Dubai is a member country of the Middle East region. The whole of this region generally attracts few tourists thanks to political turmoil which over the decades have generated tensions and uncertainties not only in the region but also in the whole world. Some other hindrances to effective tourism development in the region include lack of poor state of infrastructural development, limited promotion and lack of attractions. In spite of all these setbacks, Dubai has however managed to see a flourishing tourism industry save for its tourism policies. The authorities in the country have managed to implement sound economic diversification programmes which together with extensive marketing have resulted in a booming tourism industry. Dubai has heavily invested in expensive state of the art facilities, undertaken deep marketing and these has resulted in the growth of her tourism. Her future expectations are very high as reflected by the setting of sky rocketing arrival targets. Actually Dubai has demonstrated a capability to overcome the challenges faced by the tourism industry and has established itself as an authority in the industry with a very high growth rate. This therefore makes Dubai an interesting example of a booming Middle East centre for tourism that is fast creating new and more opportunities and realizing its full potential.
This notwithstanding, there are some constraints that which may inhibit the potentiality of Dubai’s tourism industry to be achieved. These factors call for review of policies and strategies.
Destination development is a key factor in tourism literature and research approaches this theme from various disciplines and perspectives. These perspectives are;
- Government policies.
- Destination’s spatial evolution
- Business strategies and marketing
- Development impacts
A critical analysis of these factors helps indicate whether a place considered for resort is likely to grow into a major tourism hub or not. For the case of Dubai, tourism has progressed very well over the last three decades and the figures below affirm to this:
Factors central to tourism development in Dubai
Socio- Political Stability
Unlike most of its neighbors Dubai has enjoyed relative calmness over the centuries. Being stable in terms of economics, political and social domains is very important in ensuring smooth development of tourism. This is because disturbances scare away investors as well as tourists and the whole industry as tour operators and agents are discouraged. Dubai being one of the federations of the United Arabian Emirates has lived to the true spirit of the federation. Proceeds from sale of oil have enabled Abu Dhabi to finance the federation
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Thereby improving the standards of living and providing security. The rest of the emirates, in return provide Abu Dhabi with some strength both geographically and demographically. Over the years there has been an uninterrupted political stability in Dubai together with economic prosperity. Dubai enjoys autonomy in making of economic policies although it has to support other emirates in such matters as defense and foreign relations.
Regionally, Dubai acts as an entrepot and promotes herself as the Gulf’s financial nexus.
Globally, Dubai is viewed as a liberal cosmopolitan society with almost nil threats of crimes and civil unrest. Dubai is a Muslim state in which women are traditionally inferior to men yet other religions are tolerated. More than 80% of her population is entirely made up of expatriates.
Government tourism policy
Tourism can only thrive in areas where the political systems clearly define the economic policies in a manner that is consistent with the revolutionary needs of the ever growing tourism industry. The semi- autonomous government of Dubai has been actively involved in initiating sound policies geared towards improving its tourism industry.
The federal authorities have identified tourism as a major economic pillar. Accordingly, the government has heavily invested in infrastructure. Pressured by the spirit of the federation policies, Dubai has made significant improvement in her investment in tourism.
Interest in tourism grew against a background of decrease in oil production and the need for diversification of economic activities. Dubai positioned tourism at the centre of this diversification programme together with construction, real estate, media and financial trading.
Dubai has also engaged the services of international advisers and external consultants to help in preparation of strategies to be adopted in improving the growth of the industry. All these measures have seen Dubai earn a reputation of being a tourism hub in the Middle East.
Tourism development in Dubai is closely linked to its advances in the transport sector and its accessibility to the outside world. Dubai has clear ambitions of being a major focus in the air transport in the whole region and to this effect the Dubai authorities are putting in place the necessary infrastructural facilities. Dubai’s civil aviation has progressed quite well and its airport is among the top twenty busiest in the world as measured by the passenger volume. Between 1990 and 2004, about 20 million passengers were carried by 100 airlines serving operating between 145 different destinations.
The Dubai airport is expected to handle about one forty million passengers in the next few years. In addition the Dubai government is preparing for a new airport so as to carter for increased freights. The Emirates airline is internationally reputed to offer the most excellent services in the region. Some of her planes are the most technologically sophisticated in the world and has won awards and recognition for good customer services. Dubai boasts of the world’s longest fully automated railway system stretching a distance of 43 miles and serving 47 stations. This project is made up of twelve elevated stations, nine kilometers of an underground truck, and an overground truck stretching fifteen kilometres. An upcoming project is on the way to construct a 1500 railway line. This proposed line will connect Dubai to Oman, Saudi Arabia Qatar and the other emirates. Again Dubai is one of the emirates that provide a hub for large cruise ships.
Dubai has a rich attraction centre on its 64 kilometres long coast line. This magnificent coastline boasts of several high ranking tourist resort centres boasting of such important tourist activities as sailing, skiing, surfing, fishing, bird watching and golfing.
The desert provides tourists with magnificent excursions for camel riding, sand skiing, dune driving, exploration of wadis and visits to selected oases and forts. Dubai city also has an extensive network of shopping malls where world varieties are readily stocked. The industrial development of the city has in the recent past attracted large hordes of investors who also double as tourists. Elegant sky scrappers are a common view in Dubai which has greatly added to the scenic beauty of the city.
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Well designed road networks with underground tunnels as well as over ground networks have gone a long way in eradicating traffic jams which is a common menace in several countries thereby ensuring smooth flow of traffic. Tourists no longer have to spend too much time in the city waiting for traffic jams to recede as was the case a few years ago.
The essential amenities required by tourists are chiefly the accommodation. In Dubai the development of hotel industry is a top government agenda. Hotel rooms have more than doubled in the past decade and the number is fast increasing. Currently there are about three hundred hotels with well equipped recreational facilities. Development of hospitality is largely due to the relaxation of land leasing rules and several five-star properties are expected very soon. Among this is a hydropolis hotel constructed up to twenty meters under water.
The emergence of Dubai as a major tourist centre is largely due to the prevailing economic, socio-cultural, political and historical structures which have shaped the tourism growth. This development has been driven by strong government policies which are geared towards reshaping of economic policies for sound development. Dubai actually has pursued a strategy of heavy expenditure and intervention geared towards attainment of tourism’s future goals. Internal peace and stability prevailing in Dubai and the neighboring countries has helped a lot to boost tourism activity. This is because the political stability has enabled foreign investors to consider venturing in Dubai in such areas as transport, accommodation and attraction. Vigorous marketing of the tourism industry has assisted in elimination of original inefficiencies and barriers to effective tourism development.
By undertaking proper strategic policies, Dubai has been able to surmount the setbacks which are hampering new upcoming tourism destinations. Given the potential setbacks, there are some doubts as to whether Dubai’s long term vision of becoming the world’s chief tourism hub will be met.
One major setback is lack of political stability in the Middle East region. Political turmoil in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan have reportedly spilled over to neighboring countries and Dubai is never immune to these. Terrorists have of late found flesh grounds for unveiling terror against the West in moderate countries such as Dubai.
Elimination of tourism from the Middle East is a key step towards the realization of Dubai’s tourism vision. Any act of terrorism will have far reaching effects in Dubai’s economy and the tourism industry in particular.
Another impediment to tourism development is lack of enough land for expansion. Dubai’s geographical size is a natural limitation to its development. Progressive growth of the city requires more and more land for expansion. However, this cannot be achieved in Dubai where land prices are skyrocketing while the available facilities are not enough to meet the demands of modern tourism as necessitated by large numbers of tourists visiting Dubai annually.
Another challenge to growth of tourism in Dubai lies in her attractions and promotion. Dubai’s tourism inventory is scanty compared to its competitors in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Far East. Dubai has an extremely narrow collection of natural and cultural heritage. Concentration on beach activities and grand shopping malls has not done enough to secure the much envied pride.
For a period of less than 50 years Dubai has undergone a lot of industrial progress which has seen it rise to the status of an industrial power in the Middle East. This change is clearly evidenced in the economic, cultural and social development of Dubai. Contrary to major western countries where the industrialization process took a very long time, Dubai has undergone it in only relatively short time.
Tourism development in Dubai is still growing and it is important to bear in mind that there are several schemes that are not yet completed. The fulfillment of these schemes and the realization of their visions is the aim of the Dubai authorities. However these will depend on the availability of a favorable and reliable environment clear of uncertainties. Doubts have also been expressed concerning the feasibility of some of these visions. The demands of modern tourism have not yet been met in Dubai.
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The study of tourism in Dubai shows how a small and relatively remote country with little natural attractions can become an internationally reputed tourist attraction centre. In Dubai potential weaknesses and threats have been turned into strengths and opportunities. The all year round hot weather and ugly desert landscape have been changed to provide modern needs of tourism. Technology has actually enabled the tourism industry to prevail regardless of the harsh weather conditions and some other geographic impediments. Economic prosperity has provided funds to support the expansion of the infrastructure upon which the tourism industry is pillared. This has seen speed growth of the air transport, modern railway lines and well developed communication infrastructure. The lavish metro-politan state founded on economic prosperity is a natural attraction for tourists. All these features have been tactfully marketed in such a manner that they have been able to lure tourists from all over the world to this small country which was until recently unknown to the outside world. All this has been achieved in spite of the general perception that the Middle East is a dangerous place unfit for tourists and investors. Dubai has considerably achieved some progress in negotiating the barriers that have for long impaired the development of tourism in the Middle East and areas beyond.
The achievements in Dubai are of interest to not only the rest of the emirates but also other tourist destination which aim at attaining the global recognition. However tourism development in Dubai is still ongoing and research is being done to monitor Dubai’s tourism evolution.
Important lessons can then be learnt from Dubai’s experience with tourism and the relevance of its tourism model can be assessed to ascertain their suitability in the context of other upcoming tourist destinations. The results of this will no doubt contribute to an increased understanding of the tourism industry which has largely been neglected in the Middle East due to misconceptions.
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