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How Dubai rode the tourism wave during and despite Covid, ET TravelWorld News, ET TravelWorld

How Dubai rode the tourism wave during and despite CovidProbably being the first to go into a very strict lockdown in March 2020, Dubai Tourism had come off of an amazing 2019. The destination had 16.73 million tourists coming through its doors, helping it retain its number four position and bringing it closer to number three. In the first two months of 2020 – January-February, Dubai saw close to 4.2 per cent growth.

Having started amazingly well, in March, the Emirates went into a very strict lockdown with curfews imposed locally as well, during which the city went through a full sanitisation, and as Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), narrates, “Every corner of every street in Dubai, as well as buildings, malls, shops, went through spraying and scrubbing down. And in parallel, we were sitting together, virtually, with all of the relevant authorities to discuss opening up.”

How Dubai rode the tourism wave during and despite Covid
A bottom-up approach

With the immediate thought being that this is not forever and that the destination would need to open up at some point in time, Kazim says the authorities started to put all of the new policies in place – safety requirements and new measures, and this was done in coordination with Dubai Health Authority, Dubai Municipality, the Economic Department and the Tourism Department.

“We had a Crisis Committee that was established with Sheikh Mansour and all the Directors General of the relevant entities. The approach here being, bottom-up as the authority that sits within this committee isn’t dictating to the team what should be done, instead, the committee is listening to the team and taking their recommendations. And then once that happened, once we knew that we were in a good position- all the sanitisation happened and when we had actually gotten good control of the situation – we opened up in May, for domestic tourism and that was when we started to pilot the strict measures that we had in place.” he said.

In an exclusive interaction with ETTravelWorld, Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, speaks about the various campaigns that the destination has worked on from the time Covid struck and how they are leveraging Expo 2020 to drive international arrivals.

Striking the perfect balance
Kazim mentions that during the time Dubai opened up domestic tourism, the destination also started opening up live events, albeit with a different approach. So, while the tickets were being sold, the patrons would also receive a schedule, describing a staggered approach to how people should come into the venue, to avoid crowding while queuing up.

Kazim elaborates, “So, it was actually very well segregated, you go into the venue, and it’s very well managed with social distancing, and everything is taken care of. Once the first act is over, a group will go out, a team then goes in sanitises the entire space, and then the next group of people comes in.”

With such strict guidelines being practised within domestic tourism, Dubai started to ease up a little bit to find that perfect balance between commercial continuity of business and safety and security. Having struck that balance, by July 2020, Dubai opened up for international tourism, and events.

As Kazim goes on to mention, “So, we had our AI Everything Summit, a digital and tech event, where people from all over the world travelled to Dubai. During the event, we had surveys conducted on the ground to ensure that we were getting feedback from the attendees. Over 98 per cent of people were extremely happy with all of the measures in place and 95 per cent of the people said they would come back to Dubai for events as well.”

How Dubai rode the tourism wave during and despite Covid
Going from virtual to real- a welcome change
The DTCM CEO mentions that at that point, as some countries had still not opened up, the events were leaning towards virtual, even though there was a lot of physical presence. He observes, “The technology on virtual meetings had advanced so much during Covid, that they caught up with the needs of the world and became much better, you could see it on a daily and weekly basis the platform changing.”

Cut to May 2021 and Dubai hosted Arabian Travel Mart (ATM) – one of the first global travel trade shows to have a physical presence. As Kazim puts it, “People were so happy to see everyone physically. Even the ones who used to say, ‘Meetings, conferences, and events are a thing of the past, the world is changing. No one’s going to meet anymore, everything’s going to move virtual,’ even they admitted that no virtual can ever replace meetings.”

And Kazim couldn’t be happier to hear that, as he says, “Events are our bread and butter.” While leisure tourism might account for a little less than 80 per cent of Dubai’s business, business travel makes up around 20 per cent and that contribution, he notes, is significant. As he ambitiously puts it, “We want to be the number one destination for leisure, business, and events.”

Dubai, clearly seems to be on the right path towards this goal as the city exemplifies that when the appetite is to open up and stay open, steering clear of the open-close-open-close model, destinations have to make things happen, no matter how difficult they might seem.

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