Diversity sells Dubai for UK’s travel trade

Dubai’s traditions are still a big draw with a high percentage of repeat visitors

THE Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has received reports of strong growth to Dubai from the UK travel industry throughout 2006, with tour operators citing new markets and trends which in turn provide greater sales opportunities for travel agents.

“UK tour operators are demonstrating a positive approach to Dubai’s exciting future with predictions of continued growth and expansion of their programmes, as well as diversifying their product portfolio to offer exclusive and luxury elements for repeat visitors, the mature market and families,” said Baerbel Kirchner, director of the UK and Ireland office of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).
“With the introduction of more villas and luxury self-catering accommodation in Dubai, more families and groups of friends have been choosing these alternatives to the traditional beach or city properties. This diversification of the markets is leading to even greater sales opportunities for travel agents,” said Kirchner.
From a total of more than 1.6 million international visitors to Dubai during the first quarter of 2006 – up 7.2 per cent year on year – the UK is still the most important source market, with some 175,000 visitors in that period.
British Airways Holidays’ regional product manager, Beth Gibson, reported strong summer sales demonstrating Dubai’s year-round appeal: “Dubai is one of our top long-haul destinations and it continues to grow. This summer saw a 30 per cent increase in departures year on year and we predict a good growth for 2007.”The growth has been partly spurred by increa-sed connectivity, with 125 direct weekly flights (up from 115 at the end of 2005), including British Airways’ three extra weekly services.
Dubai has experienced a strong and sustained increase in visitor arrivals over the last 10 years and many of the 190 UK and Irish tour operators featuring Dubai are seeing a further rise in demand. UK tour operators now offer a total of 11 standalone Dubai brochures comp-ared to seven a year ago.
Overwhelming demand has led many opera-tors to increase their Dubai portfolio. Travel 2’s Jo Smethurst said: “Dubai is still growing fast for us and in our 2007 brochure we are trying to widen its potential further by focusing on Rugby Sevens and Ramadan business for the first time.”
Many operators already recognise the oppor-tunities of expanding their portfolio to reflect the expansion and diversification of Dubai’s tourism infrastructure. “HA Travel Services has expanded its product range as a result of increased demand. Dubai has not yet reached its peak and the curiosity of new and frequent travellers is yet to be fulfilled,” said Padraig Doyle, director of business development.
More luxury apartments in the emirates, such as the Oasis Beach Tower, and villas including Jumeirah’s Dar Al Masyaf, provide increased flexibility and choices as Lydia La Rue, partner of business development for Stylish Resorts, said: “In addition to Dubai featuring as a sole destination, we are now seeing increased interest in weekend breaks with luxury apartment accommodation – great for families or friends travelling together.”

Meanwhile, Hamish Kaumaya, Sunset Faraway Holidays’ marketing director, has noted a high percentage of repeat visitors with a desire to go beyond their usual Dubai experience: “The curiosity factor plays a huge role in attracting visitors, and in 2007 we believe we will see a widening interest to move beyond the beach to cultural tours and desert stays.”
Alex Babic, head of product for Amathus Holidays also reported a diversification of its clients  and therefore its programme, “Our focus is switching in order to reflect the wide variety of sport-ing events, shopping opportun-ities, excursions and the fact that it is an ideal family destination.”
As British travellers continue to demand luxury destinations and tailor-made service, Dubai looks set to increase its market share.  Ergo, UK tour operators are adding more luxury properties and add ons for clients. David Atkins, business development manager for Elegant Resorts said: “All our clients are now met pre-immigration, assisted with their baggage and escorted to their private transfer vehicle. We also have our own Dubai office, taking care of all our clients’ needs in-resort.”
Kuoni Travel features Dubai as its number two luxury destination (after Thailand), and its number three luxury honeymoon destination (after Thailand and Maldives) for 2006 based on passenger numbers.
Another trend highlighted is the increase of clients staying in more than one property to experience a variety of Dubai’s high quality and diverse offerings. “Emirates Tours UK is seeing increasing demand from customers who wish to stay at more than one property, with many combining the beach with the desert,” according to Stuart Ellis, general manager.
Summed up Kirchner, “In the short and long term we expect to see continued growth in year round long and short breaks to Dubai. Developments since WTM 2005 include seven new luxury properties with almost 7,000 additional rooms and suites. The total number of hotel rooms and apartments scheduled by 2016 is over 49,600, compared to 17,000 five and four star rooms in the first quarter of 2006.”
Dubai’s visitor figures are predicted to increase from 6.1 million in 2005 to 15 million in 2010.