Dr Ahmad Belhoul

TTW had the pleasure interviewing Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Strategy and Tourism Sector Development, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). He shared valuable facts behind the development of Dubai tourism. Read the full interview to know more!

TTW – Where do you see the development of Dubai tourism till now? And where do you see it in the coming years? What are the upcoming events in Dubai that are going to give a boost to tourism? How the hoteliers and the tour operating agencies have helped the growth of tourism in Dubai till date?

Dr Ahmad Belhoul : Dubai has achieved some great things, but we must constantly look forward and aim for further development and growth. To target higher figures of growth, the brand must evolve to ensure it fits with and effectively communicates Dubai’s destination credentials.

Today, we see that there is substantial awareness of Dubai as a tourism destination across the world – a dramatic increase when compared to 10 years ago.

If you look at our visitor figures you’ll see proof of this, in 1993 one million visitors came to Dubai, by 2012 this had grown to 10 million and our Tourism Vision for 2020 outlines our aim to welcome 20 million visitors a year by 2020. Although this figure may seem high, judging by the growth we’ve seen in 2013 so far, we are well on track to achieve this – in the first nine months of 2013 we welcomed over 7.9 million visitors.

Dubai has also grown as a destination in its own right rather than just a stopover destination. The growth of Emirates Airline, launch of FlyDubai in 2009 and the expansion of Dubai International Airport have all contributed to this.

Furthermore, our hotel portfolio has grown substantially and the destination now offers a wide range of hotels from budget boutique through to 3 and 4 star properties to 5, 6 and even 7 star luxury resorts. Visitors to Dubai today can enjoy an expanding calendar of events and a wider range of attractions and activities than ever before including Skydive Dubai, Ski Dubai, desert safaris, not to mention the growing arts and culture scene.

With regards to events, for 2014 we have another packed calendar of events, offering residents and visitors something to do year-round. Starting the year off is the popular Dubai Shopping Festival, back for the 19th edition in January 2014. A few other highlights include The Omega Dubai Desert Classic 2014, taking place from 27 January – 2 February, a PGA European Tour featuring prize money of $2.5 million. Held at Dubai’s Emirates Golf Club, the event attracts some of the biggest names in golf including Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. Art Dubai will be held from 19-22 March and is the leading contemporary art fair for the Middle East and South Asia.




TTW – What is the expected tourist influx during Dubai Expo? What are special initiatives and initiations taken by you for Dubai Expo?

Dr Ahmad Belhoul: Dubai’s Expo bid is part of long-term vision that ensures sustainable national development and a prosperous future for the UAE. As mentioned briefly, in May 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed approved our Tourism Vision for 2020, a strategy which sets a clear path towards developing our tourism industry and furthering its contribution to Dubai’s economy. Although this Vision is separate to the Expo bid, we can now leverage the hosting of Expo 2020 and the focus it will place on Dubai as a means to attract visitors to Dubai.

The impact on the tourism industry will be substantial – between October 2020 and April 2021, Expo will attract more than 25 million visitors, 70% of which will be from outside the UAE – the largest number of international visitors in Expo history.

A number of sectors will benefit, including construction, engineering and transportation, and of course the hospitality, retail and aviation sectors will experience a significant positive impact.

It is incredibly important to us that we continue to work closely with the travel trade and our tourism partners, both in government and the private sector, to put in place the infrastructure and processes needed to meet the demand of the 25 million visitors we expect at Expo 2020.

We are working on a number of initiatives to enhance our promotion of Dubai to the world and these will be brought into the spotlight next year, but a large part of our role is also to enhance the destination offering, ensuring that Dubai has the infrastructure, attractions and experiences to both attract and cope with the targeted visitor numbers.

Working with Dubai Taxi Corporation, part of RTA, earlier this year we announced the signing of an MoU to better facilitate the movement of tourists around Dubai and ensure that taxi drivers are fully equipped to act as ambassadors for the city – including providing training to taxi drivers on Dubai’s tourism offering and increasing the taxi supply at critical times and locations.

In September we also announced an initiative to incentivise the hotel industry to develop more 3 and 4 star hotels in Dubai, in line with our objective to broaden the hospitality offering. This is a demonstration of how DTCM will continue to work with governmental and private stakeholders to develop the tourism industry in Dubai.

Our network of 20 overseas offices is also an important part of our strategy. With DTCM offices promoting Dubai in virtually every major market across the globe, we will continue to work with trade partners around the world to increase repeat visitors and to attract first-time visitors to Dubai.




TTW – What are the initiatives taken by you to boost Dubai tourism?

Dr Ahmad Belhoul : DTCM operates a network of 20 overseas offices which act as worldwide promoters of Dubai. Our overseas network promotes the Dubai message to the world and we are continuing to develop market-specific campaigns and roadshows to communicate these messages.

DTCM’s presence at international events such as Arabian Travel Market and World Travel Market in London also ensures that we are communicating to an international audience and developing relationships with tour operators and the wider travel trade industry, who then sell the destination to their audiences.

We are constantly working to further broaden Dubai’s tourism offering including developing new segments such as cruise, sports, shopping and heritage. We are also collaborating with stakeholders to promote tactical campaigns to ensure that hotel occupancy rates are high all year round.

DTCM works with other tourism entities as well as those within the DTCM portfolio such as Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE) and Dubai Calendar, Dubai’s official events listings, to provide a year-round calendar of diverse events attracting visitors globally. For example, DFRE recently launched a global marketing campaign to promote Dubai Shopping Festival, with the theme ‘Shop At Your Best’

Finally, DTCM is currently working on a new brand for Dubai, which will be a major factor in delivering the Tourism Vision for 2020.





TTW – What are the latest trends of tourism that has made the industry and the business see a boost?



TTW – What is your take on providing sustainable tourism in Dubai?



TTW – Digital media has made mark in upholding tourism worldwide. How the digital media marketing and media itself have taken care of the tourism business in Dubai?



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