The hospitality industry is gearing up to cash in on business from transit passengers who may extend their stay in the UAE once new regulations are in place later this year.
Hotels are now busy preparing special packages to attract some of the 50 million transit passengers who pass through Dubai airports annually. Latest data indicates that more than 90 per cent of these do not explore the city due to lack of an entry permit or visa. However, the recent decision by the UAE government may reverse the trend and bring more business for the UAE's hotels, leisure centres and entertainment venues.
Some of the leading hospitality players are considering to absorb transit visa fees, offer special packages for city tours and give discounts on short and extended stays for transit passengers. These packages offer discounted rates with carefully selected entertainment and tour offerings, restaurant selections and use of hotel facilities.
Olivier Harnisch, chief executive officer of Emaar Hospitality Group, said he is looking forward to the growing number of visitors that will now opt for longer stopovers in Dubai.
"The new transit visa policy combined with the fact that Dubai has a strong portfolio of hospitality and entertainment offerings will mean that a lot more travellers will choose to visit the city," he said.
The UAE Cabinet's recent decision to make it easier for stopover passengers to leave the airport and explore the country's many offerings will result in a boost for the tourism and hospitality industry. The decision exempts transit passengers from paying an entry fee for the first 48 hours in the UAE. A transit visa can also be extended for up to 96 hours for a fee of Dh50, and can be obtained from several express counters at passport control halls in UAE airports.
"The challenge now is for hotels to create packages for these transit visitors. Dubai is already one of the top international destinations of choice for visitors, and this announcement will go a long way in strengthening the city's hospitality scene. The city already tops the list of international destinations when it comes to tourists spending."
According to the annual Mastercard Destination Cities Index, Dubai outpaced all other cities in visitors' spending in 2016, with tourists splurging $28.5 billion during their vacations. Though New York and London are reputed for shopping, both cities lag far behind Dubai in visitor spend, bringing in $17.02 billion and $16.09 billion, respectively, during the same period.
Experts believe that the new visa policy will contribute to further increasing the a amount of visitor spending in the coming years. Many hospitality vendors have also revealed that they are considering absorbing the cost of the transit visa in a bid to attract more guests.
"The latest move by the UAE Cabinet to exempt transit passengers from all entry fees, for the first 48 hours, comes as a boon for the travel and tourism industry," said Mamoun Hmedan, managing director for the Middle East and India at Wego.
"Especially considering the substantial number of passengers transiting through the country, via Etihad and Emirates, the visa amendment signifies a greater chance of tourists opting to enjoy the perks of the stopover experience in UAE. In fact, the updated visa system could help millions of travellers save close to Dh370 in transit fees," he explained.
Dubai International Hotel has already announced a 'short transit package' for up to 12 hours starting from Dh500, which includes meet-and-greet services at the airport and a session at its spa. Travellers also have the option of choosing the 'long transit package' for up to 24 hours starting from Dh650, which includes all the previous services, plus a dining option.
Glenn Nobbs, general manager of Copthorne Hotel Dubai, also noted that it was important for the hotel to have special transit packages, especially since the hotel is within four kilometres of Dubai International Airport, and a short walk from the Deira City Centre shopping mall and Dubai Metro station.
"The transit package is subject to availability, bookable via the hotel website and for stays up until September 30," he said.
Habib Khan, general manager at Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, said that the hotel had not yet developed specific packages targeting transit passengers.
"Dubai at this point of time is featuring the lowest rates ever, therefore, through the On-Line TA they can avail several packages. Also, hotels who have representation inside the airport terminals can promote more effectively and are likely to bag such business more than stand-alone hotels," Khan said.