Dubai Banking On Increased Chinese Tourism

UAE Expects Wave Of Chinese Visitors In 2010, Following September Visa Changes

Dubai hopes more Chinese tourists will inject much-needed cash into its tourism industry in 2010

Dubai hopes more Chinese tourists will inject much-needed cash into its tourism industry in 2010

One of the interesting effects of the global economic slowdown has been the growth in outbound tourism among mainland Chinese. Although foreign travel still remains an elite activity despite the large numbers of Chinese tourists appearing in cities like New York, Paris and Tokyo, visa restrictions are easing year by year and rising incomes (as well as a growing middle class) mean that more mainlanders than ever before have the ability to take overseas jaunts.

For many retailers, hotels, airlines and tour operators, these Chinese tourists have been a godsend.

In New York, which received 153,000 visitors from China (including Hong Kong) in 2008, Chinese tourists have achieved notoriety for spending lavishly. According to the New York Times, in 2007 Chinese travelers spent $2,204 per visit in New York City, in contrast to $1,807 spent by the 283,000 Japanese visitors to New York that year, making them some of the most profligate foreign tourists. Even in closer destinations like Macau, per capita spending by mainland Chinese tourists was more than double that of visitors from Southeast Asia, and in Hong Kong, overnight mainland tourists devoted 73% of their spending to shopping trips in 2007.

In an effort to tap into the growing Chinese outbound tourist market, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stepped up its efforts to woo Chinese tourists in 2009, following the Chinese government’s loosening of visa restrictions. As an article in this week’s National newspaper (Dubai) observes, since last September, tour operators, hoteliers and retailers throughout the emirate have reported an influx of Chinese tourists.

With the drop in tourists from the formerly reliable EU dropping in the wake of the global slowdown, and Dubai’s well-publicized economic woes, these tourists couldn’t come at a better time for the UAE:

Michelle Chen, the deputy general manager of Hunter International Tourism, one of China’s largest travel agencies, said the number of Chinese visitors had doubled since September.

Ms Chen’s agency, which has an office in Dubai, expected to have 1,000 Chinese visit Dubai in the first two months of this year alone.

“Dubai is advertising a lot in China, and everywhere now Chinese travel agencies are promoting Dubai, especially for shopping because it is a no-tax area,” she said.

About 100 million Chinese are expected to travel overseas by 2020, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said.

China was ranked fifth worldwide for the amount spent on international travel, at more than US$36 billion (Dh132.22bn) in 2008, according to the UNWTO.

Although much of the article is standard fare, bullishness about Chinese tourists and their spending habits, one of the interesting things was a quote by Michelle Chen, who points out that a major shift is starting to emerge among wealthy Chinese who have the means to travel overseas with relative frequency:

Ms Chen said the UAE was a new frontier for Chinese tourists.

“Paris is already over for China,” she said. “A lot of people have already been to Europe. They are now interested in going to Africa and the Middle East.”

Though the demographic Ms. Chen describes must be infinitesmally small percentage of Chinese tourists, and an even more microscopic percentage of the Chinese population, this is definitely a development worth watching.


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