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Busting Consumer Myths, Inspiring Agency Staff

Ian Scott, Director UK & Ireland for Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, responds to questions from Irish Travel Trade News – and identifies essential visitor attractions of Dubai as family, value / affordability, leniency, and culture. 

Ingrid Aagesen, Senior Manager - Ireland, and Ian Scott, Director - UK & Ireland, Government of Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing
Ingrid Aagesen, Senior Manager – Ireland, and Ian Scott, Director – UK & Ireland, Government of Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing

Dubai’s Tourism Vision for 2020 envisages overall visitor numbers doubling from 10 million in 2012 to 20 million in 2020. What are the Irish figures, the targets for 2013, and are these targets achievable based on January – August visitor numbers?

“Ireland is a rapidly growing source market for Dubai, experiencing a 37% increase in visitors in 2012. There were 41,237 Irish visitors to Dubai in 2012 and so, in line with our Tourism Vision, our objective is to double this to approximately 80,000 Irish visitors in 2020! In order to do this we would need to achieve 10% growth annually for the next seven years – achievable when you consider we have already seen growth of 16% in the first half of 2013.”

What has been DTCM strategy to achieve those targets and will it be changed in response to outcomes to date?

“Following in-depth research, DTCM identified that the perceptions of Dubai were at odds with reality among the public and travel industry. Subsequently over the past 18 months, we have consistently focused our efforts on challenging identified misconceptions, busting myths about the destination, and educating about the real Dubai. We identified these as being: Family, Value / Affordability, Leniency, and Culture.

“DTCM and our dedicated contact for Ireland, Senior Manager Ingrid Aagesen, have worked to tackle this challenge with our Irish tour operator and travel agent partners and the Irish travel trade press through a number of differing mediums – including events, training, incentives, sponsorship, joint marketing, and familiarisation trips. We are now planning for 2014 and are in the process of reviewing our current activity, enhancing it where necessary but fundamentally continuing with the same strategy to challenge these misconceptions.

“We are undertaking further research into perceptions about Dubai and are talking with our industry partners, asking agents what they would like in the way of promotions, fam trips, events, competitions, etc. One particular development is that we are placing increased emphasis on our online events calendar.”

Does DTCM expect any increase in seat capacities in 2014 on Dublin – UAE routes by Emirates or Etihad Airways, or entry of another airline, and does DTCM expect other carriers to increase promotion of Ireland – Dubai traffic via their respective European hubs?

The capacity out of Dublin into the UAE is fantastic. Emirates now has over 2,500 seats a week from seven flights and Eithad has 3,500 from 10 flights – that’s over 6,000 seats a week directly into the UAE. Currently only 23% of passengers travelling from Dublin with Emirates are stopping in Dubai, so there is an obvious opportunity to grow this segment.

“We are not aware of any plans by either airline to introduce additional services ex Dublin in the short term, nor for other carriers to increase their promotion of traffic to Dubai from other European hubs. From our perspective, we are delighted to already have a fantastic working relationship with two of the world’s leading airlines ex-Dublin to the UAE. We believe the capacity is meeting the demands of the market.”

How is DTCM working to increase the percentage of ex-Ireland direct passengers who spend one or more nights in Dubai, in either direction?

“We are planning to increase our focus and efforts promoting Dubai Stopover in 2014 – as you can see from the seat capacity detailed above, there is huge potential for growth in this area. Only 23% of Emirates passengers travelling from Dublin are stopping in Dubai for an average of two nights – and interestingly the majority of them do so on the return leg of their journey.

“In the past we have assumed that passengers traveling on to beach destinations, such as the Seychelles and Maldives, did not want a beach stopover in Dubai, but that appears not to be the case – many travellers stop on their journey back for beach, shopping and nightlife! In 2014 we will aim to work with travel agents and tour operators to equip them with the information they need to recommend a stopover in Dubai to their customers.”

Has there been any significant change since 2011 in Irish visitor profiles (age, single/ couple/ family, accommodation type, etc) and how successful has been DTCM’s ‘myth-busting’ campaign that aimed to change consumer perceptions?

“The beauty of Dubai is that it has broad appeal – there is something for everyone! Anecdotally however, we are aware from our key tour operator partners in Ireland that family bookings are on the increase and that honeymoon/couples bookings are still strong.

“We observed some interesting trends from the Irish market in 2012 – the average length of stay was seven nights, up from four nights in 2011, and there was a dramatic increase in the number of guests staying in affordable 3-star and 4-star accommodation – and this trend has continued into 2013.

“These results would suggest that our ‘myth-busting’ campaign aimed at changing consumer perceptions about Dubai – namely affordability and suitability for families – has had an impact.

“The DTCM ultimately measures its success through destination arrivals and so a 34% increase in Irish visitors to Dubai suggests that our strategy is clearly working.”

What consumer perceptions, real and false, are DTCM’s biggest challenges to attracting visitors?

“Our consumer research findings from people who hadn’t been to Dubai before were that…

  • Only 19% of them see Dubai as family friendly
  • 71% associate Dubai with luxury, only 12% see value
  • Less than 30% strongly associate Dubai as tourist friendly or safe
  • Only 26% associate Dubai with culture

“The challenge has been to appeal to first-time visitors in our communication because they appear to have misconceptions. We know on the other hand that past visitors, or those people who have done research, have the strongest, most positive associations with Dubai.

“The travel trade helps to shape views among the general public and convert bookings. We have worked hard to train agents and to bring them on trips to Dubai and we have received very positive feedback from them advising how beneficial the visits were in changing their preconceptions of the destination.”

DTCM recently introduced an Apple app, Dubai The Destination. What is DTCM’s overall social media strategy?

“At DTCM we are aware that social media is the new force behind research and decision making and so it will continue to play an important part and feature heavily in our communications strategy in the years to come. We recognise the rapidly changing way in which consumers are using media and therefore acknowledge the need for increased online presence, as well as retaining some traditional print activity.

“A 2012 Google survey found that 40% of travellers said social network comments influenced their travel planning, while 50% actually based their travel plans on other people’s reviews and experiences.

“The customer experience can be socialised at every level, from inspiration, to research, comparison, decision-making, travel and on-going recommendation – each with huge value.

“In addition to launching the app, we have also recently launched a Dubai Consumer focussed Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/DubaiTourismUK .”

What significant new attractions, accommodations and events are opening in Dubai?

“DTCM’s 2020 strategy’s focus is on Dubai becoming a ‘World Class Family Destination’ centred around its core strengths of ‘Sun & Beach’, ‘Family Entertainment’ and ‘Events and Shopping’.

“There are a number of planned family attractions due to open in the coming years, including ‘Worlds of Adventure’ due to open in early 2014. This 1.5 million square foot theme park will feature rides based around Marvel comic heroes and Cartoon Network characters located in Dubailand.

“New hotels continue to open on a monthly basis. Recently the Sofitel, The Palm and Conrad opened in Dubai, while the much-anticipated Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, a remarkable resort inspired by traditional Thai architecture, has now opened! In addition to these 5-star properties, we recently saw the opening of a new 4-star brand, Vida hotels, in Downtown.

“Our Dubai Calendar has proved to be huge success in the past two years. It features all festivals, concerts, exhibitions, events and championships in Dubai. There is something on 52 weeks of the year!”

Main pool at the new Anantara Dubai The Palm
Main pool at the new Anantara Dubai The Palm

Do you expect the number of tour operators in Ireland packaging Dubai to change in 2014 – and are more travel agents dynamically packaging Dubai?

“We are not expecting an increase in the number of tour operators packaging Dubai out of Ireland in 2014. However, we are confident they will continue to play a hugely important role packaging holidays to Dubai, as will travel agents for dynamically packaged holidays.

We know from our hotel partners in Dubai that the majority of their business comes through the travel trade – tour operators and traditional, as opposed to online, travel agents. Consumers are still very reliant on their expert advice – for example, accommodation ranges from 3-star to 5-star and in location from beach to downtown to desert.”

DTCM actively supports Irish travel agents – what incentives, competitions, fam trips, etc are planned for 2014?

“The travel trade remains integral to shaping views among the general public about how suitable Dubai is as a destination for families, couples, singles and groups and helping the DTCM change misconceptions such as concern over the city’s family and cultural offering, its affordability and high levels of ‘restriction’ when it comes to subjects such as nightlife. The DTCM sees the education of travel agents and continued relationship building with tour operators as playing a pivotal role in converting those consumers who are either unsure or have never considered Dubai as a potential holiday destination.

“DTCM has invested heavily in a range of methods to engage with the trade, including sales and support, educationals, hosting and sponsoring events, online and face-to-face training, regular incentives, PR initiatives and marketing support from promotional window display materials and in-store literature to information DVDs, image resources and information packs for clients.

“DTCM will continue in 2014 to have a very active and creative approach to agent training that entertains and educates agents about the destination, keeps Dubai front of mind, enables agents to confidently and enthusiastically sell the city to their clients, increases registration for the Dubai Update e-newsletter, and encourages further sign-up and completion of the Dubai Expert online training programme.”

How many Irish agents are now Dubai Experts, how many are currently following this training programme – and how many would you like to see?

“We have a healthy number of travel agencies in Ireland registered on our Dubai Expert training programme. There are currently over 250 Irish travel agencies registered, of which 34% have completed all three modules. We would like to see the completion rate increase to 50% in 2014!”


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