Q & A: Dubai Tourism – More than desert

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Dubai is a global city with a diverse population. It is the business hub of the Persian Gulf region as well as a major transport hub. Its central location to the rest of the world makes it an ideal spot for both leisure and business travel, as proved by the 16 international conferences and exhibitions being held in the city between 2014 and 2016. Hoor Al Khaja, Head of Middle East & Africa Region at Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, spared some time during her visit to South Africa in October to answer a few questions for Business Traveller Africa.

Q: What is your view on the current relationship between Dubai and Africa?
A: Dubai sees itself as the gateway to the world’s emerging markets. We are four hours away from a third of the world, and eight hours from the other two thirds. We are well connected and continually increase our connectivity, into Africa specifically. We are establishing ourselves as a business destination – it’s part of our 2020 vision of 20 million visitors a year.

Q: Is it a 50/50 split between leisure and business travel?
A: No, a larger percentage of visitors to Dubai are leisure travellers. It’s more like a 70/30 leisure to business split. But part of that is because we convert many business travellers into leisure travellers. While we are primarily a leisure destination, we are focussed on becoming an international business hub.

Q: Tagging a leisure experience onto the end of a business trip is becoming increasingly popular. Is this something Dubai would like to do?
A: Yes, very much. When we, as the tourism board, run incentive trips and exhibitions, we make sure visitors experience different parts of the city, instead of hosting them in a single conference centre. We invite them to bring their families over and while they’re busy with work, the family is out exploring the city.

Q: How does Emirates fit into Dubai Tourism’s success?
A: Emirates is one of our key partners. We work very closely with them, but we are not limited to them. Dubai is connected to the world by hundreds of different carriers. It is easier for us to work with Emirates because it’s our national carrier, it’s owned by the government of Dubai, but we will work with other carriers when need be for people coming in from different destinations.

Q: So, what is the Dubai offering?
A: It’s very diverse. People who haven’t been to Dubai before have a preconceived idea that it’s just the Burj Khalifa hotel and the desert– very high end and luxurious. But it’s so much more than that. Shopping in Dubai is not just about the shopping, it’s an experience. The malls have shark diving, skiing and theme parks in them. There are 220 different nationalities represented in Dubai and they each bring their local cuisine into the city. There are so many cultural things to experience as well – from the desert safaris to the Old Dubai, the souks, the gold market, the textile market

Q: What misconceptions do people have about Dubai?
A: People think Dubai is unsafe, but that’s not true. Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world. The city is often thought of as a high end, high cost, luxurious destination. We do have high end offerings, for those who want it, but we also have lower end varieties. We incentivised the building of 3- and 4-star hotels. Forty investors jumped at the opportunity to waive the 10% municipality fee for two to three years. The hotels are being zoned into strategic locations to ensure that all key areas offer accommodation to suit a wide variety of budgets.

Q: Is Dubai a worthwhile shopping destination for the African traveller?
A: Definitely, especially tax free shopping. You can get everything you want from North America and some parts of Asia without having to travel that far.

Q: Are you concerned about the Ebola crisis?
A: It is a crisis, but it is being managed by the authorities. Dubai’s airports are screening for potential victims, but we haven’t had any incidents as yet. We still welcome travellers and our efforts in Africa will not stop. While we will keep track of the spread of the Ebola on a worldwide scale, our doors are still open.

Q: What are you seeing from an African MICE perspective?
A: It’s a growing market. About 50% of the South African market is business and MICE travel. There was bit of a slump because of the currency exchange rate, but the market is picking up.

Q: Are the African requirements for conferences and other events any different from elsewhere in the world?
A: It depends on the client. African banks with many indigenous people often prefer to stay in the more glitzy, glamorous hotels. Many South African companies opt for a beach destination. Dubai is particularly popular in South Africa as a MICE destination, but there’s a growing interest from Namibia and Angola as well.

Q: What is the awareness in the rest of the continent?
A: We still have to penetrate other markets, but we’re well on our way in this regard. We are looking to increase these road shows across Africa in the coming years.

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