Dubai welcomed 7.28 million international overnight visitors between January and December 2021, representing 32 per cent year-over-year growth (YoY), establishing a momentous marker in the global tourism recovery, and setting the city firmly on course to achieve sustainable growth on its way to becoming the world’s most visited destination.
According to the latest data published by Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) international visitation to the city surpassed 3.4 million visitors in the fourth quarter of 2021, achieving 74 per cent of the total pre-pandemic tourist arrivals of Q4 2019, and paving the way for hotels in Dubai to deliver a stellar fourth quarter performance that surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
A positive trend which is expected to continue throughout 2022 and beyond, the 2021 visitation figures underline the resilience and resurgence of the city’s travel and tourism sector and reaffirm the role of tourism as a key driver of economic growth, while further validating Dubai’s recent selection as the world’s most popular destination in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2022.
HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, commented: “Under the visionary leadership and guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, our ability and agility in achieving a remarkable turnaround amid continuing global challenges has cemented Dubai’s position as the destination of choice for international travellers. The outstanding performance also advances our journey towards becoming the most visited destination and the world’s best city to live and work in. In leading the global tourism recovery with the support of our stakeholders and partners, Dubai constantly set precedents, demonstrating how to safely yet effectively open up to international visitors and, critically, stay open. Dubai’s well-coordinated, consistent, proactive and creative approach enabled it to lay the groundwork for an accelerated recovery that received a major boost with the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai and the UAE Golden Jubilee celebrations.
“Dubai’s success in 2021 is testament to the carefully calibrated strategy and decisive measures that were put in place at the outset to counter and manage the pandemic across all sectors including trade and tourism. By meticulously following the highest standards of hygiene and safety, supported by diligence and cooperation from all stakeholders, Dubai has been able to reinforce the trust that UAE residents and global travellers place in the city as one of the safest in the world, allowing them to enjoy the diversity of the destination offering within a relaxed environment. As we move forward throughout 2022, we are confident that the significant momentum now gathered will accelerate even further to continue to attract not just tourists but also investors, entrepreneurs and innovators to Dubai, enabling them to enjoy and avail themselves of all that our multi-faceted city has to offer,” Al Marri added.
Dubai strongholds regain momentum
Overcoming the impact of international travel restrictions in key global markets, Dubai continued to be the first-choice as a safe tourism destination, attracting holidaymakers throughout 2021 from markets that were open. Dubai strongholds regained momentum to register positive growth during 2021, with No.1 source market India delivering 910,000 visitors (5.3 per cent YoY), followed by 491,000 travellers from Saudi Arabia (+22.8 per cent YoY) whilst Russia and United Kingdom contributed 444,000 visitors (+50.3 per cent YoY) and 420,000 visitors (+7.1 per cent YoY) respectively.
Robust international visitation was boosted by strong tourism arrivals from regional markets. MENA and GCC markets collectively contributed to 26 per cent of the total volumes, reinforcing Dubai’s continued appeal to travellers from proximity markets. Western Europe accounted for 22 per cent of total visitors in 2021, with visitation led by UK, followed by France, Germany, Italy and Netherlands. South Asia contributed 18 per cent of the international visitation with Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe together making a 15 per cent contribution.
Hotels excel across the board
With domestic tourism accounting for a large share in the accommodation sector, Dubai’s hotels performed strongly in the fourth quarter to achieve significant growth across all hospitality metrics compared to 2020. For the first time, the hotel sector outperformed pre-pandemic levels across all measurements in Q4 2021 including over 81.4 percent occupancy compared to 80.7 per cent occupancy during Q4 2019.
Average occupancy, overall, reached 67 per cent in 2021 compared to 54 per cent in the previous year, which is among the highest occupancy rates internationally. Continued domestic and international investment into the sector also meant that, by the end of 2021, Dubai’s visitors and residents could choose from a total of 755 hotel establishments and 137,950 rooms, compared to 711 hotels establishments that were open with 126,947 rooms at the end of 2020. Guests also spent longer in Dubai’s hotels, with average length of stay reaching 4.6 nights (up from 4.2 nights in 2020), while the total of 31.47 million occupied room nights represented 53.7 per cent growth compared to 2020, and approximately 98 per cent of the occupied room nights of 2019.
Dubai’s leading position globally and the strong performance by its hotels was highlighted by international hotel management analytics firm STR, which noted that “Dubai hotel room demand for 2021 equals London, Paris and Oslo – all put together.” According to STR the total number of rooms sold in Dubai during 2021 is almost one per cent of all rooms sold across the world.
Showcasing Dubai through Expo 2020
The opening of Expo 2020 Dubai on 1 October 2021 marked the start of an incredible new era for the city’s tourism industry, highlighting efforts by Dubai and the UAE to celebrate the best of global business and culture and uniting together with nations in building a better world. As the first in-person global congregation of such magnitude since the onset of the pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai continues to serve as a magnet for drawing more visitors to the city, attracting 11.6 million visits by residents and global travellers in the space of four months.
Supporting the city’s commitment to always offer something new, unique and world-class to every global traveller, 2021 saw further strides made in broadening Dubai’s appeal to a wide spectrum of visitors with the opening of new attractions and leisure destinations including Ain Dubai, Deep Dive Dubai, Hatta Dome Park and The View at The Palm, to name a few, while building on the destination pillars – from culture to cuisine, entertainment, outdoor adventures to beach activities, family-oriented experiences to shopping – as well as leveraging the opportunities provided by iconic festivals and events like the Dubai Shopping Festival, Dubai Summer Surprises, Dubai Fitness Challenge, Gulfood, ATM and Gitex to increase visitation by leisure and business travellers.
Across 2021, and now in 2022, Dubai continues to reap the benefits of the series of measures that were put in place at the outset of the pandemic that saw the city become one of the first destinations in the world to close, then open and remain open, starting with the effective public health campaign to contain the pandemic. As one of the most vaccinated nations in the world with more than 94 per cent of the population vaccinated, the UAE achieved No.1 position globally in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking in January 2022.
Global liveability hub
Dubai continued to score high across international indices in 2021, further reinforcing its reputation as a global liveability hub and making the multicultural city that is home to over 200 nationalities even more attractive to tourists, investors, creative and cultural talents. Delivering exceptional experiences combined with an outstanding quality of life, Dubai was placed No.1 in the MEASA region and No. 12 globally in Julius Baer’s Global Wealth and Lifestyle Report 2021 while in the Global Talent Competitive Index Dubai ranks the 3rd most desirable destination to live and work.
The UAE was also voted the 4th best for expatriates to live and work in on HSBC’s 14th annual Expat Explorer Survey 2021, up 10 places from 2020. The Gallup Global Law and Order 2021 report ranked the UAE as the No.1 country in the world for walking at night safely while the same report also ranked UAE as the No.2 safest country in the world. In addition to being picked as the world’s most popular destination, Dubai was voted the world’s No.1 destination for ‘City Lovers’ and No. 4 destination for ‘Food Lovers’ in Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2022, which were based on independent destination reviews and ratings from travellers across accommodation, restaurants and activities over 12 months from 1 November 1 2020 to 31 October 2021.
Issam Kazim, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, commented: “Dubai’s successful blueprint to navigate far beyond the pandemic and emerge as a highly competitive, attractive and resilient destination is the result of the constant inspiration from our visionary leadership to position Dubai as the leading city for business, investment and tourism. In showcasing Dubai as a must-visit destination to an international audience and maintaining momentum, we have leveraged and depended on a combination of factors including our focus on a diversified multi-geographic approach to markets, the strong public-private sector partnerships and global campaigns designed to create awareness of Dubai, highlight its unique propositions and most importantly emphasise that the city is safe, open and accessible to all.”
Global campaigns and in-market activities
A core pillar of Dubai’s success has been the implementation of innovative global and regional campaigns featuring celebrities, influencers and community personalities to further highlight the city’s unique appeal and myriad of experiences. During 2021, the city rolled out the ‘Dubai Presents’ campaign featuring trailers starring Hollywood actors Jessica Alba and Zac Efron. The campaign saw over 3,500 assets broadcast to audiences in 25 languages and directly speaking to travellers of all ages and interest groups – encouraging bookings and driving engagement with the destination. DET also hosted a number of in-person networking events in key tourism source markets including UK, Russia and US to highlight the diversity of offerings, raise awareness of Expo 2020 Dubai and emphasise the city’s openness and rollout of health and safety measures in line with international practices.
New initiatives to spur growth
The drive to make Dubai the city of the future will be largely through the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, which aims to expand Dubai’s offering and place a reimagined focus on enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors to the city, while further consolidating Dubai’s reputation as a global destination for business, investment and tourism.
Dubai continues to launch bold regulatory initiatives to promote accelerated growth of the tourism sector including streamlining access to the emirate by establishing hassle-free entry procedures for business and leisure travellers, as well as long-term engagement with the city. These include the Five-Year Multi-Entry Visa for employees of multinational companies, and the new timeshare law and portal to help pave the way for a world-class vacation ownership market in Dubai, whilst also providing suitable alternatives to tourists to encourage them to spend multiple and extended holidays in the UAE. These were in addition to other initiatives that were previously announced – including the Golden Visa initiative targeting investors, entrepreneurs and specialised talents, and Virtual working and Retire in Dubai Programmes.