Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, discusses the growth of the emirate as a global travel hub, the success of Expo 2020, the MICHELIN Guide coming to Dubai and how the city has become a global powerhouse for tourism.

A global spotlight really has been on Dubai in the last few years which is exciting. What has it been like to see the growth of the emirate as a global powerhouse for tourism?

The growth in Dubai’s tourism sector has been nothing short of remarkable but it mirrors the achievement of our entire city, a small trading port that transformed into a thriving global metropolis over the past few decades. Today, Dubai is recognised as a global hub for business and banking, tourism and technology, and a futuristic city where anything is possible.

Having set its sights on becoming the most visited destination in the world, Dubai’s tourism industry closed a successful 2019 before the boom was disrupted by the global pandemic that broke out a few months later. Yet, in spite of the tough times that followed, Dubai kept its position as a leading destination intact, thanks to the strategic measures that were swiftly implemented under the guidance of His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, enabling the city to safely navigate and accelerate out of the unprecedented challenge. Since reopen- ing the city to international tourists in 2020, Dubai has never looked back and continued to build on the momentum year after year leading to the hugely successful Expo 2020.

With Dubai continuing to lead glob- al tourism recovery, awareness of Dubai around the world has increased at an extraordinary pace in the past few years and its international standing further elevated. Indeed, a decade or so ago, the average tourist would not have heard of this part of the world but now Dubai has entered the consciousness of travellers on every continent. Evidence of this growing popularity and momentum is reflected in the 7.28 million visitors who visited Dubai in 2021, representing a 32 per cent YOY growth and the 3.97 million global travellers who arrived in the city in the first quarter of 2022, a massive 214 per cent YoY visitation growth. Adding another feather to its cap, Dubai received a resounding endorsement from international travellers when it was chosen as the No.1 global destination in Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2022. Inspired by a forward-thinking leadership, the performance of our tourism sector has reinforced tourism’s role as a key driver of economic growth and reflects the resilience of Dubai in overcoming the odds, its successful diversified market strategy, the strong pub- lic-private partnerships and the sustained attractiveness of Dubai’s diverse proposition. The rapid pace of development across Dubai’s tourism ecosystem is underpinned by the capacity of both the government and private sectors in Dubai to work together as one. Hence, the strength and stability of our tourism sector has always largely depended on this rare model of collaboration, paving the way for the city to become a renowned global destination.

How have you ensured Dubai is staying ahead of the curve when it comes to tourism?

First and foremost, we have to be thankful for the continued support of our visionary leadership as we continually strive to achieve the goal of making Dubai the world’s most visited and re-visited city. Even as our tourism strategy continues to evolve, some key elements have remained unchanged and continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that Dubai remains at the forefront of the world’s leading business and leisure destinations. The city’s utmost priority to ensure the health and safety of residents and visitors has positioned Dubai as a safe destination. Dubai’s ability to evolve, adapt and innovate while staying focused on a diversified market strategy that ensures there is no over-reliance on any single market have also been critical in maintaining Dubai’s leading position. As Dubai continues to gain traction as the preferred destination of global travellers, the continuous cooperation extended by stakeholders and partners in aligning with initiatives and collectively showcasing Dubai as a must-visit destination is another major factor why Dubai is able to stay ahead of the curve. Just as Dubai’s destination offering has continued to evolve so has our approach towards marketing it internationally. Our year-round roster of global campaigns and marketing activities including the ongoing celebrity-driven Dubai Presents campaign has helped keep the city top-of-mind and highlight that Dubai remains safe, open and accessible.

Dubai saw a huge influx of visitors to the emirate in the midst of a time of struggle for the tourism industry. How would you say Dubai has weathered the storm of the pandemic and how did it combat its effects?

It is without question that of all sectors, tourism and hospitality were the hardest hit and the longest affected. However, with the resolute support of our decisive leadership that inspired us to look at ways of transforming challenges into opportunities. Dubai has been able to demonstrate a high level of resilience and foresight. Dubai was one of the first cities to close and go into a lockdown mode, then became one of the first to open and stay open. Dubai’s approach from the start of the pandemic has been one of preparedness, agility and consistency. Dubai’s efforts to implement stringent hygiene and safety protocols and align itself with international health and safety standards and best practices led to the city receiving the ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council. Besides, the focus on health and safety saw the UAE being ranked among the top three nations globally in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking. The UAE is also the single most vaccinated nation in the world, with over 97 per cent of the total population fully vaccinated so far, leading to increased confidence in Dubai among domestic and international tourists. The successful citywide management of the pandemic under the guidance of Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management saw the gradual reopen- ing of sectors. In collaboration with the Department of Economy and Tourism and Dubai Municipality, the city also launched the Dubai Assured stamp, a compliance programme to certify hotels and retail establishments, F&B outlets and attractions that have implemented all public health and safety protocols. These initiatives al- lowed us to open for domestic tourism in May of 2020, and for international tourists in July 2020, enabling Dubai to lead the global restart of tourism. Since then, Dubai has gone from strength to strength and continues to welcome a steady stream of international leisure and business travellers. In tandem with our efforts to position Dubai as one of the world’s safest destinations, we also launched a series of digital activations to ensure that Dubai retained its global appeal and to encourage international travellers to visit the city. It is important to recognise that our entire city – stakeholders and partners from aviation, hospitality, travel, retail, entertainment centres and attractions – has been resilient and determined in overcoming the odds. Dubai has a lot to thank its stakeholders and partners for their patience, solidarity and continuous support throughout this challenging period.


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Expo 2020 Dubai was a huge global success. What was it like seeing such an iconic mega-event succeed amidst difficult times?

One of the underlying promises of Expo 2020 Dubai was to deliver a truly international platform for the wider MEASA region, and to allow for the most inclusive participation of people from every corner of the globe. Expo 2020 achieved this in spectacular fashion, drawing the participation of 192 nations and in excess of 24 million visits by residents and visitors from around the world. One of the first cities to restart the leisure and business events sectors and international MICE industry, Dubai also showcased its capability in hosting major events with an exceptional Expo 2020. As with all major events the city hosts throughout the year, Dubai stepped up to the exciting challenge to shine a spotlight on the city during Expo 2020, highlighting its advanced infrastructure and showcasing the city’s diverse leisure and business offering, as well as its generosity and Arabian hospitality. Expo 2020, which was held during a pivotal period for global tourism, has indeed ushered in an incredible new era for our tourism industry amidst global challenges, and setting a momentous milestone in Dubai’s history – becoming the first World Expo to be held in this region and the first global mega-event open to the public since the start of the pandemic. It has had a huge impact on accelerating tourism recovery, as well as opening up numerous investment opportunities and providing a major boost to businesses and entrepreneurs. Expo 2020 has also resulted in the development of a new modern metropolis, District 2020, that will be a new destination for business and leisure travellers. Delivering one of the most memorable, immersive and engaging events ever to take place in Dubai, the successful Expo 2020 highlighted Dubai’s position as a leading international city for trade, investment and tourism, while leaving a lasting legacy for the UAE and MEASA region.

Now, following Expo 2020, we have MICHELIN arriving in Dubai. How do you see this contributing to the hospitality sector in the emirate and the wider Middle East?

From humble home-grown gems to street food offerings in a vibrant setting to MICHELIN -star chef helmed restaurants; Dubai has long been a leader in culinary excellence. We are really honoured that Dubai has been included in the MICHELIN Guide, one of the most authoritative sources for culinary experiences in international destinations. Our continuous collaboration with domestic and international stakeholders and partners provides a fantastic opportunity for us to promote the diversity, creativity and multicultural nature of Dubai’s culinary offering. This is also recognition of our city’s emergence as a global gastronomy hub, as we position Dubai as the best city to live in and work in. The launch of MICHELIN Guide Dubai will provide an opportunity for the city’s vibrant gastronomy scene, especially its fine dining offering created by international chefs, to be highlighted on a global scale. We anticipate an influx of celebrity chefs and global fine-dining brands to establish a presence in the fast-evolving gastronomy sector in Dubai. These enhancements will of course help showcase the diversity of our hospitality sector and the culinary experiences that await guests at these hotel properties while providing a boost to gastro-tourism. It will also allow for exceptional cuisine from across the Middle East to be globally celebrated at all levels – from fine dining to home-grown restaurants. What has been the feedback since it was announced that MICHELIN was coming to Dubai? There has been a huge buzz generated around the announcement that MICHELIN Guide Dubai will be launched in June. It is an extremely important addition to the hospitality sector, both for tourists, residents and industry professionals alike, which will have a hugely positive impact and help further brighten up the ever-grow-ing gastronomy scene in Dubai.

What results do you hope to see from MICHELIN coming to Dubai?

As a great number of our visitors are foodies, this guide will shine a light on the fine-dining brands that are open in Dubai, while reaffirming the diversity of the culinary scene in Dubai, from fine-dining to street food, reflecting the cultures and flavours of the more than 200 nationalities living in the city. It is also a recognition of our talented Chefs and a great reward to them for choosing Dubai as a home and a place of business to express their creativity. Naturally, it would be great for the MICHELIN Guide Dubai to generate healthy competition between the city’s most revered dining destinations, and encourage each eatery to expand, re-invent and redevelop their approach to hospitality. Of course, we also expect the guide to encourage even more foodies and tourists to experience and immerse themselves in all of the excellent food Dubai has to offer. Dubai was recently recognised as the No. 4 destination for ‘Food Lovers’ in the Tripadvisor Travellers Choice Awards 2022, and follow- ing the announcement by MICHELIN we expect this reputation to grow even further as Dubai’s restaurants and chefs deliver on Dubai’s gourmet promise.

It’s already been a hugely successful few years for Dubai’s tourism industry. What’s next?

Our goal is to continue to build on the gains of 2021, the momentum of Expo 2020, and the success that Dubai has achieved so far in 2022. Our focus will be to drive and support growth through our diverse destination offering, across all our tourism pillars from cultural to culinary experiences. Our immediate focus is to leverage the upcoming summer season to accelerate further momentum across the tourism ecosystem. We also look forward to the opening of new global attractions and world-class infrastructure, as well as leveraging our year-round calendar of leisure and business events to attract more visitors. New initiatives will be launched to strengthen relationships with the travel trade and explore new channels to source new visitors, as well as drive repeat visitation. We will continue to collaborate with city stakeholders and over 3,000 global partners, to ensure we are all aligned in positioning the city as a must-visit destination and that every visitor is able to safely explore, experience and enjoy our diverse offering. Another growth area is domestic tourism, which clearly played a pivotal role in driving Dubai’s tourism economy in 2020 and 2021 and is continuing to do so in 2022. Our gastronomy goal for 2022 is to continue to drive growth across the hospitality and F&B sector based on four pillars – diversity, value for money, authenticity, and experiential.

A key priority of Dubai is to ensure that visitors, entrepreneurs and investors are provided the best incentives and opportunities, encouraging talents and tourists to take ad- vantage of the various initiatives that have been launched to support tourism growth including new visa categories and programmes like the Golden Visa, Five Year Multi-Entry Visa and programmes such as the Retire in Dubai programme and Virtual working programme. Ultimately, our goal is to make Dubai the most sought-after destination and promote the city as a global liveability hub.

During the past year, we have welcomed a more diversified visitor profile – from global professionals, to remote workers, to ‘bleisure’ travellers, to multi-generational families and international millennials, alongside our core traveller segment. We will place further emphasis on these segments and also continue developing the high-value domestic market. As the next few years are also going to be extremely challenging with almost all destinations ready to welcome tourists back, it will be our ability to pro-vide seamless and safe experiences to visitors that will be paramount. Together with our partners, we want to make Dubai the city of the future. This will be largely achieved through the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, which aims to expand Dubai’s offering and place a reimagined focus on enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors to the city, while further consolidating Dubai’s reputation as a global destination for business, investment and tourism.

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