“Tourism Spring” For Dubai As Chinese Tourists Arrive En Masse

193,000 Hotel Stays Recorded Since January

The Burj al Arab illuminated its famous "sail" for the Chinese Year of the Dragon

With trips by Chinese outbound tourists expected to grow to 80 million trips this year, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), up from 70 million in 2011 and 57.4 million in 2010, destinations from Singapore to Spain continue to court this increasingly important and emerging demographic. Having spent an estimated US$69 billion overseas last year, a 25 percent leap over the $55 billion spent in 2010, China’s world travelers are giving luxury retailers and hoteliers ample incentive to beef up their Mandarin-speaking staff and Chinese-focused amenities. But alongside predictable vacations to Paris, New York and London, Chinese tourists are now venturing further afield, making them an important tourist base in Southeast Asia, South America and the Middle East. In Dubai, famously attractive to newly wealthy tourists from places like Russia, Chinese tourists are now one of the fastest-growing groups, and the sheikdom’s lavish hotels and malls are moving quickly to ensure they extract as much cash from these visitors as possible.

According to figures released this past weekend by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), so far this year Dubai has registered a 27 percent increase in the number of hotel guests from China, recording a total of a total of 193,000 stays since January. However, as DTCM official Saleh Al Geziry noted, when taking into consideration Chinese visitors staying with friends or relatives in the UAE, the number of visitors from China is far higher. Last year, 214,000 Chinese tourists traveled to Dubai, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a nine-fold increase from 25,000 visitors in 2001. Over the past 12 months, Chinese arrivals have surged 50 percent, giving retailers ample impetus to cater to this important tourist segment.

As Al Geziry said in advance of this week’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) conference and travel fair, “What we witness here is a tourism spring after sluggish years in the wake of the global crisis.” Added Al Geziry, “The Chinese market is important to Dubai. Since both sides, the UAE and China, liberated their bilateral visa policy in September 2009, the DTCM has regularly presented Dubai as a holiday destination in major Chinese cities, and the immense response speaks for itself.”

The Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel is a popular destination for wealthy Chinese travelers

Notorious for scrimping on accommodations while splurging on shopping, Chinese tourists in Dubai appear to be more open to shelling out for high-end hotels than in some other destinations. As China Daily notes, the most popular hotels in Dubai among Chinese outbound tourists are the seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab (where 30 percent of guests in the first three months of this year were Chinese), the 1537-room luxury resort Atlantis The Palm and the Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel. According to Yasmine Hidalgo, PR manager at the Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel, Chinese guests make up the third-largest contingent at her hotel, adding that Chinese guests “like the proximity to the Ibn Battuta shopping mall and of course our Chinese restaurant Shangai Chic. Our visitors from China like the sun, beach and lifestyle of Dubai, but at the same time they also like to feel at home.” As the New York Times writes, not only are Chinese visitors coming more often, they’re staying in Dubai longer. Citing data collected from hoteliers by the Majid Al Futtaim group, the Times notes that Chinese tourists are now spending an average of four nights in Dubai, over three nights two years ago.

However, the famous pragmatism for which Chinese tourists are becoming notorious in the hospitality industry continues to shine through. According to Majid Al Futtaim CEO, Peter Walichnowski, Chinese tourists will often spend one of their four nights in Dubai at the $2,100-per-night Burj Al Arab hotel, spending their remaining nights at “obscure two-star hotels to maximize [their] stay.”

As Walichnowski told the Times, “The Chinese visitors to Dubai are fairly affluent — the ones who like a bottle of wine and a night at the Burj.”


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