Dubai steps up China focus

Tourists taking a trip on an abra near Madinat Jumeirah

China is the world’s number one source market for tourism with 129 million outbound trips in 2017, making wooing Chinese visitors on top of the agenda of every travel brand. The way Dubai is stealing a march over competitors in the region is worth a closer look, and a great case study of customer focus at a macro level.

Ahead of President Xi Jinping of China’s arrival in the UAE, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) reported continued growth in visitors from China. With a robust growth of 119 per cent in overnight Chinese visitors since 2014 and a YOY increase of 41.4 per cent overnight Chinese visitors to Dubai from 2016 to 2017 combined with a number of key agreements signed with major players in China, Dubai Tourism has reconfirmed its continued focus on its fourth top source market. In the first five months of 2018, Dubai recorded 400,547 visitors from China, this growth is predicted to continue in 2018.

Revealing the China strategy, Helal Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai Tourism, said, “Our approach to engaging Chinese tourists is two-fold, with landmark partnerships, investments and marketing activities undertaken in 48 cities across China, partnered with a city-level China-readiness strategy in Dubai to enhance the experience of Chinese tourists. The introduction of visa-on-arrival for Chinese nationals in 2016, working in conjunction with the increase in air capacity by national carriers from China – currently standing at 30 flights a week, a 13 per cent increase in non-stop seat capacity in 2017- has also contributed to rapid growth.”

Adding to these key growth strategies, another landmark partnership promises to take Dubai’s China success story to a new high.

Hala China

The Hala China initiative, jointly launched by Meraas and Dubai Holding earlier this year, has announced the signing of its first strategic agreements:

• Dubai-based Emirates Airline was appointed official carrier for Hala China, with plans to develop attractive packages and privileges for Chinese speakers across its seven routes from China.

• Payment services company Union Pay will be the preferred payment partner for the initiative, with Bank of China also looking to establish long-term economic relationships through its own range of financial services.

Other organisations to join the initiative include Dubai Parks & Resorts, Bank of China, China Everbright Group, Union Pay, China CYTS Tours Holding Co, Hikvision, JollyChic, Mafengwo, Utour Group, DYO Consultants, Zhongteng Tianchuang Information Technology and Sino-Union Reserve Investment. The remit of these partners spans banking, finance, travel, tourism, marketing, technology, e-commerce, education, entertainment, and the environment, and will result in direct investment while creating a seamless visitor experience.

Overseeing the current and future strategic partnerships of Hala China will be a board that is chaired by Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, divisional senior vice president, Commercial Operations, Centre at Emirates Airline. Mohamed Almulla, chief executive officer at DXB Entertainments, will serve as the deputy chairman and board member. The board will be responsible for leading and directing all activities organised by Hala China, including an annual calendar of events targeting Chinese visitors.

In his capacity as chairman of the board of directors at Hala China, Sheikh Majid revealed that the board has taken steps to set up a dedicated Mandarin Chinese hotline and concierge service that can be accessed by all Chinese speakers visiting Dubai. The new service will provide tourist information about the city to Chinese visitors to help them make the most of their stay while they are in the city.

Hala China is focused on creating an annual schedule of experiences and tourism packages catering to Chinese visitors, across seven categories – stay, shop, eat, play, explore, wellness and concierge. As part of the all seasons’ pipeline of activities, the city will host a series of events and programmes including food festivals, fashion shows, sporting events, music festivals, Chinese cultural pageants and more.

Earlier this year, Dubai Tourism signed an agreement with Huawei, one of China’s leading smartphone manufacturers, in January which pre-loads devices with both user-generated and official cinematographic content of Dubai. In May, the agreement was expanded further, with Huawei Mobile Services agreeing to offer useful and accessible content about Dubai, in particular through the company’s newly-updated SkyTone travel and roaming apps. Additional milestones include an MoU with Fliggy, Alibaba’s online travel platform, and strategic alliance with China’s mega internet conglomerate, Tencent to elevate the positioning of Dubai as the preferred destination for Chinese travellers and to launch an audio guide feature on WeChat. Dubai Tourism is also working towards several projects concentrating on innovation and Artificial Intelligence.

These strategic agreements not only increased market penetration with native language content and complimented the marketing activity of Dubai Tourism’s four in-market offices, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu; but also advanced the China-ready commitment of Dubai Tourism for visitors.