Hotels, theme parks and other hardware are mushrooming in the emirate, making it ever more attractive for business events. By Feizal Samath
New infrastructure, facilities and entertainment options particularly targeting MICE visitors and their accompanying families is setting Dubai apart from competing destinations.
In the hotel arena, some 8,000 rooms were added to the city last year, contributing to the current total of 93,000 rooms. New mid-range properties are also springing up, with 15,000 to 20,000 rooms ‚Äď mostly in the three- and four-star categories ‚Äď in the pipeline and due to come on stream in 2015-2016.
Meanwhile, the four-star, Marriott-managed Lapita Hotel with 503 keys is expected to open alongside three new theme parks for the entertainment of business visitors. Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Motiongate Dubai all aim to woo more business from Asia and are located in the same site between Dubai Airport and Abu Dhabi Airport, with Phase One construction expected to complete in October 2016.
Also opening in 2015-2016 is the IMG Worlds of Adventure, expected to be the world‚Äôs largest indoor theme park. Home to four zones ‚Äď Marvel, Lost Adventure, Dinosaur Adventures and Cartoon Network ‚Äď this fantasy land is a US$1 billion investment.
The city will break another record when it opens the world‚Äôs largest airport ‚Äď with a capacity of more than 200 million passengers ‚Äď by 2030. Already it has excellent air connectivity with two international airports connecting hundreds of destinations across six continents.
The emirate is also planning to allow multiple-entry visas, especially for Asians seeking to make several visits.
Amorntheep Bhatia, managing director of Bangkok-based Orient Travels, said the multiple-entry visas would definitely encourage more visits and boost business for Dubai.
The UAE capital is targeting 20 million visitors by 2020, the year it will play host to the World Expo. Foreign visitors numbered 11.6 million in 2014.
One of the city‚Äôs goals is to treat today‚Äôs business visitor as tomorrow‚Äôs leisure tourist.
‚ÄúTo achieve that goal, we need strong branding and marketing, which are in the works, while infrastructure is already in place,‚ÄĚ commented Steen Jakobsen, director for Dubai Business Events, the city‚Äôs official convention bureau.
He shared that significant measures have been taken to ensure hotels are available across all price points, and that there has been a steady increase in the number of business events taking place in Dubai.
Philippe Harb, COO of One to One Hotels and Resorts in Abu Dhabi, opined that dynamic markets such as Dubai do well when it comes to improving the performance of the tourism and MICE sectors.
He added that Dubai operators also adapt well to adverse market conditions, being able to cut expenses dramatically and maintain profitability.
He cited the example of the CIS economic slowdown, during which Chinese business travellers amply compensated for the decrease in CIS business visitors, with operators providing attractive options.
Shujaat Yyar, deputy general manager at the Le Meridien Dubai Hotel and Conference Centre, noted that Dubai‚Äôs vision to welcome 20 million visitors by 2020 is significantly accelerating the projects and infrastructural development of the city.
‚ÄúThe number of flights to and from Asia, the extensive choice and quality of hotels, event venues, indoor and outdoor incentive activities as well as the reassuring fact that Dubai is virtually crime-free, make this emirate a preferred choice for Asian countries,‚ÄĚ he added.
Sharjah a magnet for Asian MICE
Sharjah, designated the capital of Arab tourism for 2015 and historical destination for art and Islamic culture, is aiming to welcome 10 million visitors by 2021. In 2014, there were two million hotel guests, up from 1.8 million the previous year.
To achieve the target, the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) is partnering with the tourism trade in several ways.
Investments are being made in the development of sophisticated convention and conference facilities, high-end hotels and shopping centres. About 30 new international-brand hotels or an estimated 4,000 additional rooms are expected to open in the emirate over the next few years. The city now has 10,000 hotel rooms.
Among the developments is the new five-star luxury beachfront hotel and resort, Majlis Grand Mercure Sharjah, to be managed by Accor.
Additionally, a new leisure cruise ship terminal is being built at Sharjah‚Äôs east coast, at Khorfakkan Port. Industry officials said the tourism sector is currently enjoying a successful 2014-2015 cruise season, expecting an estimated 36 international cruise ships to bring in more than 80,000 tourists.
Khamis Kazzaz, general manager of the Radisson Blu Resort, Sharjah, told TTGmice that Sharjah was the first emirate to have an expo centre, and that it has developed tremendously with world-class business facilities and infrastructure. ‚ÄúOur resort strongly supports Sharjah‚Äôs vision to receive 10 million tourists ‚Äď we offer nine function rooms along with various activities such as fishing, boating and water sports,‚ÄĚ he said.
Connectivity-wise, in February this year Sharjah-based Air Arabia became the first low-cost airline from the Middle East and Africa to connect the region with China, operating regular non-stop services to Urumqi, the largest city in western China.
The emirate has significant potential to attract Asian MICE visitors given its long-established trade and business relations with the region and growing public-private partnership.
A senior spokesperson for SCTDA said visitor numbers from Asia had registered sustained growth in the past few years, with hotels recording a 19 per cent year-on-year rise to more than 313,000 Asian guests in 2014.
‚ÄúSharjah draws Asians due to its safe and secure environment, wide selection of hotels and diverse tourism offerings. Business event planners will also find it a cost-effective choice offering advanced infrastructure and facilities as well as easy access to other markets in the region,‚ÄĚ he added.
Need to Know
More room for meetings at Le Meridien
The 580-room Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre offers one of the newest and largest conference and banqueting facilities in Dubai. In line with the country‚Äôs vision to welcome 20 million visitors by 2020, it has almost doubled its meeting room capacity with the opening of The Great Ballroom in May. This state-of-the-art venue can accommodate up to 1,500 guests and is supported by 20 additional meeting venues within the hotel.
¬†View cityscape from world‚Äôs highest point
An unforgettable experience awaits up on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, supposedly the world‚Äôs tallest building. There, an observation deck called At The Top, Burj Khalifa Sky, stands 555m above ground level. It offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of Dubai city.
¬†Fun activities on soft desert sand
The Desert Safari experience is a must for anyone visiting the UAE. Tours are held daily and participants depart in the afternoon dune-driving across Dubai‚Äôs desert, with several stops for photo-taking before reaching the first destination, a camel farm. Participants also get to watch the beautiful sunset before the drive ends at a campsite.
The experience includes a camel ride, belly dancing performance, henna painting, BBQ dinner, sand skiing, etc.
Experience Taj hospitality in Burj Khalifa
Visitors, especially Indians who prefer a ‚Äėhome away from home‚Äô,¬† can check out the new Taj Dubai, which opened in March in the prestigious Burj Khalifa downtown area.
The 296-key hotel offers Taj Club Rooms, 16 Junior Suites and 15 Luxury Suites with panoramic views of Burj Khalifa, dancing fountains and Dubai Mall.
There are two especially lavish suites. The Maharaja Suite on the 33rd floor is inspired by opulent Maharaja‚Äôs palaces in Rajasthan and boasts a roof terrace. The 680m2 Presidential Suite, with its fine balance of understated elegance and opulence, occupies the entire 35th floor and boasts its own fitness suite and yoga room.
Tour the city on double-deckers
Dubai‚Äôs hop-on, hop-off city tours on board modern double-decker buses, with a dozen language options, allow passengers to explore different areas of interest at their own pace.
Launched last October, the Blue Route with 12 stops takes visitors to Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, Jumeirah Mosque, Madinat Jumeirah, and the iconic Palm Jumeirah, among others. The Red Route with 16 stops goes to the Gold and Spice Souks, Al Fahidi, Dubai Museum and Old Souk, among others.
Alternative shopping in the open
Located in Jumeirah on Al Wasl Road, the BoxPark open-air shopping and leisure precinct is made up of 220 shipping and industrial containers of various colours on a 1,200m stretch. Featuring about 44 high-end F&B outlets and retail stores, BoxPark was developed by Meraas Holding as a refreshing alternative to large indoor malls.
On a board out at sea
Flyboarding is the latest craze offered by SeaRide Dubai, based at Al Souq Harbour, Jumeirah, to hit the waters of Dubai.
A flyboard enables the rider to use water pressure to ‚Äėfly‚Äô above the sea. Clad in a life jacket and a helmet for safety, the rider stands strapped to a board connected to a jet-ski with a small pipe that pumps water into the board to propel it upwards. A good sense of balance is required.