Interview: Jose Silva

Are the recent relaxations of visa restrictions likely to impact Dubai’s tourism industry?

JOSE SILVA: Easing visa restrictions is a form of deregulation and is expected to increase passenger traffic and provide new opportunities for the industry. This policy has so far been very effective across the board, but the most notable impact has arisen from the relaxation of restrictions for visitors from China and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

However, the UAE has done more than just ease visa restrictions, it has also introduced a free 48-hour transit visa and removed the need for visas altogether for several countries. In addition, policies aimed at facilitating access to property for foreigners and allowing residency for those beyond retirement age has helped to further expand Dubai’s population and its number of visitors.

How is the industry aiming to leverage the business opportunities provided by Expo 2020?

SILVA: Expo 2020 is going to provide an amazing window to the rest of the world. It will increase the visibility of Dubai as a tourism destination among new source markets. An estimated 15m-25m visitors are expected to attend Expo 2020. Occupancy rates for Dubai’s hotels are already over 70%, and the fair is expected to increase this figure to nearly 90% for many players. However, this increase in occupancy rates is not the most important aspect of Expo 2020; rather, the event provides the industry with new international clientele who can then go on to become ambassadors of Dubai.

What are the most attractive emerging international source markets for the emirate?

SILVA: Current strategic growth markets are the British Commonwealth, China and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Of these source markets, China is the fastest growing. The Middle East remains a very important market, especially for weekend visitors who are only one or two hours away by flight. Indeed, no market has seen significant long-term declines in visitor numbers, though we have seen ebbs and flows in the number of visitors from many different markets.

One apparent trend is that our Gulf neighbours have increasingly begun to holiday locally. For example, Saudi Arabia has seen a shift towards more travel within the region. It is important to note that Dubai stands out among international cities in terms of its diverse offering. Dubai is an economic centre like London, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The emirate benefits from the consistency of its weather from October until May and from its high level of connectivity with Europe, Africa and Asia. It also has one of the most expansive leisure and hotel offerings in the world as well as an internationally renowned restaurant scene.

In what ways is Dubai tailoring its offering to meet the shifting demands of tourists?

SILVA: The experience economy is now four times larger than that for traditional goods. Populations that have become increasingly wealthy generally have all the goods they need and are thus seeking unique and meaningful experiences. One way to satisfy this demand is to invest in services.

Destination dining has become a trend recently, though it has always been important, as it provides a great way for people to connect with one another. People expect great food, amazing service and the perfect setting, but what they really come for is to experience the ambience and social gathering. This does not just apply to restaurants; increasingly, new activities are being offered that move away from the conventional sun-and-relaxation holiday. This includes camel riding, desert and sea excursions, well-crafted spa experiences and live entertainment.