Dubai recently snagged the honor of hosting Expo 2020, a major boon for the tourism industry of both the Emirate and the UAE. World Expos take place every five years, bringing millions of visitors from around the world to share new technologies and advance innovative ideas as a global community. Significantly, 2020 will mark the first time an Expo has been held in the Middle East. The expected venue for the expo will be the Dubai Trade Center - Jebel Ali, located in between the city centers of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Hosting the Expo will help accelerate the growth of the tourism industry in Dubai, the UAE and the wider GCC region, Helal Saeed Almarri, director general for Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and CEO of Dubai World Trade Centre, said in a statement.
In order to accommodate that 25 million, the emirate will need to improve its overall infrastructure and make sure there are enough hotel rooms to accommodate the masses. Fortunately, Dubai is already growing and improving at an exponential pace.
“DTCM will work with our partners in both government and the private sector to put in place the infrastructure and processes needed to meet the demand of the 25 million expected visitors over the Expo period,” Almarri said. According to Breaking Travel News, the emirate will invest $8 billion on infrastructure projects ahead of the event, including extensions to the Metro’s Red Line to Dubai World Central. The Dubai Metro expansion includes the building of a new stretch of line from the existing terminus at Jebel Ali to Al Maktoum International Airport, which is next to the proposed Expo site at Dubai World Central.
The Al Maktoum International Airport, which is still under construction and opened for passenger traffic this past October, will be one of the largest in the Middle East when complete, and is also part of the Tourism Vision for 2020. The complete airport is expected have a projected annual capacity of 160 million passengers.
...And a Hotel Boom
Dubai's hotel scene is also poised to benefit from the Expo: The Emirate currently has 82,000 hotel and hotel-apartment rooms, and the number is likely to double by 2020.
Between January and September 2013, Dubai's hotels saw more than 7.9 million visitors, a 9.8 percent year-on-year increase. According to the emirate's Depatment of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), the industry has seen increases hotel guests, room occupancy levels, hotel and hotel apartment revenues and average length of stay, all key factors in order for Dubai to acheive its Tourism Vision for 2020.
Guido de Wilde, senior vice president, regional director, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Middle East, told Hotelier Middle East that Dubai is a “hugely significant” market for the brand, second only to New York with regard to number of hotels. “Starwood currently operates 14 hotels with over 4,000 rooms in Dubai,” he added. “This market is very strong,” said de Wilde.
In September, Dubai launched a financial incentive to develop more mid-range (three- and four-star) hotels. Eligible hotels will be granted a concession on the standard 10 percent Municipality Fee, which is levied on the room rate for each night of occupancy. The initiative is designed to incentivize hotel owners to bring forward their construction timelines, creating more three and four star hotel rooms in Dubai more quickly. “The equation is simple,” Almarri said. “The sooner the property opens, the bigger financial incentive the hotel owner will receive.”
Investors in new hotels will be granted a waiver on the Fee for a period of four years from the date the permit to construct is granted and provided that this date is between October 1, 2013 and December 31, 2017.
Brand-new hotels have opened in Dubai during 2013, including the Barjeel Heritage Guest House in Bur Dubai; Mövenpick Hotel Apartments The Square, Sofitel Dubai the Palm; Conrad Dubai; Oberoi Dubai; Anantara Dubai Palm Jumeirah Resort & Spa and, just recently, Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers. More are due to open before the end of the year, including Novotel Dubai Al Barsha and Raviz Centerpoint in Bur Dubai.
Some high-end hotels on the horizon, according to Luxury Travel Advisor, include The Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, which will be on a beachfront with easy access to the main commercial district on Sheikh Zayed Road, and will have a private beach club. The ME Dubai is set to open in 2016 in the Burj Khalifa District’s very post-modern Opus Building with a design by star architect Zaha Hadid. The top floors of the hotel will have serviced apartments, including four penthouses with private roof terraces. The Rosewood Dubai, meanwhile, is set to open by the end of 2015, according to Rosewood president Radha Arora.
And the Viceroy Dubai Palm Jumeirah, a $1 billion project, has just started construction at the base of the Palm Jumeirah, 15 minutes from the city’s downtown center and close to major tourist and business attractions like the Dubai Marina and Dubai Media City.
We also hear that Jumeirah will start construction on a new Dubai hotel this December, aiming for a December 2015 opening. The project doesn’t even have a name yet, but if it’s anything like its predecessors, it will be something spectacular. Jumeirah already manages several top-notch hotels in Dubai, including the iconic Burj Al Arab, the wave-like Jumeirah Beach Hotel, the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, the urban Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the palatial Jumeirah Zabeel Saray (and its Royal Residences) and the Madinat Jumeirah (which includes the Al Qasr, the Dar Al Masyaf, Malakiya Villas and the Mina A’Salam).
Vision for 2020
“We will can now leverage the hosting of Expo 2020 and the focus it will place on Dubai as a means to attract visitors to Dubai, not just during the six months of the Expo itself, but in the seven years leading up to it,” Almarri said. Between October 2020 and April 2021, more than 25 million visitors are expected to attend Expo 2020, 70 percent of which will be from outside the UAE – the largest number of international visitors in Expo history.
The Tourism Vision for 2020, a plan to help develop Dubai’s tourism industry with the ultimate goal of getting 20 million visitors to visit the Emirate each year by 2020, was approved this spring by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE (and ruler of Dubai).