Complex Made Simple

Russia and China no longer at the top; Western Europe and South Asia on the rise

Dubai welcomed 14.2 million visitors in 2015, a rise of 7.5 per cent from 2014, reveals the emirate’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

These numbers show that the emirate is well on its way to receiving the 20m visitors it plans to welcome by 2020, the year it will host the World Expo.

DCTM figures*, released on Wednesday evening, show that the top three source markets for Dubai’s tourists were Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and India.

There was no mention of Russia and China, formerly two of the top sources of tourists visiting the emirate.

The top 3: A quick breakdown

Within the GCC, Saudi Arabia took the lead, contributing 1.54m visitors to the UAE in 2015, followed by Oman, Kuwait and Qatar, all of which ranked among the top 20.

Western Europe, led by the United Kingdom, was ranked second, bringing in nearly 3m tourists, a rise of 6.1 percent from figures in 2014.

The third-largest tourist source region was South Asia, predominantly India, with 2.3m visitors.

From Russia without love?

Near the end of 2015, the ruble hit record lows against the US dollar, dropping the number of tourists from the Eastern European region, particularly Russia, to Dubai.

The ruble’s poor performance was one of the economic repercussions suffered from the Russia-Ukraine turmoil, and the Eastern European power’s often-criticised stances on regional and global issues, such as Syria.

DTCM’s latest announcement busts earlier forecasts anticipating the numbers of Russian tourists to Dubai would soar.

The 2015 figures helped “offset negative trends in the consolidated Russia, CIS and Eastern European region,” which recorded a heavy 22.5 per cent drop in travellers, says DCTM.

Chinese whispers

Meanwhile, DTCM announced that 450,000 Chinese tourists entered Dubai in 2015, a rise of 17.9 per cent from 2014.

“Inbound traffic from China dominated the uptake from this region, topping the leader board of year-on-year growth trends with a 29 per cent increase in numbers,” the department says.

However, while the number of tourists from the Asian major may have increased, the levels of their disposable income may have dropped.

A drop in the euro in the latter half of 2015 prompted Chinese luxury buyers to head to Europe instead of Dubai and other GCC countries in order to make their expensive purchases, as per several research reports released this year.

Hey, big spender

 Tourism has always been a huge contributor to Dubai’s economy and a lucrative source of revenue for businesses in the emirate and the region in general.

Therefore, the shrinking volumes of Russian and Chinese tourists have especially impacted brands offering luxury goods and services, who previously depended largely on these so-called “heavy spenders”.

“Now in the GCC, mainly there no Russians, no Chinese and Europeans,” lamented Patrick P. Hoffman, CEO of luxury Swiss watch brand, Ulysse Nardin, to Aficionado, sister title to AMEinfo, earlier this year.

“There are mainly locals, so now the main target is to develop brand awareness the local buyer,” Hoffman continued. “They are our main target now.”

On different occasions throughout 2015, Hoffman and several other executives from the luxury industry expressed concerns about the drop in Chinese spenders.

With this decline becoming a polarized reality in 2015, luxury brands were prompted to look out for new target groups, locally and regionally, with large disposable incomes.

In addition, they began searching for potential “big spenders” from new areas, such as Africa and other parts of Asia.

*It must be noted that the DTCM figures also reflect “overnight visitors”, who may enter the emirate for business, leisure, transit or other purposes.