Dubai builds leisure base; hotels follow suit
07 OCTOBER 2015 6:51 AM
As the emirate steps up its game to attract more leisure business, its hoteliers are keeping pace by creating their own wow factors on property.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Dubai, and indeed the UAE, is abuzz with construction activity geared toward increasing its leisure appeal, in tandem with hoteliers creating their own wow factors to draw guests in.
“The UAE has to become a leisure and entertainment destination to be able to attract enough visitor numbers to fill the hotels,” said Philip Shepherd, Middle East hospitality and leisure leader at PwC, during The Hotel Show’s Vision Conference in Dubai.
“Shopping is not the same attraction than it was a few years ago. It has become about 20% more expensive than elsewhere. So how will they double the number of visitors? What will bring them all here? More luxury hotels on limited beach space?” he asked.
According to PwC research, 30 million inbound tourists are expected to come to the UAE by 2021; adding residents, 45 million visitors could afford to visit the UAE’s theme parks.
“It has substantial markets on its doorstep: 3 billion live within (a four-hour flight) and 6 billion within an eight-hour flight. The emerging markets, China, India and Africa, are going to represent about 46% of international tourists, a huge, fast-growing middle-class group,” Shepherd said.
Several entertainment projects are set to open as early as next year, including The Dubai Opera House in the shadow of Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Safari park. Dubai Parks & Resorts in Jebel Ali is bringing Motiongate, Legoland and Bollywood Parks to the emirate as well.
Meanwhile, IMG Worlds of Adventure at City of Arabia in Dubailand will host Cartoon Network, Marvel superheroes and a Lost Valley brimming with sounds of dinosaurs.
Shepherd compared the UAE’s 2021 potential of 18 million theme park visitors to destinations such as Orlando, Florida (which attracts 70 million annually); Hong Kong (15 million); and Singapore (6.7 million).
“Orlando was once a small coastal town. The UAE has a substantial opportunity to be one of the world leaders. It has the key enablers, successful airports and airlines, and a mature destination management. More entertainment is the missing link, but they need to market the variety of destinations within the country together,” Shepherd said.
Dubai is working on the longest indoor ski slope, the Mall of the World, Bluewaters Island with Ferris wheel. In Abu Dhabi, where a Warner Bros theme park is said to join the existing Ferrari World, the Guggenheim will open in 2017.
“The new theme parks are a quantum leap forward. The UAE is already No. 8 in the world for quality water parks. Visitation, 80% international, peaks in summer. The existing Souk Madinat Jumeirah, retail anchored, is also an excellent example of something which works,” said Phil Taylor, managing director of consultancy Team Leisure. An expansion of the Madinat is set to open next year.
On Palm Jumeirah, The Pointe—a water-fronted 1.4-million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex—as well as the Nakheel Mall & Palm Tower, complete with a 290-room hotel and a 180-meter high rooftop piazza, are under construction.
“The Pointe, to open by early 2017, will become a must go area for … tourists. Both projects will be connected by monorail to the tram and metro,” said Sanjay Manchanda, Nakheel’s CEO.
The developer also is creating 40 kilometers of coastline and 21 kilometers of beaches at its Deira Islands project, including a waterfront night market and amphitheater. At least five hotels will come online, including the emirate’s first all-inclusive resort by Spain’s Riu Hotels and Resorts and an Avani hotel from Minor Hotel Group.
“Dubai’s life started in historical Deira. The fish market and trades are still there, and the government is revitalizing the area along the Creek,” Manchanda said.
Reinvigorating demand in RAK
In the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the focus is on the reclaimed Al Marjan Island, which is divided into four separate islands connected by bridges.
“One will evoke a feeling of adventure for the millennial traveler; another one is geared toward families. We are consulting which activities to add to fill gaps and not repeat,” said Haitham Mattar, CEO of the RAK Tourism Development Authority.
Among the emirate’s assets: 65 kilometers of beaches and mountains with the highest summit at 1,800 meters. The result is a destination that’s great for adventure sports while still preserving authentic Arabian culture, rich in historical sites, he said.
With a 3,600-room internationally branded pipeline (between now and 2019), and 10% growth in tourist numbers for the first half of 2015, the emirate has struck a charter deal to bring in up to 60,000 German tourists this winter season, Mattar said.
The wow factor
Increased competition has encouraged hotel developers to create their own wow factors on property. Damac Properties, for example, pulled in Paramount Hotels & Resorts on its 56-story residential tower in Downtown Dubai.
“We’re leveraging the movie industry, targeting families, as well as corporate guests. The design is an indirect representation of the brand—theatrical. The hotel will offer cozy screening rooms where you can dine, and fitness is celebrity-linked,” said Luca Bandecchi, corporate director of marketing at Paramount.
The Me by Meliá brand benefits from being in developer Omniyat’s Opus building, which houses offices, residential and retail, and is guaranteed to garner attention thanks to a hard-to-miss design by the renowned Zaha Hadid.
“Me stands for individualism, a lifestyle brand with a psychographic focus. Our guests like to be on stage and enjoy themselves, being seen with celebrities in a luxurious environment. The mixed-use component is critical to our success, enabling an interactive playground,” said Martin Ostermann, director of development in the Middle East at Meliá Hotels International.