Tourism officials in Dubai have dismissed data showing the destination has still not returned to 2019’s visitor numbers, insisting that record figures registered four years ago will be beaten.
Having reached 16.73 million visitors in 2019, the city had believed it would go on and beat that figure in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing worldwide travel restrictions intervened. Despite expressing confidence that 2019 is a point on a rising trendline rather than a peak, neither a booming 2022 nor 2023 so far has produced the numbers of visitors needed to exceed the record.
The Qatar World Cup in 2022 helped to shine a light on coastal destinations all around the Arabian Gulf but also drew a torrent of negative publicity around human rights issues in the region and over the development of mega cities in desert climates that require air conditioning to be pumped into the streets. With question marks around sustainability and responsible tourism now at the forefront of many vacationers’ minds, some might argue that Dubai lost the chance to build on its momentum at just the wrong time.
“Stop comparing to 2019”
Some frustration now appears to be seeping into communications. Speaking to Travel Weekly, Issam Kazim, Chief Executive of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce, said, “This year’s numbers are looking like we’ll beat 2019 records which is great because we want to stop comparing everything to 2019 and push ahead, working towards the future.”
Yet, taking the example of the UK, which represents Dubai’s third biggest source market, Dubai remains 3% below 2019’s record. 734,000 UK visitors went to Dubai in September, 14% up on the same month in 2022 but still 3% fewer than in 2019.
Travel advisors and airlift
“The UK trade is very important to us,” said Kazim adding, “We need travel advisors to keep working as our window to the customers.”
Kazim also claimed the explanation for the lower-than-hoped for UK numbers was low airlift. He hailed a new route between Dubai and London Heathrow launched by Virgin Atlantic last month, as a promising part of the answer.
“The load factor is healthy across the board so we are hopeful more flights will be scheduled to keep bringing in those visitors that clearly want to see us,” he said. “There were a lot of changes in the aviation industry during the pandemic and airlines are trying as hard as they can to rehire and retrain staff and redeploy their fleet and the faster we can get that up and running the better.”