Culture leading tourism diversification plan


Last month’s opening of a new 1,539 room hotel is expected to take Dubai’s tourism economy to the next level, while shaking up the emirate’s hotel market.

Kerzner International’s Atlantis, The Palm Jumeirah is the first resort to welcome guests to Dubai’s man made island. The 22 storey aquatic themed complex, developed in collaboration with Nakheel Properties, is being touted as a game changer by industry insiders and many say it signals the arrival of a new multidimensional tourism appeal for the emirate, beyond the beach appeal that has seen it emerge as a top destination on the map.

As the top leisure destination in the Middle East – with competition perhaps only from Cairo and BeirutDubai has ramped up the diversity of its offerings considerably in recent years.

No longer just the region’s shopping capital, it is now increasingly finding favour with tourists as a weekend getaway spot and a family holiday venue, as well as drawing visitors for the variety of sporting, gastronomic and entertainment experiences it offers.

On the entertainment front, for instance, this winter season alone will see the city play host to more top artists than ever before, including Sting, Kylie Minogue, Paul Rodgers and Queen, and Maroon 5. Already, big acts such as these serve to bring in tourists from neighbouring countries like Bahrain and Kuwait but also from as far afield as India. Jet-setters from the UK, too, are known to fly in for big sporting events such as the Dubai Desert Classic and the annual Dubai Tennis Open, attracted by the smaller, more intimate atmosphere of the events.

The aim is now to differentiate that tourism market even further, and what Atlantis will do, say experts, is lead the charge on a new wave of theme park style tourist attractions, including Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Legoland. Many of these are at Dubailand, which has been designed to appeal to the widest tourist segments across genders, age groups, world regions and activity preferences and is expected to come on stream in 2012.

The emirate’s tourism planners expect these largely indoor attractions to continue attracting visitors in the sweltering summer months, where thus far temperatures near the 50 degree mark have kept people away.

Such moves are necessary to meet the government’s ambitious goals. Tourism has played an important role in the diversification of Dubai's economy since the 1990s and now accounts for some 18 per cent of the emirate’s GDP, but the government wants to expand the sector further. Its stated aim is to attract 15 million tourists by 2015, more than double last year’s seven million.

A large part of that number will be families, a market segment that is growing at six per cent annually in the key Gulf source market, but Dubai hopes to also be able to cater to newer markets with an increased bouquet of offerings.

One new tourism sector drawing new visitors is the cultural segment, with seasons such as Ramadan already finding favour in markets such as Japan. Like Singapore, Dubai is now packaging its festivals, too, such as its inaugural Eid in Dubai festival this month.

The event is positioned both as a celebration of Arabian traditions and a retail extravaganza, thus offering culture, shopping and entertainment in a broader pick-and-mix menu that is expected to reinforce Dubai’s position as the region’s most attractive tourism destination.

Adding to the cultural appeal are such attractions as the New York Metropolitan Opera, which will beam ten operas via high definition transmission technology into the emirate this season to help boost the emirate’s entertainment offering. The event is part of a series of initiatives by the Dubai Event Management Corporation, established by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, to manage and organise world class events and conferences in Dubai. It also develops and owns global events, representing all sports.

A $1 billion opera house designed by Zaha Hadid is currently under construction, and is expected to take that remit further, as will collaboration with three top German art museums that will see world class art being displayed in a purpose built Universal Museum of World Art. Both are part of the multibillion Khor Dubai project, that will also be home to 14 theatres, 11 galleries, nine public libraries, 10 museums and more.


By Clark Kelly