Skift Take

Issam Kazim reflects on Dubai's transformation into a truly global city.

Dubai has completed its journey from the “dot in the desert” to a truly global city that more than 200 nationalities call home. The modern emirate is now so well-connected and cosmopolitan, that its large number of expat residents are truly “global citizens” rather than “Dubians.”

That is the belief of Issam Kazim, the CEO of Dubai Tourism, speaking today at the Dubai Tourism Summit presented by Skift Global Forum East 2023.

“When Dubai began its journey, we had hunger and agility, we have an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s how Dubai achieved what it did. We were the new kids on the block, we looked at Singapore, Paris, New York and so on.”

Dubai had its goals, Kazim said.

“That’s where we wanted to get. We created landmark projects. Those got us attention. Once we had the spotlight, we began to showcase the beauty here. There are 200 nationalities here, that’s the true magic of the city.”

The city has that multinational feel, he said.

“People want to raise their kids here, they want to become global citizens. People don’t become “Dubians,” they retain their culture and they become global citizens. This is a multinational city.”

Dubai has the world’s biggest airline in Emirates and the busiest airport in Dubai International. Its best year ever for tourism was 2019 with close to 17 million international visitors.

Figures came down during the pandemic, but Kazim confirmed 2023 is primed to become “the new benchmark” for success.

Growth, Growth and More Growth

He said: “Numbers-wise, we talk about spend, visitors, length of stay. Up to 2019, we saw record growth. Today, we’re closing [2023] by looking at this year as our new benchmark. We look at bookings and we’re ahead of 2019, it’s well under way.”

Being nimble matters, he said.

“One thing about travel, it has socio-economic and geopolitical curveballs. We swing and sway from them but we use agility to our advantage.”

“We have an amazing partnership across the board, all of Dubai is so inter-connected. One challenge we always face is capacity. No matter how fast we want to grow capacity, it’s not fast enough.”

Dubai Doesn’t Have A Pricing Problem

During the talk, Kazim was asked about pricing in Dubai. Home to super hotels like the Atlantis, The Royal, Burj Al Arab and a soon-to-open Dorchester Collection, many have labeled Dubai as luxury haven, potentially closing the door to more price-conscious travelers.

This is not the case, according to Kazim. The city has plenty of affordable stays, but currently lacks a proper marketing channel to showcase that.

He called the world-famous hotels the “usual suspects” in the emirate.

“We need enough capacity with hotel rooms as well. With the push we have, with the demand we see, we need to match that with supply.”

There are indeed affordable options, Kazim said.

“Affordability comes hand in hand with supply. The perception people have of Dubai is because of specific properties and specific districts. Those are the usual suspects. But you can find amazing affordable options in Dubai.”

He said their lack of recognition is a marketing issue.

“We need people to realize all the supply beyond the usual suspects. It’s a marketing issue, it’s a communication issue.”

Potential Hurdles in 2024 for Issam Kazim?

When it comes to challenges, Kazim can’t list many. He mentioned a greater push for more visas on arrivals in Dubai, and a stronger focus on staff training following the downsizing of companies amid the pandemic.

Kazim said: “We have visas on arrival for a growing list of countries. There are a lot of bilateral agreements needed to establish these windows. We are constantly knocking on the Foreign Affairs’ door to introduce more.  We don’t work in isolation, we talk about Dubai almost as its own product. All processes we do have been checked by many stakeholders.”

He added: “Dubai had a short stint of closure [during Covid]. A lot of properties, airlines and so on, downsized during that time. But when the ramp up came back, it was a challenge to retrain and deploy staff.”

Staffing remains an issue, he said.

“To a certain degree, we’re still recovering that training and deployment of staff.” 


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Tags: Dubai Tourism, SGFE, sgfe2023

Photo credit: Issam Abdul Rahim Kazim (left), Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing CEO, speaks with Skift's Rafat Ali at Skift Global Forum East on December 14, 2023, in Dubai, UAE. Source: Skift Skift

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