DUBAI: With the construction and opening of a number of mega-projects across the UAE, expectations are running high that the Emirates will continue to be a top tourist destination well beyond 2020.
From the recently opened Dubai Opera, Warner Bros. World and Louvre Abu Dhabi to the upcoming completion of Dubai Creek Tower and Dubai Square, the Emirates is taking the lead in global tourism. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week predicted positive years ahead for the UAE economy.
“The quality of UAE tourism and infrastructure is quite high already,” said Dr. Nasser Saidi, a former chief economist and head of external relations of Dubai International Financial Center.
“If you compare it with other countries in the region, it has the most developed and integrated infrastructure, especially from a transport and logistics point of view, from air, roads, ports, airports, metro and rail.”
Saidi said that high-quality infrastructure in hotels and conference centers made the UAE a leader in the region.
“Adding to the infrastructure always helps, but it will have a marginal impact given the existing infrastructure,” said Saidi, who was Lebanon’s minister of economy and trade and minister of industry between 1998 and 2000. “What is important is to diversify the nature of the activities for tourists.
“If you have new types of activities, that will attract more visitors.”
Although falling oil prices since mid-2014 have affected GCC economies, mega-projects will ensure the UAE continues to be a leading destination for tourists, according to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry report.
The report, based on data from international research institutions, including Haver Analytics, Fox Economics, the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the International Monetary Fund, says that the country’s solid and diversified economy has overcome the effects of lower oil prices and weakened global trade.
“Foreign direct investment inflows to the UAE increased by 7.8 percent, making it the largest FDI (foreign direct investment) recipient in the Middle East and North Africa region and the GCC,” it read. “The UAE economic outlook is buoyed by an upswing in government spending on infrastructure projects as part of the preparations for Expo 2020.”
It predicted that the UAE economy would return to long-term growth in 2018 and beyond, thanks to a diversification of the government’s sources of income.
“I see tourism in the UAE contributing a great deal to the economy in the future,” said Asim Rahman, managing director at Saifco Travel and Tourism in Dubai.
“Middle Eastern countries were mainly depending on oil in the past and they wanted to shift their dependency on other sectors such as tourism. The region is a tourism hub, and visitors from all over the world come here due to different opportunities — it also has good security, which affects a lot of customers.”
The Dubai Creek Tower, expected to be a notch higher than Burj Khalifa in the Dubai Creek Harbor, is planned to be the tallest tower in the city, with Emaar completing the concrete placement for its pile cap two months ahead of schedule.
Rahman said that new attractions, theme parks and shopping malls would boost tourism in the future and pave the way for the country to potentially host international events, including the World Cup and the Olympics.
“The number of tourists is increasing, and it will continue,” he said. “Tourism is important because the UAE is emerging as a services industry now. It’s supporting businesses, and tourism is vital to help the economy grow further.”
Dubai Square, a new retail area in Dubai Creek Harbor, aims to reach almost more than twice the size of Dubai Mall, at 8.07 million square feet of gross floor retail space.
“There is huge potential in tourism in the UAE, which is why I work in the business,” said Mohammed Shah, general manager at Regal Tours Worldwide in Dubai.
“I see billions coming in, and it is better than we think — the government wants to promote tourism as another source of income instead of relying on traditional sources and maintaining its reputation as a tourism hub. They’re always focused on building what people around the world want, while keeping safety high on the agenda.”
He said that the government is at the forefront of tourism. “When tourists spend a dollar here, they feel they received five dollars of value,” he added. “If you look at the history of World Expos, each country which hosted an Expo has grown, developed and flourished, whether it’s China, Italy or France — if it happened with all these countries, why can’t it happen with the UAE?”
Expo 2020 Dubai also promises a major favorable impact on the economy. “Expo 2020 Dubai will be the biggest event ever held in the Middle East, with more than 180 countries, plus multilateral organizations and businesses, expected to participate,” said an Expo 2020 Dubai spokesman.
“We expect to welcome 25 million visits, with 70 percent of visitors from outside the UAE — the highest proportion in the 167-year history of World Expos.”
He said that tourism and hospitality will be one of the industries to benefit most from the six-month event, which will open on Oct. 20, 2020, due to an increase in visitor numbers as well as opportunities on the site.
“We expect the impact on the tourism industry to continue beyond 2020, thanks to the Expo increasing the UAE’s profile as an inspiring, exciting and safe destination, as well as the iconic architecture that will continue to attract visitors,” he said.
“Post-Expo, the UAE will be in a better position to attract other events of this scale due to its enhanced hospitality, security and logistics capabilities, as well as Dubai World Trade Center’s new Co-Ex, which is being built adjacent to the Expo 2020 site.”
The Co-Ex is planned to expand to 180,000 square meters after 2021, enhancing Dubai’s reputation as the premier host of events in the region.
“The Co-Ex is one example of infrastructure projects that have been brought forward due to Expo 2020, creating additional benefit for the broader UAE economy,” he said.
“Other projects include the extension of the Dubai Metro red line, Route 2020, as well as multiple DEWA substations, major road works and hotels in Dubai South. We look forward to welcoming the world to the UAE in 2020, offering millions of people an experience that will ensure they return again and again.”
Tourism agencies report witnessing more visitors, even in the usually slow summer period. “We are getting a lot more tourists than expected, especially Indian nationals, because visitors benefit from so many activities here,” said Smarth Vij, general manager at Forever Tourism in Dubai.
In Abu Dhabi, last week’s launch of Warner Bros. World is seen as another milestone in the emirate’s quest to cement its position
as a leading tourist destination.
“The park is another great addition to Yas Island’s award-winning attractions,” said Mohammed Al-Mubarak, chairman of Miral. “It gives us great pride to have partnered with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to launch the world’s largest Warner Bros. indoor theme park in Abu Dhabi. We are thrilled fans will be able to enjoy the outcome of this partnership.”
For Dr. Yousif Alobaidli, general director of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi, tourism is the sector with the greatest potential to create jobs and develop other sectors of the economy, including transport, travel and hospitality.
“This sector is expected to grow faster than the wider economy and many other industries over the next decade, and it is anticipated to support over 370 million jobs by 2026,” he said.
“The UAE has the necessary assets to invest in tourism, in particular in cultural tourism. This sector will be a game-changer in the future.”