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Monday, 15 October, 2018, 16 : 26 PM [IST]

‘We have never built our infrastructure to cater to one event in particular’

In the current volatile geopolitical atmosphere with crude prices hitting record levels, the rupee continuing to decent, and major economies across the world also under financial stress, the Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing is diversifying its approach beyond the traditional stronghold inbound source markets as part of its 2020 strategy. Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DCTCM) in a tête-à-tête with Disha Shah Ghosh shares their plans to sustain tourism momentum beyond Expo 2020, and plans to lure transit visitors to visit Dubai.

Q Many destinations from the Gulf region have set up their tourism offices in India to tap the potential of the world’s fastest growing economy for outbound travel. In such a scenario, what is the strategy of DCTCM to maintain India’s position as its top inbound source market?
For the past three years, India has been our No 1 inbound source market. India was always among the top 3 markets for Dubai, but has elevated its position. There are many factors that are responsible for this success like strengthening the relationship between the two countries, stronger trade, improved air connectivity from local as well overseas carriers, investments into Dubai’s attractions and tourist facilities, etc. The easing of the visa regime for cruise travellers (multiple-entry visa), visa on arrival for Indian nationals with valid US visa or green card, and the recent announcement of the 48-hour free transit visa for Indian nationals are all steps in the right direction. The only factors from the visa and airline side that we are expecting is opening up of the bilateral air service agreement from the India side, and eventually offering visa on arrival across the board. Dubai has an Open Sky Policy with India; however, we are looking at India opening up the air capacity.

In the first 7 months of this year, 1.2 million tourists visited Dubai, which is a growth of over 2% compared to the same period in 2017. In contrast, there is huge potential to capitalise on the number of people from India transiting via Dubai. The planes on the India-Dubai route are operating on almost full capacity. Besides providing the right information at the right time to the right audience, we are also focusing on leveraging on this transit aspect for passengers who haven’t considered Dubai yet. This is an effort to tempt them to come to Dubai on their onward journey, and eventually convert them into direct traffic for point to point travel.

Q Dubai has set a goal of achieving 20 million annual tourists by 2020. However, do you expect a decline in tourist numbers post Expo 2020 around which the entire momentum is currently built on? What is your contingency plan for key markets like India?
The Dubai 2020 strategy was announced in May 2013, while we won the Expo 2020 bid only in November that year. Therefore, the strategy was very clear had a stand-alone target regardless of any mega event announcement. Since 2003 when Dubai won the IMF bid, the emirate has consistently won bids to host large-scale events, and the Expo 2020 is currently the flagship one. We have never built our infrastructure to cater to one event in particular. Our target is towards a sustainable model for tourism. At the time of announcing the 2020 strategy, we had close to 68,000 hotel rooms, and the plan was to sustain our growth target. Today, we already have 100,000 rooms and more are in the pipeline, and the product mix is also been carefully looked into across three-, four- and five-star categories in city locations as well as towards the historical areas of Dubai. We know that there are more people who are either not aware about the culture or historical side of Dubai or are very interested in that proposition.

The older parts of Dubai, which are centres of global trade, are of historical significance and we are ensuring there are good accommodation options there. Historically, the gold souks are very important. Hence, our recent campaign with Shah Rukh Khan is about relatable and why Dubai is home to him. This campaign highlights the culture side of Hatta, beautiful trekking side, bike tracks, making people realise that these propositions are new, but in fact they are part of our historical heritage.

Q The escalating cost of crude oil in is a major concern, and sliding of the rupee is just adding to the pressure. In a volatile scenario like this, do you plan to keep the growth trajectory stable?
Historically, travel & tourism a dynamic industry. When we formulated our strategy, the idea was to stay away from the 6-7 traditionally strong source markets because we were well aware that there are geopolitical and socio-economic concerns that we have no control over and which will play a fundamental role in travel patterns. Therefore, we had a diversified approach and this was the time India was moving up the ranks, and it also became extremely important for us that the product mix is very accessible. We are personalising our messages in this age of the digital world. We cannot work on a one size fits all, and therefore have created a campaign to make sure that we are targeting different individuals, segments, groups, celebrations, and reasons for travel, including sports and cruise travel, in India and across the world. With a varied product mix, it becomes convenient to welcome the right guests at the right time. We had 16 billion tourists by the end of 2017 and have seen a steady growth. It is a stressful time considering the financial situation globally, and we are therefore pushing our efforts in some markets and are compensating on the others. It is an ongoing strategy of diversification that we need to be focused on.
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