KARACHI: Dubai makes no secret of its mandate — it wants to be the most liveable city, and the most visited one in the world as well.
The emirate, which attracted a record 16.73 million tourists in 2019, also saw a growth of 4.2% year-on-year in January and February of 2020 before the pandemic halted the world’s moving wheels. Its location as a trade hub was well-established, but various attractions make up for a big part of its visitor-base as well now.
The aviation sector also remains an important player in the tourism and liveability strategy, with Dubai airport welcoming over 86 million passengers in 2019, making it the busiest in the world that year.
The retail sector has been vibrant over the years, and shopping mall operator Majid Al Futtaim projected UAE’s retail revenues in the latter part of 2021 to likely exceed those seen before the pandemic.
However, there is one more element that makes Dubai stand out among peers when it comes to liveability and tourism — its agility in policymaking and strict adherence to implementation.
At the same time, it has widened the scope of its target market, attracting a wider segment that goes beyond just high net-worth individuals.
In a recent interview with Business Recorder, Issam Kazim, the chief executive officer of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), said Covid enabled its leadership to implement some projects that were being worked on for a while, referring to the remote working visa and virtual working programme introduced during the pandemic.
The lockdown gave the window to take advantage, said Kazim, adding that the visitors that got stuck in Dubai because borders shut down were given a visa extension.
“We started to notice that a lot of them then started to work out of Dubai.
“We quickly adapted to this new demand and because hotels had dropped to 50% occupancy, they converted some of these rooms into office spaces so people could rent them.”
Kazim was referring to the remote working visa programme that enables a professional to reside in Dubai while employed elsewhere, provided their monthly income is a minimum of $5,000 equivalent. The programme came in handy during the pandemic when employees worked from home, but resided in Dubai.
“A lot of them didn’t want to go back to cold gray winters. They wanted to take advantage of Dubai’s winter.
“We also then said, ‘why don’t we launch a freelance visa as well’. This again makes it much easier for companies and for agencies to hire people when the demand is high during a certain period of time.”
The other visas
While Kazim said it casually, the statements highlight how quickly Dubai adapted, and implemented policies. It managed to retain what would have been visitors for a much longer period, attracting inflow even during the pandemic.
The new programme is in tandem with a retirement, as well as a golden visa.
“This looks after an investors’ perspective and even highly skilled professionals. In some cases, it attracts people who are students with high GPAs within specific segments,” said Kazim, adding that it enables Dubai to attract the top IT talent as well.
Kazim said that the age-group that travels to Dubai is varied, and adds to the market diversity element that the emirate is targeting.
“Historically people thought that Dubai catered to the high net-worth individuals. But that wasn't the reality.
“Dubai has always had something for all budgets. Today we have campaigns running in over 50 markets at any given time so it shows you that not only are we are targeting a wider geography, but we are also targeting a wider demographic set.”
Pakistan remains an important market
In terms of its source markets, Dubai attracted over 6 million visitors in 11 months of the ongoing calendar year with Western Europe and South Asia making up almost 40%. The number isn’t too different from the composition in 2019 when it attracted a record 16.7 million. In terms of visitors, Pakistan consistently ranks among its top 10 source markets and, even in 2020, saw 212,000 travel to the emirate between January and December.
The number put Pakistan in sixth place among Dubai’s top source markets in 2020, according to official tourism department figures. In 2021, during January-November, the number stood at 204,000, and put Pakistan at eighth place. For context, the number was half a million in 2019, pointing to Pakistanis’ preference to travel to Dubai.