Dubai Tourism
They will return... Dubai's tourism and travel authorities pursue a strategy to make the return of visitors in sufficient numbers happen at the first opportunity. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It might be a little too soon for the rest of the world - but Dubai is already preparing for increased visitor numbers to the emirate. And those plans are built on expectations that the COVID-19 vaccines will make things happen, not just here but in prime overseas destinations that can provide the visitors.

“The progress that's being made in the US, Israel (and) the UK gives us hope that life will start to assume some sort of normality,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, during an industry event last week. “It may seem as though we've stayed in this rather static position for a long time - but I'm getting the impression [about] the progress we're making on vaccinations.”

“I think there are some strong indications that over the next few weeks, things will move very quickly.”

The Arabian Travel Market scheduled for May 16-19 will provide an early marker of the sort of visitor turnout Dubai, its airlines and hotels can expect. Last year, the event was held in virtual format, with 12,000 signing up. (Arabian Travel Market is the region's biggest event to showcase the travel and tourism sector.)

The ATM will be followed by a series of other trade events, which should keep the momentum going.

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Traffic will return

According to Griffiths, the return of air travel will be like a “flood” as 4 billion people, who have been under some form of lockdown, get to fly again. “There won't be a gradual return - we're braced for a very strong return.”

Everything depends on the vaccination drives within each country and whether these would staunch the spread of new strains of COVID-19. Strict restrictions are still in place in Europe, and it could take longer for governments and its people to feel confident about flying again.

But Dubai keeps preparing for the eventuality that travellers will make a return. “Dubai is in a unique position - geographically and economically and in terms of its impact on the world,” said Griffiths. “[And] there are plenty of people out there who would love to take the opportunity of the pandemic to steal our crown.

“We haven't stopped being aware of that competitive position we find ourselves in.”

Safety first
92% of attendees (both exhibitors and visitors) rated Dubai as offering the best experience anywhere, owing to its safety standards, access to business opportunities and overall business experience - that's according to a survey commissioned by Dubai World Trade Centre and conducted by GRS Explori.

Over 90% of attendees felt safe consistently across their journey - travelling on Emirates airline (90%), arrival and departure at Dubai Airport (94%), using local transportation (96%) and their accommodation (96%).

Etihad’s 2021 outlook

Abu Dhabi’s national carrier said it expects demand for its flights to rebound in the second-half of 2021 itself. Etihad is already seeing higher numbers on ‘ethnic’ routes such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, a company executive said, during a media briefing.

However, the airline slashed its outlook for a full recovery in air travel demand. The carrier now expects passenger numbers on its routes to return to pre-COVID-19 levels only by 2024 – a full year later than was previously forecast.

From airlines and airports to conference organisers and hoteliers, every partner in the Dubai ecosystem is working together to deliver strong visitor experiences and travel confidence. We are looking forward to Arabian Travel Market in May, and a long list of events set to be held from now to 1 October when we will see Expo 2020 go live

- Mohammad Al Hashimi, Vice--President, Commercial Products Dubai, Emirates airline

2040 strategy

About two weeks ago, Dubai launched the 2040 Urban Master Plan, which focuses on “reinforcing Dubai’s competitiveness as a global destination by providing a wide diversity of lifestyle and investment opportunities for citizens, residents and visitors over the next 20 years.”

The plan also entails increasing the land area used for hotels and tourist activities by 134 per cent and the length of public beaches by as much as 400 per cent over the next two decades.

“The plan sets specific development objectives that will also address qualitative measures to improve the experience of tourists in Dubai,” said Shady Elborno from Emirates NBD Research. “This is important in giving direction to a sector looking for a clear exit from this pandemic, and planning for the years and decades ahead.”