Dubai focuses on changing needs of Chinese travelers

Issam Kazim, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai's Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, speaks to China Daily on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on May 3. (JAN YUMUL / CHINA DAILY)

Chinese visitors will continue to be a key focus for Dubai as the Middle East travel hub doubles down on its sustainability efforts and the revitalization of its tourist attractions post-pandemic, according to a senior official. 

Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said that China is “one of the key markets for us to keep focusing on”.

In terms of sustainability, Kazim noted that Dubai has been making an effort to recognize progress made in becoming environmentally friendly and building sustainable attractions

Kazim – who was speaking on the sidelines of the 30th edition of the Arabian Travel Market held in Dubai –  said that they maintained their focus on China throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, despite policies preventing travel.

READ MORE: Dubai seeks greater reengagement with Hong Kong

“We knew that during the lockdown and post-lockdown, China will … come back. That’s why we made sure our campaigns, our messaging continued in the market because again, we did not want to start from scratch,” said Kazim. 

According to Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, Dubai welcomed 4.67 million international overnight visitors in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 3.97 million tourists during the same period in 2022, a 17 percent year-on-year growth.

The emirate welcomed close to 17 million visitors in 2019 with China accounting for almost 1 million visitors.

Chinese travel plans for 2023 are still largely undecided, according to the "Fast Steps Towards Recovery: Chinese Traveler Sentiment Report ATM Dubai Edition” report recently released by marketing solutions company Dragon Trail International.

Some 26 percent of respondents to their survey said they hoped to travel overseas but have not yet booked a trip, while 27 percent were unsure if they will travel outbound this year. Safety was the biggest concern holding back Chinese travelers, the survey said.

The report noted that the UAE “is firmly on the radars of experienced international Chinese travelers”. 

It cited an April 2023 report by Chinese travel website Mafengwo, which named the UAE as the 10th most popular country with Chinese tourists, while Dubai was also the 10th most popular city in 2023 among Mafengwo users.  The site’s users “tend to be young, savvy travelers”, the study noted. 

William Harley-Fleming ,Vice President Operations of JA The Resort & Indian Ocean, and JA Resorts & Hotels, speaking to China Daily on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market. (JAN YUMUL / CHINA DAILY)

Elsewhere, the Hurun Luxury Chinese Consumer Survey 2023 revealed that Dubai has risen from the 11th to 8th most popular travel destination for Chinese High-Net-Worth Individuals, or HNWI, compared to pre-pandemic rankings. The destination was chosen by 24 percent of survey respondents, compared to just 14 percent in 2020.

Dragon Trail’s weekly rankings data for China’s leading social media platform, WeChat, showed that both Dubai and Abu Dhabi were at the top of the standings for regional and municipal tourism boards in the first quarter of 2023.

Kazim said that they wanted to make sure that Dubai stayed relevant and at the forefront of Chinese travelers’ thoughts as soon as restrictions eased. 

“The minute that they can start traveling again, they know exactly the things that they always love to see in Dubai and the new things that they’ll be excited to see in Dubai as well,” said Kazim, citing attractions like the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, and Palm Island. 

Kazim said that Chinese travelers have become more discerning, looking for the unique selling point of different destinations and asking for more.

“They know that, yes, those are nice things to take pictures with but where is the depth of experiences to be had?” Kazim said.

Dubai “is a much wider destination than it was in the past”, he said. They are seeing more interest in people exploring the rocky mountain landscapes in groups, canoeing, mountain biking and other activities, which is also driving the growth in conservation tourism, he added. 

In terms of sustainability, Kazim noted that Dubai has been making an effort to recognize progress made in becoming environmentally friendly and building sustainable attractions. 

The UAE is set to host the United Nations Climate Conference, also known as COP28, in November, while Dubai has launched government initiatives like the “Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan” as part of its sustainability and economic diversification efforts.

JA Resorts & Hotels, an international Emirati hospitality firm with properties in the UAE, Seychelles and Maldives, is working with the Dubai government to get “China ready”, according to William Harley-Fleming, vice-president of operations at the group.

“‘China ready’ is making sure we have Mandarin speakers within our properties, making sure all the touch points are there,” he said, noting a change in the habits and patterns of Chinese travelers.

READ MORE: Dubai Chambers welcomes more Chinese businesses

Before the pandemic, Harley-Fleming said Chinese guests “were really coming for mainly the key attractions of Dubai” while post-pandemic they are noticing more focus on family time and more experiential tourism.

“We have a property in the Maldives where we’ve been working closely with the Chinese honeymoon market. So again the requirements of the particular Chinese guests, we are very familiar with them,” said Harley-Fleming.

“We’re now seeing those Honeymooners come to Dubai now with their families and they’re actually enjoying (it). Again it’s all about those pictures, memories, and family time,” he added.