Where do you start when it comes to Dubai? The destination has risen into a favourite in the British holiday choice but what is the perception and what is next? Travel Daily spoke to Ian Scott to find out.
Dubai has changed rapidly in recent years. How Dubai is viewed as a tourist destination by Brits now?
Perceptions of Dubai very much inform our strategy. Back in 2012 and again late 2013 we asked people what they thought and most interesting of all were the perceptions among people who had never been to Dubai.
Their perceptions, which had formed from reading the press, watching TV perhaps, were quite far removed from reality and from the views of regular visitors. They spoke of a place that was only for the rich and famous, that had no culture, that had many restrictions in place and which wasn’t suitable for families.
We know that our efforts to dispel these myths are working. For example, in our 2013 research, Dubai topped the poll for the most ‘affordable’ luxury holiday spots which as very reassuring.
Will this be a focus for you during 2014?
The myth-busting exercise remains important to us.
The affordability message will get a boost this summer when the prices for holidays to Dubai will be at their lowest all year, with some great value add offers thrown in also. We continue to remind people of the extensive and ever growing calendar of events also, from food, music and shopping festivals through to art and literature and of course sport. And of course the family and stopover markets remain critically important to us.
Underlying all of these key messages is an ever expanding product range of hotels and general infrastructure as well as events, with maybe 25 new hotels set to open in 2014 alone.
The biggest challenge we have from a marketing perspective is that we have so much to say to so many different types of people from all walks of life that we have to develop our strategy and stay true to it.
How will the trade form part of this strategy?
The travel trade remains integral to our strategy. We therefore see the education of travel agents and continued relationship building with tour operators as playing a pivotal role in converting consumers who are unsure about choosing Dubai as a holiday destination. They are our voice when faced with consumers who still hold some of these myths about the destination.
We provide, attend and host various training sessions from face to face time at trade road shows and in-house travel agent training sessions to call centre visits and joint tour operator sales calls and events. We also have our own online training programme, Dubai Expert, and a monthly e-newsletter, Dubai Update. And of course we host many dedicated agent familiarisation trips. We keep the various trade publications up to date with our latest news and product updates, run trade competitions, have a dedicated agent Facebook page and recently developed a new app.
We will once again be heavily promoting the exceptional value that can be experienced in Dubai during the summer months of July and August, so all agents are asked to keep an eye out for that promotion, which will be live from late April into May and June.
What booking trends have you seen in the UK?
We recently released our 2013 statistics revealing that UK visitor numbers to Dubai have increased by 10.5% year on year, with 758,657 UK guests in 2013 versus 686,842 in 2012.
Dubai’s hotels welcomed more than 11 million guests in 2013 – an increase of just over one million on 2012 numbers and a positive indication that Dubai is on the way to achieving its target of welcoming 20 million visitors a year by 2020.
Whilst Dubai continues to be a popular short break destination, the 2013 stats show that the average length of stay is 5.5 nights. August proved to be a popular month with the highest average length of stay at 8.1 nights (compared to 7 nights in 2012) indicating that UK consumers are choosing to take longer summer family holidays in the emirate.
Dubai Tourism recently conducted research on consumer buying trends, what were the key findings?
The research explored consumer booking habits and factors that motivate the British holidaymaker to decide on a holiday destination, as well as the perceptions of luxury and affordable luxury, in order to gain an insight into trends for 2014.
When it comes to the booking process, choice and convenience are the consumer priority followed by flexibility and price, with 12% booking through a high street travel agent.
Consumers regard local flight departures as the most important factor when it comes to the journey to their holiday destination which is useful information for us as Dubai is currently served by 154 direct flights per week from the UK. Seventy seven flights depart from Heathrow, 21 from Gatwick and a further 56 from regional airports, with less than a seven hour flight time from the UK.
It is no surprise that the weather is seen as the most influential factor for choosing a holiday destination. Again this is great for us as Dubai offers year round sunshine.
Whilst more and more holidaymakers are looking for a taste of the local culture and gastronomy when they go away, relaxation and quality time are still regarded as the two most important elements that people would like to experience on holiday.
What about how the destination is viewed for its affordability?
Dubai is the only destination to appear in the top three places that consumers associate with both luxury and affordable luxury, in fact the emirate tops the polls at number one in both categories. 56% of those surveyed state the high quality of accommodation in Dubai as their reason for placing it at the top of the luxury poll whilst 43% highlight the wide range of accommodation across all budgets in Dubai as their key reason for rating it first for affordable luxury. An additional 12% indicate that three and four star hotels can be luxury – but only in Dubai.
The findings of this research are very encouraging, highlighting that our strategy to accommodate both the luxury and affordable luxury ends of the market is working. We have recently launched a new incentive to hotel developers to increase our offering of three and four star accommodation as well as a new decree regarding the regulation of self-catering apartments, townhouses and villas which will open up the emirate up to a broader market, as part of our long term strategy to achieve our Vision for 2020, which aims to attract 20 million annual visitors to Dubai by 2020.
The statistics on holiday priorities provide agents with all the information that they need in terms of what to focus on, talk about and pitch in to their customers and should be used as part of their sales strategy and toolkit for 2014.
Finally, what is new at Dubai Tourism generally?
His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has officially approved Dubai’s Vision for Tourism: By 2020, Dubai will welcome 20 million visitors per year. To achieve this objective the destination plans to attract more visitors to stay in Dubai for longer and spend more whilst they are there. The objectives are to grow the tourism offering of the city whilst continuing to grow awareness of the destination, increasing the number of repeat visits, drive up the average length of stay, increase the conversion rate of awareness to booking holidays and business trips, and ensure a superior visitor experience. Also as part of this vision we are aiming to become the number one family destination, number one for events and the number one business destination.
Last November Dubai won its bid to host Expo 2020 which will have a significant impact on Dubai’s tourism industry as more than 25 million visitors are expected to attend the exhibition.
Dubai Tourism has also recently introduced an Apple app, Dubai The Destination. A 2012 Google survey found that 40% of travellers said social network comments influenced their travel planning, while 50% actually based their travel plans on other people’s reviews and experiences. The customer experience can be socialised at every level, from inspiration, to research, comparison, decision-making, travel and on-going recommendation; each with huge value. With this in mind, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, has launched a year-long initiative to create an autobiography of Dubai through social media. Open to all of the Emirate’s visitors and residents, the initiative encourages people to capture the real life dynamics of Dubai and share the most compelling moments they experience in the city by uploading images and videos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #MyDubai.
What’s happening out in Dubai?
Hotels: Sofitel Dubai The Palm; Anantara Dubai The Palm Jumeirah Resort & Spa; the world’s tallest hotel, JW Marriott Marquis in Downtown Dubai; and most recently Waldorf Astoria The Palm. The list of pending hotel openings is long and getting longer. There are currently 82,000 hotel and hotel apartment rooms in Dubai and we expect this figure to double by 2020 in order to meet the demands of the 20 million visitors target we expect to achieve within the next seven years.
Culture: Developments along The Walk at JBR are now almost complete, and that area has been completely rejuvenated. A new cornice has been announced, as has a cultural district, to include a new opera house; and a new ‘city’ to include a park twice the size of Central Park in New York.
Transport: From an infrastructure perspective, the projects include the new tram system that will start operating at the end of 2014 and link Dubai Marina to the Mall of the Emirates, connecting directly to the city’s growing Metro system as well as Dubai Internet City.
Attractions: More details about Dubai’s Marvel City Theme Park, the planned 100 acre indoor theme park featuring Marvel Superheroes, are expected to be revealed at this year’s Arabian Travel Market from 5 – 8 May.