New hotels, airport expansions, liberalised entry rules and mega shopping extravaganzas are part of the UAE's efforts to cash in on an expected boom in regional tourism this year.
While inbound tourism from the key European and American markets is expected to remain sluggish at least in the early part of this year following the September 11 attacks in the US, regional tourism is forecast to soar as Arabs eye destinations close to home.
Led by regional hub Dubai, the UAE is pushing ahead with efforts to take a greater slice of the tourism cake.
Next month's Dubai Shopping Festival which is being held under the theme of One World, One Family, One Festival, is targeting a five per cent increase in visitors.
Organisers also hope to top last year's overall spending of Dh4.5 billion ($1.5 billion) which itself was a 12 per cent increase over 2000.
The figures released by the DSF organisers are part of an independent study commissioned by the Dubai government.
The study showed that the number of overseas visitors rose to 728,000 from 650,000 in 2000. Total visitors increased by 50,000 from 2.5 million to 2.55 million, an increase of 2 per cent over DSF 2000 figures. Arrivals by road from neighbouring countries remained constant.
A significant finding of the study was that hotel revenues rose from Dh450 million in DSF 2000 to Dh 480 million. Expenditure on eating out rose by 20 per cent to Dh510 million.
Next month, the organisers have lined up a host of new attractions including a Children's City, the first and the biggest dedicated entertainment venue for children in the region.
Hotels and shopping malls in Dubai as well as locally based Emirates Airline have announced a range of promotions from big discounts and free tickets to raffle prizes to lure visitors.
Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, the lead agency promoting tourism growth, has chalked out a variety of activities throughout this year as it pushes a business as usual message to the outside world.
A construction boom in the hotel sector is currently under way not only in Dubai but also in Abu Dhabi as well as other emirates.
The year 2001 saw the completion of 11 new hotel buildings in the Gulf's hospitality hub. The Dubai Municipality approved applications for the construction of 10 more hotel buildings last year, a local report said.
"Another wave of new supply is on the horizon. The new hotels should be ready by next year in time for the Dubai 2003 IMF/World Bank meeting. The public and private sectors are streaming ahead with their plans to consolidate the position of the emirate as an international business and tourism hub," said an industry official.
Abu Dhabi too will see a number of new hotels coming up including properties of international chains like Kempinski and Taj Group.
The Abu Dhabi National Hotels Company has said it will also open three new hotels this year.
Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman are all giving facelifts to their airports which include new concourse, bigger and better duty free shops, and improved services for passengers.
The northern emirate of Ajman is bidding to follow in Dubai's wake with a shopping festival of its own which ends on February 28.
The Ajman Fantazia 2002 opened with a glittering ceremony at its own purpose-built venue and involves shopping malls, hotels and airlines. Organisers have already announced plans for a similar festival in summer.
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