Interview: Helal Saeed Al Marri

How can Dubai ensure that hotel supply continues to grow but that it does not outpace demand?

HELAL SAEED AL MARRI: We have no concerns about supply outpacing demand, in fact it is quite the reverse. An essential part of our tourism vision is to ensure that Dubai has the required hotel capacity in place to cater to 20m visitors annually by 2020, with an adequate mix of options across different budget levels. We have seen an increase in hotel and apartment occupancy and revenue per available room in the first half of 2013; the sector has been following an upward trend for some time. This increase has taken place in tandem with growth in the numbers of hotels and hotel rooms – with 603 hotels and hotel apartments operating in the city at the end of June 2013, up from 587 at the end of the same period of 2012. The same period saw the creation of an additional 5484 rooms, taking the total to 81,492, a rise of 7.2%. It is obviously good news that our hotels’ revenues are increasing, but we do not want to see rates rise to the extent that the city loses its competitive edge. It is also important that we continue to broaden our offerings, and at DTCM we are working on a number of initiatives to make this a reality. For example, we recently announced an incentive to encourage the hotel industry to develop more mid-market hotels.

How does Dubai’s tourism sector compare regionally, and what makes it an attractive destination?

AL MARRI: According to the latest UN World Tourism Organisation figures, the Middle East as a whole returned to growth in the first half of 2013, recording a year-on-year increase of 13%. This is encouraging. When we look at Dubai’s own figures for the first half of the year, we see sustainable, steady growth in visitor numbers, up 11.1%, with total visitors from January to June exceeding 5.5m.

Our biggest source market continues to be Saudi Arabia, which recorded strong growth in the first half of 2013, higher than any other Gulf country. We are also seeing growth from first-time global travellers. As the middle class expands in India and China, people are looking to travel abroad, and many are choosing to come to Dubai with family entertainment, shopping and leisure high on their agenda. To capitalise on this, DTCM recently opened its fourth office in China, which is located in Chengdu In an attempt to improve the UAE’s positioning as a leading family destination, particular attention will be given to ongoing development of new festivals, enhancing our coastline and improving the packaging of our cultural and heritage attractions.

What immediate opportunities does Dubai Tourism Vision 2020 create for greater private sector participation in the tourism industry?

AL MARRI: Having clear aims for the sector as a whole is an essential part of planning for success, and public and private players have a stake in the future of Dubai’s tourism achievements. This includes collaboration, integration and cross-promotion of our airlines, hotels, attractions, entertainment, restaurants, and public and private transport. It is crucial for all of us to be able to focus our efforts where they are most effective. We can best use and pool our resources through shared marketing activities, packages created around important events on the Dubai calendar and targeted outreach efforts to attract certain markets or segments, like families or couples tourism. Together, we can support the growth of niche travel segments such as marine tourism – diving, kite-surfing, wakeboarding, yachting and fishing – or adventure activities – such as sky-diving and dune bashing – to appeal to the broadest of audiences, which will boost the length of stay. Another example is the cruise sector – we see great potential in increasing the amount of visitors who use Dubai as the start of their cruise holiday. Business tourism is also a major priority and we need to continue to leverage Dubai’s location in the region.