Skift Take

Dubai officials are bullish on its potential to become an even bigger tourist destination, especially since it's been successful at attracting repeat visitors. Watch this video to hear how Dubai can improve the tourist experience.

Dubai will play an outsized role in the United Arab Emirates aim to attract 40 million visitors annually by 2031, so what can it do to improve its tourism industry? Four panelists — Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths, Kerzner International CEO Philippe Zuber, Emirates Airline Chief Commercial Officer Adnan Kazim, and Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing CEO Issam Kazim — discussed at the recent Skift Global Forum East in Dubai what local tourism officials need to do to continue to attract visitors.

Watch a video of the discussed, which was moderated by Skift CEO and founder Rafat Ali, and read a transcript of it below.

Interview Transcript

Rafat Ali: Thank you, Paul. That was amazing. Thank you. You’ve set the stage, you’ve set the rallying cry for, I think all of, I think, you are hinting to all your colleagues with this message as well that obviously Dubai. What the miracle of Dubai in terms of what it’s become is there from your perspective since you said the thing small is beautiful, a phrase that you said, which we love as a small company in this tourism ecosystem that Dubai has built. Where do we find the small?

Paul Griffiths: Well, I think the thing is it’s not so much about small, perhaps. Perhaps it’s about intimacy.

Ali: That’s right.

Griffiths: And I think the difficulty is when companies gain scale, they often lose intimacy. And I think what we’ve been able to achieve here, particularly in the tourism sector and Adnan next to me from Emirates, I’m sure, will comment later, is that actually we’ve maintained intimacy with scale. And that’s my fear for the future because I think a lot of people will look at things and think about technological efficiency and think about scale, but they’ll forget about the key thing. And technology is there to enable people to have a better experience, not to be there to make more money for shareholders necessarily. And I think retaining that ability to regard everyone as an individual and to scale intimacy, I think, is the secret.

Ali: Issam, obviously the vision for Dubai 2031 is to double from 20 to 40 million the visitors that you have. So how are you thinking about what that linearity will be from 20 to 40, and what do you think the industry that’s here with you, the industry that’s here, what do they need to do to help you with from that 20 to 40?

Issam Kazim: I think when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed announced the vision that was for the UAE to reach 40 million tourists by 2031. And we know that the major share of that would be from Dubai. I mean at the end of the day, this is what we know, this is the industry that is most familiar to us. And-

Ali: Are people Able to hear or do we need to raise the levels? We’re good? Okay. Sorry. Go ahead.

Issam Kazim: So I think when you look at it from that perspective, what’s unique about Dubai is the way that we work together as an industry, right? Dubai has always thought as one Dubai Inc. And that’s why I think for us to reach our goals, it’s not us planning it in isolation, us mapping it out in isolation or mandating it, right? It’s more of a conversation that happens amongst all of us across the industry and understanding exactly what Emirates’ growth plans are, what the airport’s growth plans are, what Kerzner’s growth plans are, and how we can make sure that this vision before it’s announced, it’s fully aligned and it’s realistic.

And what we then do is we make sure that we plan it out in a way in accordance. And then as you saw the city briefing that we had earlier today, that we are regularly maintaining that conversation and dialogue, showing them the gauge, showing them the monitoring on how these progressions taking place and where are the opportunities and what are we missing out on because like you said, maybe having that small solution in a big space or an airport making it smaller, but yet being able to achieve the numbers that we’re talking about.

If you think about it from a geographical and a physical presence, Dubai actually is quite small, but the amount of things that you can do here is second to none. And the fact that it’s so convenient and everything is so close by, you have a much more fulfilling itinerary during your stay because you’re spending less time commuting. So I think for us, when we look at it as a product, going back to the Dubai Inc approach, we think about it from the minute that they get on an airplane, let’s say on Emirates Airline, as soon as they land into the airport, all the way through from the taxi to the hotel, everything has to be seamless. And every single touchpoint has to be at the standard that I was talking about, the net nine and 10 satisfaction scale. That’s where we want every single experience of Dubai to be.

Ali: OK, Adnan. So from Emirates’ perspective, obviously you have to build … one of the things that Dubai has done, which I think has set the template for the whole world, is build it and they will come. That this is what is said in tech, in general. And you took that philosophy of build in ahead of the demand and that’s really what has happened for Dubai as a city and then obviously all of you here that are sitting here.

So in terms of Emirates, in terms of airlift, how are you thinking about one, a lot of the challenges that Paul talked about, the seamlessness of the whole experience, but also how do you build from here in terms of airlift, in terms of planes, et cetera?

Adnan Kazim: I mean as far as we’re concerned, the capacity reintroducing the capacity back from the Covid [pandemic] I think is key. Being a global airline with 140 destinations, we really were quite busy and putting the capacity back to where we left at pre-Covid. So far we have managed to recover almost 95 percent of the network, which is 143 destinations. We have managed even from the capacity side totality, to bring in 80 percent back from where we left it. And that, to be honest, I mean, one of the key success of Dubai today is the speed, I think, that we put the capacity back to many places with help of the government, with help of the stakeholder. I think that we’re-

Ali: We’re showing your network here.

Adnan Kazim: I think that’s really gave it the advantage. Dubai got the advantage because Dubai wasn’t left out of the accessibility during the Covid time. I mean, we reach almost now to 3,000 departures per week, which is, I mean, in terms of the scale, the 380s and 777 that we operate, is quite big. And for us the mapping, the way it’s coming as a way forward is to go back to a 100 percent recovery by hopefully next year. And that’s the aim that we have. Once we’re back to the 100 percent, I mean, we left Covid, we were close to 60 million passengers. That kind of, I mean, aside that we reach, as Issam said, the Emirates played vital role in contributing to Dubai’s success, bringing more tourists and that where I think we stand today, I mean, a lot of work is going on between the two domains in terms of how to tackle the new markets, new segments, new opportunities.

Life is not the same thing in terms of the movement. I mean, we don’t have yet China, which is again the big pocket, I think, of movement. That’s not there anymore. But do we wait for China to come back? I mean, one of the thing that was quite successful, I think, and because of Dubai being the frontier in the whole thing, Dubai managed to get tourists from United States for example, in a big number. We are seeing Canadians coming to Dubai. A lot of these new pocket that’s coming in because we didn’t wait for that time to come in. Once China will come in, that’s a top up, which is what Issam said, I think. But yes, I think, the city all about the speed, about agility, the way we respond to things and we are working toward that and putting the airline back to 100 percent hopefully by next year.

Ali: OK. All right. Philippe, you’re the private sector here, compared to all three of you here — or at least pure private sector. And as you look at Kerzner, very much a Dubai-based company, now. You’ve reinvented the company over the last many, many, many years now. What does Dubai mean to you as a private operator and then how you radiate out from here as you build in different parts of the world?

Zuber: So Dubai is a global organization, so we have a set all around the world, but obviously we have a very, very strong presence in Dubai. Our global office is in Dubai, but Dubai has absolutely no equivalent. As a hospitality company, what makes the difference in Dubai is that absolutely everything is made for us to focus on our business. Meaning the entire experiences is driven to ease the guests to arrive to a hotel, that’s when they are at the hotel. We as an organization can focus on delivering the brand experiences focused on the quality and really focusing on the experiences. There is absolutely no equivalent that we don’t have to stress about airlines, airport, transport, facility to the city, events that the city has to offer. But more over that is the collaborations in order to achieve that, the experience for the guest is really at the top.

So I think what is remarkable about Dubai is the fact that we have been able to deliver these emotional experiences to the guests that they’ve seen Dubai as a destination that they will come back and not taking as a kind of first time to experience. This we have seen that extremely strongly in our resorts that life is becoming so easy and so comfortable. And it is clear that our job, as hoteliers, is to focus on the details and what Dubai gives us is an opportunity … we have the chance and the opportunity to focus on the details and that detail makes the difference today because guests are extremely sophisticated, have lots of expectations when it comes to ultra-luxury experiences. So Dubai is the best place because it allows us to do that.

Ali: Just continuing on a little bit on your company, obviously you operate at the super luxury end of the market and clearly that has held up very well during the pandemic, as in fact, probably leading the recovery early on as well as continues to be very, very, very strong. And you’re now launching obviously beyond the Atlantis and one and only these new brand Siro as well as Rare Finds as well. Siro, I thought was very interesting because it’s for hardcore fitness and you talked about the fitness challenge for Dubai. Well, also talk a little bit about, I guess, they’re showing your properties in the back. Siro, I thought was very interesting. So just give a quick sense of what the plan for that is.

Zuber: So Siro is our new-

Ali: Oh Siro, sorry.

Zuber: Siro is our new innovative brand, which we’re so excited about it because it really responds to [us] now in need, post-Covid. I mean, it’s a brand that we had been working pre-Covid, but suddenly it’s becoming a kind of an accelerated brand based on the demand. So Siro is a very innovative brand, which is based on lifestyle fitness. The basic principle is the guest is back home, they have the habits, they have a routine when it comes to fitness and whenever they travel, it’s becoming an issue. And more [than ever] now in a post-Covid time, we have realized how many people have really found it comfortable at home to really being able to do the healthy habits because they know the coach, they know the therapist, they know the practitioner. They know anyone which creating that their fitness environment is at the best, whatever they travel, they cannot really sustain this practice anymore.

So Siro is the brand that we’ll guarantee because we will be focusing on five pillars. One is fitness, so it will be the best of the fitness element with incredible gym and incredible facilities. The second element is recovery, which will guarantee that instead of having a typical classical spa, you will be able to go into an environment that will facilitate your recovery after a fitness experiences. The third element that is really, really important is mindfulness. So it’s everything to do with mindfulness, meditation, stress management that will be within one space that will be guaranteed towards classes, towards different times in the day that you will be able to go to those moments in order to continue your fitness routine, to enhance it and to really benefit from expert support. The fourth element, it’s about sleep. As hoteliers, we have forgotten a little bit importance of sleeping.

So we have [done] a lot of work. We think of the mattresses. We have built a brand new one of a kind, new type of mattresses that controls your body temperature. The whole room’s environment will be designed to really guarantee a comfortable sleep. And more than that, the whole ecosystem around that will be extremely focusing on that element. And the fifth point is about nutrition. So it will be chefs who will be cooking super food but in a very, very innovative matter. All of those elements, [we will] bring together into a hospitality environment [that] will [take] the fitness lifestyle into a new genre. And to give us credibility as a brand, as a Kerzner, we are partners with AC Milan. So we have access to all of the players, all of the therapists, all of the sleep therapists, doctors, [who will] give us the really, really professional content to have credibility into the space. And then two incredible as well as sports individuals which are part of Siro teams and helping us to really understanding how to expand body capacity and be the best version of yourself.

Ali: Can you come to my apartment in New York? It seems like that’s what we need there. Thank you for that. Thank you very much. Paul, so the [question is], why you were talking about the invention of the, putting, not invention, putting the wheels in the suitcases. Why do airports still have carpets? Because when they put wheels, the problem with that is-

Griffiths: I’ve often wanted to make one of those wristbands, which, for my team, which says let’s make carpet history because I have to say in high circulation areas, I just don’t think they work at all. They smell if you don’t keep them clean and if you are 24×7 operation is impossible to keep them clean, you have to replace them. They provide rolling resistance to my beloved wheels on a suitcase. I have to say carpet has its place. It has its place to make a space feel luxurious.

Ali: Right lounge.

Griffiths: So in a seating area or a lounge area, then in a high traffic area where lots of people have to move quickly, they are a nightmare. And I don’t want to call out a certain airport in Southeast Asia which loves its brown carpet. I think those who travel through this hub, which is slightly south of Malaysia, will know where I mean. It has an absolute mass of brown carpet throughout it. Now the good thing is it’s quite quiet because it deadens the sound.

Ali: Right.

Griffiths: But it’s hard to keep clean. It does smell, and I’m talking now generically about carpets. Not about the airport in question. But I do think you make a serious point that carpet in airports needs to reconsider its relationship, I think.

Ali: But there’s this serious point that I was actually trying to think through, which is the first time traveler, which Dubai — you can imagine airport, airline, Dubai. The city itself, we always think about sophisticated travelers. But for you to go to 20 to 40 [million], there’s going to be a lot of first time travelers, people that have never boarded a plane before, people that have never been to an airport before, people that have never been to, for lack of a better word, an overwhelming city like Dubai. Quickly, Paul and then I’ll come to you Issam and Adnan as well. How are you thinking about the customer experience, in the quest for tech, are we losing this whole, will we lose something?

Griffiths: The thing is, you see, tech is meant to serve people. People are not meant to serve the tech. And where tech intervenes to make a process more complex, more difficult to navigate and less intuitive, the tech to me is failing. What we need to do is recognize a bit like fire. We are the masters of tech. If tech becomes the masters of us, then it’s a problem.

Ali: Oh, tech is becoming the master of us. Don’t worry about that. That is 100 percent happening.

Griffiths: Exactly. What needs to happen here is we need to design the tech from the perspective of that first time traveler that you described. And my vision is to make all of the tech completely invisible so you don’t see check-in, you don’t see anything to do with your baggage. That’s all dealt with before you even start your journey to the airport. And you should just simply arrive in a hospitality environment and be met by people because tech should facilitate those moments of truth where it’s people serving people.

So that first time traveler will feel comfort and familiarity with something they’d never seen before because they’ll be guided by a real person and the tech makes that easy. That to me is the vision. And I think one thing that I was very pleased to hear is some comment on earlier that all three of us are involved in this first time stopover journey because I’m sure everyone will share this experience where you’ve hosted someone from overseas and they’d never been to Dubai before. Within a day, ask them how their experience has been compared to their expectations.

Ali: In fact, half of our team, this is the first time they’re visiting Dubai.

Griffiths: Exactly. And people’s expectation of what they think they’re going to experience is so totally different and it’s universally positive because what Dubai offers the world is so incredible because of this homogenous way that we work together to create that experience. And I think the stopover package and that first time experience in Dubai for new travelers, I think, if we can keep doing what we do, keep it intimate, keep the tech serving us, not getting in the way, then people will want to come here as they have been doing for decades now.

Ali: Issam, how’re you thinking about curation? Because I guess and what you announced this morning, I was hearing very closely a lot of new things that you’re announcing for first time traveler or even a repeat traveler. I guess curation has become such an important thing, meaning content and presentation of it becomes very important. You’re very good at it as well. So how do you think about curation to stop this overwhelm if people do feel it as a traveler?

Issam Kazim: I think for us there’s a few things. So when you look at what tech can offer is algorithmic approach to targeting to understand exactly what people are consuming and making sure they’re presenting the right message at the right time. And again, because we have the luxury and it’s a problem, but it’s a luxury of so many things that Dubai does well. And how do you make sure that you pick the right ones and not do an overkill of information at the same time?

So finding that balance is important. So tech can play a key role in making sure that that happens. And also tracking behavior post that, that leads to search and hopefully conversion as well. And I think again, as Paul said, tech is supposed to serve the clients. So we remove the annoyances of, I would say, of travel. So you can enjoy the experience of that hospitality side.

And I think when we launched the Dubai College for Tourism was one of the parts was to bridge that gap. So even other touchpoints when it comes to the cab ride and so on and so forth, they also understand that culture of service as well as much as hotels do and airlines and airports and so on. Then you have the repeat visitors. Repeat visitors have a different approach. If you’re looking at the near proximity, so within a four-hour radius, you’ve got about one-third of the world’s population. So they’re at your doorstep,

Rafat Ali: Which is where Emirates has built their whole business.

Issam Kazim: And then when you look at the eight hours, which is still a comfortable flight, you have two-thirds of the world’s population. So a lot of these people can frequently visit Dubai even for weekends to attend events or attend a concert. So for them the treatment should be very different. It’s like going to another city within the same country. So for them to come into Dubai, it should be so seamless and it’s just about offering them the right opportunity to come in and not really, again, engaging with the whole process of going through check-ins and security and scrutiny and this and that. So if we can remove all of those hurdles out of the way, which again, if one thing we know about Dubai, nothing’s impossible.
So if we can be the trendsetters and really change the game and do that, we know for a fact that people will be coming to Dubai. Already, we have 25 percent of the visitors who come to Dubai. From our statistics, 25 percent of them are repeat visitors. And by repeat, I repeat in 12 months, which is very, very high compared to anywhere else in the world. So we still feel that the potential for that to grow is much bigger. We have 80 percent, if not, more of the population are people who have chosen Dubai to be home. So they play immense role in attracting VFR.

Ali: Right.

Issam Kazim: Visiting friends and relatives.

Ali: They’ve always been big in this part of the world.

Issam Kazim: 100 percent. So all of that as it just feeds in perfectly to making sure that if we can remove these kind of hurdles, use technology to put the right offers in there, whether it’s for a first time traveler or for the repeat visitor, we need to understand at which point of the funnel within that journey they sit and serve them the solution that way.

Ali: Adnan, from your perspective easing the anxieties of travelers, particularly if they’re coming to Dubai for the first time. And in general as well, airlines, how much do you think about easing the anxieties of travelers in general as an airline?

Adnan Kazim: Well I think for me, if I look at the Covid [pandemic], it was a classic example in terms of how the journey became more seamless. We learn a lot and we adopt a lot of things. I think as part of the change, I think, that we brought into our DNA of how we conduct the business, part of it was the [business to consumer] channel, the online platform. Today, we’re generating almost 50 percent of the revenue that’s coming is coming from that channel, which is quite seamless. And I’m talking here the entire [online travel agencies] plus the EK online, I think, together plus the retail shops that we have, that took away a lot of these, the hurdles I think that may come in the way that one. We adopted a lot of these technologies, the biometrics for check-in. We even came in with a collecting baggage from home, I mean a day before as part of the services that we offered.

Ali: Is that possible now?

Adnan Kazim: That we offer to the first class, but today, Dnata for example, have that through the Gulf company. They do that service where you can hand over your baggage a day before and you go seamlessly to the airport. So I think, and even immigration, as Issam, I think, alluded to that when they travel today they travel seamlessly. I mean honestly, you don’t need to take your passport out with a smart gate or the tunnel gate I think that they have, they all take away. I think that’s in terms of how the technology being adopted to the system, I think, it’s happening. It’s happening quite a bit in terms of how we’re driving the business today. So I think, through the technology and through the website that we have, you can really push so many things. And part of that push would be in promoting Dubai as a destination, because you have really a lot of visitors coming to your web, which you have the full control over the situation, I think in terms of promoting the destination as well.

Ali: I just have a personally curious question. Has the issue of Wi-Fi on the planes in long-haul rods been solved?

Adnan Kazim: Well that’s beyond, I think,

Ali: This is the most important question of the whole panel by the way.

Adnan Kazim: The problem with Wi-Fi, I think, they’re coming with a third party dependency and sometime, I think, you link with many zones that you fly and they’re restricted zones in terms of getting the right Wi-Fi or the speed that you want. Part of it to do with the technology itself, which is evolving and is not at that speed. And for us, maybe another challenge, maybe, we have, unlike, maybe, so many airlines, a few travel with a local carrier from a point maybe in the UK to a regional point 2 hours with 100 passengers, the speed of the Wi-Fi and the capacity of the Wi-Fi will be much, much faster compared to a 380 where you have 517 and they all want to get access to full Wi-Fi.

It’s not easy, I think. But as we progress, as we see a better technology is available in terms of the Wi-Fi speed that will, and we are adopting that. I mean, we have few aircraft that came in with the speed, but need to go through a complete revamp as we progress as well in this domain.

Ali: So the answer is no, not yet.

Adnan Kazim: It’s beyond us, I think. I think we are doing our best effort to make it at speed. I think that passenger expect to get, but it’s challenging and it’s not easy.

Ali: It’s not easy.

Adnan Kazim: And work is still in progress, I think, to get into that level, I think.

Ali: Get into that level. Actually from a seamlessness perspective, obviously as we talked about on the luxury end of things, seamlessness has to be like there’s no other option, but to be seamless for your customers. Correct? And so how much are you thinking about the balance between humans that have to be present when they’re really needed versus tech that’s part of it?

Zuber: So in the ultra luxury sectors for the one and only, we still extremely [reliant] on the human interactions and we’re making as a main point to remain extremely strong in that space. We are a brand which is focusing on human interactions and we want to make it as much as possible — the most seamless experiences and the less that the guest has to interact with the machine and the technology.

We’re making a kind of basic statement is that most of our hotels are resorts, and we do not want to have automated curtains. We want the guests to be able to open the curtain and to enjoy the view. And we don’t want the guests to go start looking for a remote control and try to find [it] because it’s becoming such a kind of natural element when you are on vacation in your beautiful suite of villa to go enjoy the view, enjoy the terrace, and being able to access in the way you want.

So we are all about technology when it comes to the backend, the back of the house, we have invested millions to ease the process, and for us, technology is a process to ease our colleagues to do a better job and give them more time to interact with the guests. So we are really, really investing on how to automate the back of the house, the uniform delivery — many, many of those backend processes and that’s actually works very, very well.

But a funny story as well, we have tried in a few resorts to automate the uniform rooms. So now we have automated [them so] that we don’t have our colleagues carry too many very, very heavy uniforms. But we have bring back a human presence because this is the time that you need someone to say good morning, how is the weather today?

So it is valid for our guests, but it’s valid for our colleagues as well. What we are really, really into is, and that’s something that our guests and obviously you all here, looking for the guest preferences. So we are capturing the likes, dislikes when it comes to food because how annoying it is to every day in the morning to say, “I’m vegan, I’m vegetarian, I’m gluten free, non-gluten free,” like this. So we are capturing the guest preferences from a food standpoint in order to give them a much more comfortable journey towards a longer stay.

Ali: We have about five minutes. I have a couple of questions. One Issam for you and then I have a big bigger picture question about Middle East in general, this whole region [Middle East and North Africa] region and what the moment is today for this whole region. One is you’ve used celebrities very effectively, Shah Rukh Khan from India. I mean, that obviously is a huge driver for you. You’ve learned, I’m sure, lessons on using celebrities to market a destination. Give some of the top lessons that you’ve learned on using celebrities and your approach, your continued approach to it.

Issam Kazim: Sure. I think again, each campaign and each protagonist or character or celebrity or [key opinion leader] that we would use would have to serve a certain purpose. So with the Shah Rukh Khan one and the others that we chose-

Ali: Everybody here knows Shah Rukh Khan, right? No? The Americans probably don’t know. He only happens to be the biggest star on the planet, at least by the volume of people that care about him.

Issam Kazim: But actually that’s a good point and that is exactly why we went to Shah Rukh Khan because he is far more global from his own personal perspective as well as from Bollywood perspective as well. So it doesn’t just cater to India, but more of a Bollywood fan base as well as the Shah Rukh Khan fan base. And the additional layer of course of being the fact that he already is familiar with Dubai, and Dubai is somewhere that he frequently visits. And that was important because you can see that resonate and come through as opposed to a transactional deal with somebody who’s going to come in and just act it out.

And mind you, he’s a great actor, he could still act it out, but what I mean is it’s important to get the right character that represents the product and truly believes in the product. And then when we went with the Jessica Biel and Zac Efron that’s served the different purpose because we wanted to create a hype, bringing, again, two personalities.

One is, let’s say, from an environmental perspective, health and wellbeing and so on. And the other one more of, again, through fitness and through a business woman and also being a mother at the same time. And so many values that represents the kind of demographics that we seek, and having them create almost like a movie trailer side was to create a dialogue and generate conversation and again, get the search lift up. So for us, there is a purpose and a place to use these celebrities and the [key opinion leaders], but then it’s about what we do with it post-their campaign.

So they’re usually used on an upper layer of the funnel on the awareness side, but whenever we move into the consideration side of things, we then personalize that by market and by segment and go into niche audiences within profiles that are relevant to them. And in some cases they might not be TV personalities or movie personalities, but they might be business people or individuals who have a following that can continue that message in a much more relevant and a much more relatable way. So it’s all about the whole journey as opposed to just one off hit. Because if you do that, it’s going to be a very costly one and doesn’t necessarily bring in the benefits of what you’re actually after.

Rafat Ali: We’ve discussed, can we add five minutes to the clock please, Brian? Can we just add five more minutes? Sorry. We’ve discussed leisure a lot, but I mean Dubai is obviously not just a leisure. This conference is an example of not leisure, tourism here. And so in terms of what the industry calls MICE, but meetings and events, et cetera, importance of business traveler. One, what is your sense of the recovery of the business traveler, all three of you? Because there was obviously tons of discussion as you said about business travel being lost or at least X percent of business travel being lost forever. So what’s your sense of what the recovery of business travel for Dubai is and the importance of it?

Griffiths: In terms of recovery, I think it’s incredibly important because a significant part of the business here, as Issam and Adnan have only to owe, is actually related to events like today. And that’s incredibly important because of we’ve got this fantastic global position. We are a really good hub for business travel here. Two-thirds of the world’s population within eight hours flying time makes it very accessible. But I think again, the myth of “Oh, no one’s going to travel for business anymore, accountants will force us to sit in front of screens to interact.” I think again, that’s a misrepresentation of what technology has enabled. I think what it will do is the same as the invention of email over regular post. What we’ve seen with video conferencing, it has actually accelerated the rate at which we do business, hasn’t given us more leisure time and I’m sure we’re all testament to that.

So if it’s accelerated the rate of business and say we are doing three to four times the number of transactions we were doing before, we might travel less per transaction, but there are more transactions. So I think the technology has increased the speed, but we will maintain the frequency. So I’m quite confident that the reasons to travel, we’ve all learned during Covid, the limitations of video conferencing. You can’t read body language that easily. You can’t really negotiate a difficult deal. You can’t establish a true rapport, but you can have eight people on a screen and discuss a transaction. So most business deals are a combination of those things. So we will still be traveling for business and that will remain an incredibly important segment for Dubai.

Issam Kazim: Just to add to that, let’s not forget at the tail end of 2020, we started Expo, right?

Ali: Right.

Issam Kazim: Sorry, [end] of 2021. So we were looking at that period of time when people were saying that maybe we should postpone it by another year. But Dubai took a confidence step and said, “No, we’re going to start it.” And we did, and we had a very successful event. We had over 24 million visits and the whole city came together to really celebrate that moment. And it’s not just, again, like the campaigns I was mentioning earlier, even that as a platform for six months, having those people over there, decision makers there, Dubai capitalize on it by creating a lot more business opportunities off the back of Expo, which we are now still reaping in the benefits of.

Ali: Right.

Issam Kazim: So those are the kind of things that we are leveraging. And I truly agree with Paul because when the first Travel Trade Event took place was it here. They’re even travel market. And prior to the lockdown, everyone was talking about how business of events and meetings is dying, everything’s going to go online. But the minute we opened up, if people could physically hug if they were allowed to, they would. But I think Covid restrictions still didn’t allow for that.

But everyone wanted to have that physical interaction. They wanted to have those face-to-face meetings and it was clear that a hybrid model would be a solution for those who, for valid reasons, couldn’t come in, but it will not replace the physical meetings and physical events.

Ali: Adnan, from your perspective, the recovery of business travel?

Adnan Kazim: I mean, I think the premium demand that we have seen last couple of years, we haven’t seen it, maybe in the company history, particularly, I think when I look at it from the demand on FNJ, which is somehow I think linked to the business travelers, we have really achieved a record occupancy on our first class and our business class and that quite reflecting demand that we got into the business pattern of the business lately.

I think again, I equate to what Issam said that the brave decisions of Dubai, I think in the past two years I think, and opening up to many events and many activities and expose, is a reflection of that, I think. Definitely, I think that gave a confidence in people’s mind to travel and come to Dubai and engage. I think in terms of many event that happened lately, and I think what I add to it, the visa policy of Dubai, I think, that really opened a door to many segments of the business that wasn’t there.

I mean, whether you talk about remotely you work and come to Dubai and enjoyed that or family visas or maybe retiree visas or so many of these kind of segments that Dubai created that definitely, I think, helped more businessmen even to relocate to Dubai. And we have seen that even from what happened during the war, I think that happened between Ukraine and Russia. Many, many companies have relocated itself in Dubai being the safe place to establish themselves. I think they all added value and we saw the benefit from Emirates Airline in terms of the demand that we’ve seen on the premium cabin. I think that’s really a good match I think between the two.

Ali: Okay, we have run out of time, but I do want to say one thing to close. I want to say a couple of things. How Skift defines innovation for us as a company is constantly coming up with new ways of looking at the world. Which is, we will fail if we don’t continue to excite you about the business of travel. How do we come up with new ways of looking at the world?

And I was thinking about this morning as I was listening to you speak at the city briefing that is at the core, I think, of Dubai’s innovation, which is the reason you could just stop doing all these hundred million things that you do. But one, it gives you energy internally. Two, it gives you the hooks to market. Three, it gives people the reasons to come here. So constantly coming up with new ways of looking at the world, which is our philosophy at Skift, is very much, it looks like the philosophy of Dubai and how Dubai has been built, but Dubai and brands continue to innovate.

For us, it’s not tech. Tech, as you said, it’s just a layer. It’s how do you come up with new ways you’re looking at the world. The last thing I’ll say is as a Muslim that lives in the West, I really think this is the Middle East’s moment that what has happened the last few months, what has happened with the World Cup, what’s happened with opening up Saudi [Arabia], all the things that are happening, Morocco as well, Adil is sitting right here somewhere.

This is, I’m sorry, we all cried ourselves to sleep last night. New York Times had a column this morning where it said this will forever be known as Morocco’s World Cup from here on and it should be. Which is for decades, the perception of Middle East has been what we all know. But I think all these changes that are happening, including the World Cup as well, including Morocco’s story, including you, including Abu Dhabi, including everybody else in this region.

You said it’s, at sometimes, you think about the competition, but at this point really the competition is you. If you don’t pick it up from here and sort of take it for the rest of the world, the loss is yours. So I think it’s very much the Middle East’s moment. I’m actually going to write a column on this. I was in Saudi [Arabia] the week before, I saw all the changes they’re doing. I’m here now as well, obviously the World Cup as well. So I want to combine all those threads together to write, this is the Middle East’s moments It really is, I think, for the first time and so, so, so many times. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to end up on. So thank you for your time very much.

Adnan Kazim: Thank you also.

Issam Kazim: Thank you.


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Tags: dubai, dubai international airport, emirates airlines, kerzner, sgfe2022, skift live, united arab emirates

Photo credit: From left: Issam Kazim, Dubai Corporation for Tourism; Adnan Kazim, Emirates Airlines; Paul Griffiths, Dubai Airport; Philippe Zuber, Kerzner; and Rafat Ali, Skift. Skift

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