Stock Dubai skyline
Dubai International Airport has raised its full-year 2022 passenger number forecasts to 58.3 million after a sharp increase in traffic in recent weeks. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: Dubai Tourism CEO Issam Kazim expects tourist numbers to be closer to 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

“We should start seeing numbers getting a bit more realistic from where we left off (because of the pandemic) by the end of this year or starting next,” said Kazim.

Dubai welcomed nearly four million international overnight visitors between January and March 2022, up from 1.27 million visitors for the same period last year, representing a massive 214 per cent growth.

“It shows you that the momentum is coming back, but we need to also be aware that the markets globally haven’t really come back to where they were,” said Kazim.

“Because some markets like India and Saudi Arabia were closed until very recently, we started to push markets like France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Egypt, which started to see a surge in numbers,” said Kazim. “When the other markets do come back to their full capacity, we should be able to pick up in a much better way.”

Dubai Tourism is aiming to convert 25 per cent of first-time international visitors into repeat visitors. “We want to continue to be dominant in terms of repeat visitation and get 25 per cent of the visitors that come to Dubai to repeat or come back within 12 months – the quicker we get there, the better,” said Kazim.

Stock - Issam Kazim
Dubai Tourism CEO Issam Kazim says that while there isn't another Expo-like event on the horizon, Dubai has plenty of reasons to keep people coming back.

Right strategy

Dubai, which was among the first destinations to open to international tourists in 2020, has benefited from diversifying its source markets. If a market slows down due to geopolitical or socio-economic factors, Dubai can “pull levers” in other potential markets, said Kazim.

Kazim said that when Dubai turned its attention to Asia in 2014-2015, the results were immediate. India surpassed Saudi Arabia to become UAE’s biggest market and China for the first time found a spot among Dubai’s top 10 source markets.

When large parts of Asia and Europe were closed off during the pandemic, Dubai began building air connectivity with countries in Eastern Europe and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). “A lot of potential lies within these markets,” said Kazim,

“We are always looking at building trade relationships,” said Kazim. “We do marketing campaigns and work with journalists, bloggers, and influencers in a particular space – today, we are always active in more than 50 markets around the world.”

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Events are back

The recovery in Dubai’s hospitality and aviation sectors gathered steam after Expo 2020 opened to visitors in October. The six-month long event, which attracted more than 24 million visitors, took hotel occupancy in the emirate to record highs.

There isn’t another Expo-like event on the horizon, but Kazim is not worried. “In 2019, when we had 16.7 million visitors, Expo wasn’t there – Dubai always has a reason for people to come back.

“We are always bidding for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) events and we are always looking at increasing the tourism numbers by penetrating new markets,” added Kazim.

Another wave?

The recent spike in cases in China and Japan has sparked concerns about a return to tighter travel restrictions worldwide.

“We cannot predict these kinds of things, even the pandemic itself took the world by surprise,” said Kazim. “One thing that we know is that Dubai’s leadership will manage to act well head of anybody to take that first-mover advantage.”

More traffic

The Dubai International Airport has raised its full-year 2022 passenger number forecasts to 58.3 million after a sharp increase in traffic in recent weeks. The earlier 2022 estimates were for 55.1 million passengers.

“DXB’s performance over the past successive quarters is nothing short of impressive and is a direct outcome of Dubai’s clear strategy and efforts to restore international air connectivity and mobility and lead the global aviation industry out of an unprecedented crisis,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, in a statement.