It's interesting to note how each of Dubai's ambitious economic predictions rests on its tourism prowess and its ability to attract international visitors.
Middle East Travel Roundup
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Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Economic Agenda — D33 with the ambitious goal of doubling the size of Dubai’s economy over the next decade. With economic targets of $8.7 trillion over the next 10 years, the agenda also aims to establish Dubai’s position among the top three global cities. A key priority of the D33 Agenda is to make Dubai one of the top three international destinations for tourism and business by providing a globally competitive environment for business and driving down the cost of doing business across a number of sectors. The agenda also includes the launch of innovative projects to help make Dubai the world’s best city to live and work in as well as drive sustainable economic growth through innovative approaches. “Dubai will rank as one of the top four global financial centers with an increase in foreign direct investment to over $177 billion over the next decade and an annual $27.2 billion contribution from digital transformation,” the Dubai ruler said.
In an effort to simplify the process for homeowners and operators to acquire permits to convert their homes into holiday homes, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has announced updates to its holiday homes system. The online system allows owners and operators to book an inspection appointment for the registered units and also provides classification service for the units in compliance with the regulations related to holiday rentals in the emirate. With a growing number of visitors booking longer stays in the emirate, Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, said, “We want to tap into this trend and have therefore updated our holiday homes rental system to make it even easier for homeowners and operators to register, organize permits for and convert their units.” Ras Al Khaimah welcomed over 1.13 million overnight arrivals in 2022, an increase of 15.6 percent compared to 2021. In 2019, the emirate had received around 1.1 million arrivals.
With a target to attract over six million international visitors a year by 2030, Qatar Tourism has partnered with Kazunion, one of Kazakhstan’s largest tour operators, to operate four commercial charter flights a week from Almaty and Astana to Qatar via FlyArystan from January to March 2023. Kazakhstan is one of 15 target markets identified by Qatar Tourism as a primary source for tourists. The commercial charter flights from Kazakhstan to Qatar are part of a travel package deal formed by Kazunion which include flights and beach side accommodation for travellers. “Our agreement will help sustain the growth of Qatar’s tourism sector by promoting the country as a family-friendly, cosmopolitan, and culturally rich destination for travellers from Kazakhstan,” said Berthold Trenkel, chief operating officer of Qatar Tourism. Qatar Tourism’s 2030 strategy aims to increase the number of visitors to Qatar by threefold, increase spending by 3 to 4 times, and growing the gross domestic product contribution of the tourism sector to 12 percent.
Oman will be introducing an online system for travel and tour operators to apply for a license for organizing adventure tourism activities. Announcing the launch of the electronic system in the first quarter of 2023, the ministry of heritage and tourism said the service would help the ministry to further organize adventure tourism in a systematic manner. In line with Oman’s Vision 2040 to build a sustainable tourism economy, the ministry said that diversification of tourism offerings would help increase arrivals. Aiming to turn Oman into one of the most important and safe adventure tourism destinations, the ministry noted that the country has been witnessing an encouraging demand for adventure tourism from travelers. The ministry has also signed a memorandum of cooperation with the New Zealand government to exchange experiences in the field of adventure tourism in particular and the tourism sector in general.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that the cost of the comprehensive insurance for foreign Umrah performers has been reduced by around 63 percent, from $62.5 to $23. The insurance policy for Umrah is a unified policy that is covered by those coming to Umrah from outside Saudi Arabia. It is included in the visa procedure before coming and covers emergency cases as well as general cases such as accidental permanent total disability, and death. It also includes covers for flight delay compensation and flight cancellation compensation. The ministry also clarified that the scope of the insurance coverage is only within Saudi Arabia and is valid for a period of 90 days, starting from the day of entering the country.
Queen Alia International Airport in the Jordanian capital of Amman welcomed over 7.8 million passengers in 2022, just 12 percent short of its 2019 figures while registering a 72 percent increase compared to 2021. In December alone, the airport received 660,274 passengers. The airport said in a statement that it continues to work closely with the ministry of tourism and antiquities and the Jordan Tourism Board to expand airline networks and destinations, promote tourist sites and enhance Jordan’s connection to major regional and global hubs. The statement also noted that 44 airlines operated to 76 destinations via the airport in 2022 with the launch of several direct routes via national carrier Royal Jordanian as well as partnerships with several airlines like United Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, flyadeal, Vueling Airlines, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, Wizz Air UK and Alexandria Airlines.
The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), has launched Sky Adventures, the first official paragliding licensed centre in the United Arab Emirates. The centre also marks Shurooq’s latest investment in sports, leisure and adventure tourism in Sharjah’s central region. The centre that opened to the public on Monday, allows aerosports enthusiasts to experience the desert landscapes of Sharjah’s Central Region area from the skies. Sheikh Khalid bin Isam Al Qassimi, chairman of the department of civil aviation in Sharjah said, “At the department, we were keen to introduce legislation, systems, and criteria to ensure the centre meets the highest paragliding safety standards that align with our belief in security and quality in all of our operations and strategies.” Calling the paragliding centre an opportunity to promote growth and investment in the tourism and adventure sector, Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, acting Chief Executive Officer of Shurooq, said, “Our portfolio of destinations and activities continues to expand as we aim to drive investment in various sectors of Sharjah.”
The United Arab Emirates registered the highest occupancy rate among the Gulf countries in 2022, according to KPMG’s latest Dubai Hospitality report. The report noted that Dubai’s occupancy rates closely follow top benchmark cities — Istanbul (75 percent), New York (74 percent), and Paris (73 percent). “The UAE now hosts one of the richest hospitality markets in the world with an expected 25 percent growth in the industry by 2030 and 40 million new visitors staying at hotels in Dubai by 2031. Dubai’s hospitality sector achieved a total of approximately 150,000 rooms by the end of 2022,” read the report. India remained the top source market for Dubai tourism as 1.4 million Indians visited the emirate in the first 10 months of the year.
Bahrain’s Water Garden, a tourism landmark in the capital city of Manama, has now been opened to the public following a major revamp. The park, which had been closed for renovation for almost five years, will now feature a botanical garden, lakes as well as play areas for children. “This public park, which was setup in 1948, is linked to the national memory as a heritage facility, a recreational outlet, and a tourist destination,” Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, consultative council president of the National Initiative for Agricultural Development. She commended the government’s drive to set up gardens and parks while making efforts to ensure sustainable development.
Emirates will be ramping up its operations in China ahead of the New Lunar Year and in response to strong travel demand, boosting connectivity to its gateways — Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. The airline will resume passenger services to Shanghai starting with two weekly flights operated by an Airbus A380 aircraft from January 20. This service will ramp up in frequency to four weekly flights from February 2. Emirates will further boost its Dubai-Shanghai route from March 1 with a daily non-stop service. Even as the airline currently operates a non-stop flight from Dubai to Guangzhou, from February 1, Emirates will increase services between Dubai and Guangzhou. Services to Beijing will resume from March 15 with a daily non-stop service from Dubai. This will bring the airline’s operations in the market up to 21 weekly flights.
During his visit to Cairo, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang discussed tourism cooperation between China and Egypt and talked about increasing Chinese tourism to Egypt, which has for years struggled to revive its vital tourism sector. Gang was marking his last stop in a multi-leg trip to Africa, including Ethiopia, Gabon, Angola and Benin. Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said that Egypt looks forward to increase the number of tourists to the country. More than half a million Chinese tourists visited Egypt in 2018. Chinese citizens can now obtain visa on arrival in Egypt provided they are part of a tour group organized by a tourism agency. In November 2019, EgyptAir announced its first direct flight to Hangzhou in a bid to boost tourism to Egypt.
The United Arab Emirates issued 79,617 golden visas throughout 2022, Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs said. The directorate said that it processed more than 62.24 million transactions in 2022, including 46.9 million entry and exit transactions through air, land, and sea ports — up from 37.3 million transactions in 2021. The United Arab Emirates introduced the golden visa program as a long-term residence visa designed to attract and retain foreign talents to live, work or study in the country. Visa holders are allowed to reside in the country for a period of either five or ten years, without the need for a sponsor. They are also allowed to sponsor family members and domestic helps while being able to take up employment outside the UAE. Investors in the public sector and real estate, entrepreneurs, outstanding specialized talents, inventors, doctors, scientists, and creatives in the field of art and culture are eligible to apply for the golden visa.
While hotel occupancy in Dubai in December was lower than pre-pandemic levels, the average daily rate and revenue per available room were above 2019 levels, according to STR’s preliminary data on Dubai hotels. Occupancy in December averaged 76.6 percent with average daily rate around $243. While occupancy was 2 percent below December 2019, average daily rate was 33.8 percent and revenue per available room was 31.1 percent higher, according to STR. In its last report for the United Arab Emirates, the hotel data company was tracking more than 200,000 existing rooms with an active pipeline of nearly 50,000 rooms, and with a combined total of almost 251,000 rooms expected by 2030. Ras Al Khaimah was second only to Dubai in the size of its pipeline, which was almost the same amount as Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Fujairah combined. In the past, the UAE’s growth in hotel rooms has spurred demand as room supply increased, STR said.
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Photo credit: A key priority of Dubai's ambitious economic agenda is to make the emirate one of the top three international destinations for tourism. Nextvoyage / Pexels