Allow me to present my predictions for the tourism and hospitality sector in a nutshell, ceteris paribus: 2018 will see significant growth in Chinese and Russian visitors to the UAE; Saudi Arabia, India and key European markets such as the United Kingdom will continue to dominate the tourist demography; digital technology will reshape the industry; more millennials will turn global nomads; business and events will gain further traction; all-round, the hospitality sector will record robust growth.
The new norm
Now to the finer details and a bit of retrospective insight: 2017 has been a memorable year for Dubai and the UAE’s hospitality sector. Memorable because the industry demonstrated its resilience to the aftermath of the challenges that the global travel landscape witnessed in 2016. It was imperative for hospitality sector leaders to understand that disruption was the industry norm, and they had to be responsive, agile and flexible to a number of unprecedented changes.
I would place these changes in four brackets: economic, social, political and industry-specific. The economic reasons are obvious: shifts in the global economy and the recessionary trends in some areas of the world; social reasons such as natural disasters and pandemics that have impacted global travel; political reasons that include concerns that the aviation industry witnessed as well as geopolitical turmoil.
From a longer-term perspective, there were decisive policies by the authorities that opened new doors for tourism – such as on-arrival visas for Chinese and Russian visitors – which saw their numbers gain significantly in the past year.
Another key factor has been shifting demand patterns. Dubai was typically the destination for affluent travellers for many years. The Tourism Vision 2020 announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and his call to make the city a year-round destination, has had a transformational impact on the industry.
In tune with the global trend of more millennials resorting to travel, Dubai expanded its offering, from being heavily oriented towards five-star properties to providing a more diverse selection – from trendy boutique hotels to value-packed midscale properties. This has been a perfect fit for Dubai’s preparations for hosting the Expo 2020, which expects to welcome more than 25 million visitors during the six-month period, more than 70 per cent of them international visitors.
The second key industry-specific shift has been the change in consumer demand patterns. Travellers are increasingly independent and seeking home-away-from-home experiences, and with a new generation of travellers and entrepreneurs bursting onto the scene, it is important for the hospitality industry to transform – from analogue mode to digital. Services must be delivered at the point of the customer, and the guest journey must be redefined to ensure it was fuss-free. Hotels have to evolve as social spaces that connect and engage people.
At Emaar Hospitality Group, our focus was not only to broaden and diversify our offering but also to create new and innovative digital experiences that meet the requirements of the new age of travellers.
Emaar Hospitality Group now has 10,000 hotel rooms across our 11 hotels and 30 upcoming projects – a feat achieved in just 10 years since inception.
From the UAE, our home market, we have expanded to the Maldives, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. We have built our portfolio through three distinctive brands: Address Hotels + Resorts, for a premium luxury lifestyle; Vida Hotels and Resorts, our upscale lifestyle brand; and Rove Hotels, the contemporary midscale lifestyle hotels.
Sustaining our credentials of achieving occupancy levels that are higher than the industry average and not compromising on our RevPAR figures, we have achieved growth in 2017, a trend that we are confident to continue through 2018.
But what has been the key learning for us? It was the realisation that visitors expect us to be “glocal” – to be true to our milieu and roots while being global in our outlook and service delivery. If anything, being “glocal” will be the defining narrative for the industry here in the UAE and the region in the coming years as it opens doors to new and repeat visitors from new and established markets.