mid-May, Dubai hosted a total of 3,136 business events that were attended by 813,832 delegates.

A variety of safety initiatives were launched too, including a wide range of precautionary measures, in addition to effective testing and vaccination programmes. Dubai Tourism, Department of Economic Development and Dubai Municipality are also taking a zero-tolerance approach towards non-compliance. Dubai’s extensive and sustained efforts at containing the pandemic won international recognition with the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) awarding the city a ‘Safe Travels’ stamp.

Dubai, revival, reopening, post-pandemic travel
The concerted efforts of Dubai Tourism and partners to drive demand for domestic travel saw city hotels welcoming 5.5 million domestic visitors for the period between July 2020 and May 2021. Image: Courtesy Dubai Tourism.

“The new data reveals that Dubai’s tourism rebound is gathering pace despite the current challenges faced by international markets. The growing momentum of recovery not only reflects the fundamental strengths of Dubai’s tourism sector and the diversity of its source markets but also the emirate’s economic resilience and agility in the face of a rapidly fluctuating global environment.”

HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince & Chairman, Executive Council of Dubai

He believes that Dubai’s ability to implement a rigorous precautionary protocol regime has made the city one of the world’s safest destinations for travellers. The positive performance reinforces the leading role Dubai is playing in global tourism recovery.

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