Chinese tourists to stream into Dubai over the next decade

Chinese visitors to Dubai are expected to double in a decade.

Rising income levels in the world’s most populous nation and improved flight connections through the UAE will drive tourism growth from the country, says a report from Oxford Economics and the hotel operator InterContinental.

Chinese visitor numbers to the emirate are predicted to surge 98 per cent in the 10 years through 2023 to 545,000, according to the report.

They are expected to spend US$781 million in 2023, up from $488m in 2013.

However, the average length of stay for Chinese guests will remain steady at 3.3 nights despite the spike in arrivals.

“They will definitely be a key customer for Dubai because of the growing numbers and average spend,” said Pascal Gauvin, the chief operating officer for India, Middle East and Africa at IHG.

To tap the growing numbers, IHG has certified seven of its 12 properties in Dubai, such as InterContinental Festival City and Crowne Plaza Festival City, as China Ready, a programme it started last year.

To become certified, a property must employ Mandarin-speaking staff as greeters, at the front office or as concierges, trained Chinese chefs, cultural awareness training and access to the country’s UnionPay bank card network. It also needs to have Mandarin newspapers and TV channels in rooms, feature noodle soup on the menu and have slippers in rooms, Mr Gauvin said.

IHG expects to certify its properties in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia’s holy cities when visitor numbers reach a critical mass. “The numbers [in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia] are small for the moment,” Mr Gauvin said.

In 2023, Abu Dhabi is expected to receive 177,000 Chinese tourists, up by 300 per cent on 2013 numbers, said the report.

About 120,350 guests from China checked into Abu Dhabi hotels last year, staying on average for 1.67 nights, according to Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority’s (TCA Abu Dhabi).

Dubai, followed by Abu Dhabi, is expected to record the fastest regional growth in Chinese tourists.

Travel to Mecca and Medina is expected to grow by half through 2023, as China’s Muslim population is predicted to rise to 2.1 per cent of the country’s total by 2030, according to the report.

The rise of the Chinese tourist in the UAE comes as the industry copes with a sharp downturn in the number of arrivals from sanctions-hit Russia while the weak euro also threatens visitors from the euro zone.

“China will emerge as a significant market for Dubai with a growing middle class, as Dubai will remain more expensive to visit for European and Russian tourists,” said Matthew Green, the head of research and consultancy for the UAE at CBRE Middle East.

About 344,329 Chinese tourists checked into Dubai’s hotels and hotel apartments last year, an increase of almost 25 per cent over 2013, according to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. It was the seventh-largest market, with the top three Saudi Arabia, India and the United Kingdom.

“While along with all Dubai’s hotels we saw a reduction in guests from Russia, we opened representative offices in both China and India and for the first time saw significant numbers staying with us from these key markets in 2014,” said David Thomson, the chief operating officer at Dubai-based JA Resorts.

Globally, however, Asian and North American destinations remain far more popular for the Chinese tourists than the Middle East, according to the IHG and Oxford Economics report.

The five most popular cities with Chinese travellers are Seoul, Bangkok, Pattaya in Thailand, Taoyuan in Taiwan and Kuala Lumpur. British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec in Canada, along with Fukuoka in Japan, Quebec and Medina, topped the list in terms of average length of stay.

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