Navigating Tourism and Economic Growth in Dubai

Navigating Tourism and Economic Growth in Dubai

Forbes Georgia sits down with Mr. Issam Kazim, CEO of Department of Economy and Tourism in Dubai, to delve into the strategies and initiatives shaping Dubai’s position as a global destination. Mr. Kazim shares insights on Dubai’s vision, sustainability efforts, innovation, and its appeal as a liveability hub.

Mr. Issam Kazim, What’s the ultimate vision for Dubai as a destination?

Our vision for Dubai as a destination, driven by the aspirations of our dynamic leadership, is to further consolidate Dubai’s position as one of the top three global cities for business and leisure, and the best city to visit, live and work in. This is fully aligned with the Dubai Economic Agenda, D33, which is serving as the roadmap for wider economic development in the decade up to 2033. A series of innovative strategies, projects and initiatives under D33 are driving sustainable economic growth and consolidating Dubai’s standing as the fastest, safest, and most connected city globally. 

I’m pleased to say that Dubai welcomed a record 17.15 million international visitors in 2023, representing 19.42% YoY growth, and exceeding the pre-pandemic figure of 16.73 million tourists during 2019. Dubai’s tourism industry performance also paved the way for our ranking as the No.1 global destination for an unprecedented third successive year in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2024, making it the first city to achieve this unique accolade. Beyond just tourism, Dubai is burnishing its reputation as an economic hub for talent and investors from around the world, and was named as the No.1 global city to relocate to in 2023, according to a survey published by financial services provider, Remitly.

Could you elaborate on the key strategies and initiatives that you’re implementing to achieve this vision?

At the core of the D33 Agenda is the goal to double the size of Dubai’s economy in the decade up to 2033, with more than 100 transformational projects contributing to this. As we forge ahead through 2024, we will also build on the key elements that have been integral to our success over the past decade. This includes a diversified multi-geographic strategy for our international markets, in tandem with continuous collaboration with our stakeholders and partners. We remain committed to creating unique value and delivering the best guest experience, and are also investing in innovative marketing campaigns to ensure Dubai stays top-of-mind and always ahead of the curve, to retain its competitiveness as a global destination. Crucially, we will continue to prioritise the health and security of our visitors and residents, to maintain Dubai’s position as one of the world’s safest destinations.

Dubai’s dedication to fostering innovation is also opening up additional avenues for growth, enticing multinational corporations, entrepreneurs, start-ups and global talents who recognise the value of our dynamic ecosystem. Among the key stepping stones to attracting more companies, investment and talent are business events, which also contribute to incremental visitor growth. Dubai has already established itself as a world-class host city for international conferences, congresses, meetings and exhibitions, and working with our stakeholders we are always identifying opportunities to bring more international and regional events to the city, as well as encouraging the development of homegrown, reoccurring ones.

Meanwhile, guided by the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, investments are being made in infrastructure across the city, and addressing tourism sector needs specifically, ensuring there is always something new and unique for the global traveller and at the same time enhancing Dubai as a home for talent from around the world.

As Dubai aims to be a global business and tourism hub, how do you approach balancing economic growth with sustainable practices to ensure long-term environmental and social well-being? Are there any specific sustainable tourism practices or projects that you’re particularly proud of?

With the UAE’s ‘Year of Sustainability’ extending into 2024, our commitment to sustainability has been firmly demonstrated through the acceleration of key initiatives and the landmark hosting of COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference, at Expo City Dubai at the end of 2023. When tens of thousands of delegates and participants came to Dubai for COP28, they weren’t just visiting a city built to host large-scale events successfully and impactfully – they were also visiting a destination that is taking action and matching ambitions with achievements. From the ongoing development of the world’s largest single-site solar park, to the steps being taken to eliminate single-use plastics, there is tangible evidence of the progress already being made.

The city’s wider framework for sustainability efforts is being driven by the UAE’s Net Zero 2050 strategy, and within the tourism sector specifically, we are seeking a balance between economic growth and sustainable practices through our Dubai Sustainable Tourism (DST) initiative.

One of the major successes under DST has been Dubai Can, a citywide movement launched in February 2022 that aims to encourage communities to reduce the consumption of single-use water bottles by using 50 public water stations installed in strategic locations across the city. To date, Dubai Can’s “Refill for life” campaign has resulted in the reduction of more than 18 million 500 ml single-use plastic water bottles.

Another initiative is the Carbon Calculator that facilitates the identification of cost-saving opportunities for hotels and shaping the transition to sustainability. Furthermore, the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Stamp, developed in collaboration with the industry to highlight the hotels meeting the highest green standards, is another testament to our commitment to sustainability.

How do you view Dubai’s position in the global economy and tourism industry? What steps are you taking to enhance its competitiveness on an international scale? In what ways does Dubai differentiate itself from other major global tourist destinations?

As a fast-paced and forward-looking metropolis, one of the key differentiators that sets Dubai apart from other destinations is its steadfast commitment to exceptional service at all touchpoints. We recognise that every interaction, from arrival to departure, contributes to the overall experience of our visitors. This commitment to excellence ensures that Dubai remains a destination that not only meets but exceeds the expectations of global travellers.

Moreover, we are constantly exploring additional pathways to growth, attracting global talents, entrepreneurs, and investors. Dubai’s appeal as a business hub extends beyond its geographical advantages; The city offers a pro-business environment supported by legislative and regulatory reforms that encourage innovation, foster entrepreneurship, and facilitate ease of doing business.

Aligned with the D33 Agenda, we have also implemented multiple visa categories, making it easier for individuals with diverse skills and purposes to choose Dubai as their destination. Whether for work, investment, or leisure, our visas are designed to cater to the varied needs of a global audience and consolidate Dubai’s status as the best city in the world to relocate to.

Furthermore, our regular global campaigns continue to raise awareness of Dubai and keep the city top of mind among global travellers. These campaigns play a leading role in showcasing Dubai’s diverse offerings and reinforcing its status as a must-visit destination.

For business events, beyond just the infrastructure that facilitates meetings, conferences and exhibitions of all sizes, planners can tap into Dubai’s unique knowledge economy and also incorporate cultural experiences that set the city apart from other destinations.

On the development front, Dubai’s dedication to always offering something new, unique, and world-class for global travellers is evident in iconic projects like the Ciel Tower, poised to become the world’s tallest hotel upon completion. Additionally, One Za’abeel, with its breath-taking 360-degree views of the city, features the world’s largest panoramic sky podium, The Link, showcasing Dubai’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of architectural innovation.

How is technology and innovation playing a role in shaping Dubai’s economic and tourism landscape? Are there any notable digital initiatives or projects that are driving this transformation?  How do you see emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain, and virtual reality impacting the tourism sector in Dubai?

We constantly roll out initiatives to raise the bar across the trade and tourism ecosystem in order to position Dubai as a global city at the forefront of innovation and technology. Driving this evolution is the Dubai Economic Agenda D33, as well as the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, a visionary blueprint that propels Dubai into new realms of advancement.

The Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan is a cornerstone in our effort to redefine the city’s future, not only amplifying the total space dedicated to hotels and tourist activities by more than 100%, but also creating a future where sustainability, innovation and technology, and inclusivity are woven into the urban fabric.

In the realm of technology-driven innovation, the Intelak Hub – a collaboration between Emirates Group, DET, Accenture, and Microsoft – stands as a testament to Dubai’s commitment to launching, nurturing, and scaling start-ups that provide transformative experiences and innovative tech solutions for the tourism and aviation industry. Excitingly, it is at the forefront of exploring the applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in enhancing customer service, streamlining routine inquiries, optimising booking processes, and even providing personalised travel recommendations based on individual preferences.

The city’s wider commitment to spearheading the development of new technologies shaping society and the global economy, including AI, blockchain, and virtual reality, also has a direct impact on Dubai’s attractiveness as a destination for events, with businesses, associations and other organisations able to tap into expertise here for their conferences and meetings.

Dubai is known for its diverse offerings, from luxury tourism to cultural experiences. How do you ensure a balanced approach to catering to different types of tourists and their preferences?

To cater for travellers of all budgets and preferences, we are committed to further elevating our standards and to advancing with innovative and distinctive experiences and attractions. The extensive and diverse range of offerings and a continued focus on making Dubai a safe, inclusive, and accessible destination is contributing towards the goal of Dubai becoming the best city to visit, live and work in. With our consumer-first approach, we are also ensuring that the city stays ahead of the curve in terms of global trends, such as experiential-based tourism and sustainability, and creates opportunities and memorable moments for all visitors.

Supported by modern infrastructure, exceptional service at all touchpoints, and collaboration between the government and private sectors, stakeholders and partners, Dubai has established itself as a first-choice travel destination for visitors from both key traditional and emerging markets. With a presence in more than 80 markets, Dubai will maintain a diversified approach going forward and continue to collaborate with key stakeholders and more than 3,000 global partners.

Dubai’s unique model of public-private partnerships plays a key role in positioning the city as a must-visit destination. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that our guests enjoy extra value and unforgettable experiences that will encourage repeat visitation. Global campaigns and marketing endeavours will further enhance visitors’ trust, confidence and affinity for Dubai.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted global tourism. What strategies have you employed to facilitate the recovery of Dubai’s tourism sector? Dubai surpassed pre-pandemic international visitation levels in the first half of 2023, what’s the success story behind this rapid recovery?

Dubai’s approach from the start of the pandemic was always one of preparedness, agility and consistency. While we were one of the first cities to close to visitors in response to the pandemic, we were also one of the first to reopen to international tourists in July 2020 – and crucially staying open without disruption. 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. Since then, Dubai has gone from strength to strength and continues to welcome a steady stream of international leisure and business travellers. We remain dedicated to fostering a tourism landscape that is not only robust, but also forward-thinking, ensuring that Dubai continues to set benchmarks for global tourism recovery.

With the D33 Agenda serving as our economic compass for the next ten years, we are committed to strengthening the tourism sector, enhancing our assets and infrastructure, and stimulating broader economic growth. This comprehensive approach ensures tourism thrives in tandem with our goals of talent acquisition, business acceleration and government innovation, to position Dubai as the epicentre for all those eyeing their next phase of growth and expansion.

Let’s discuss Dubai’s potential to become the global liveability hub. What’s the city’s competitive edge and are there any specific offers to global talents?

Our commitment to consolidating Dubai’s position as one of the top three global cities for business and leisure, and the best city to visit, live and work in, is unwavering, and we take pride in the fact that Dubai guarantees a lifestyle that is truly unique.

To further strengthen Dubai’s position as a global liveability hub, we continue to move forward with initiatives that facilitate ease of entry and foster sustained engagement. Exemplifying our dedication to attracting diverse global talent, the Golden Visa is designed for entrepreneurs, property investors, business leaders, and top performing students, while the Five-Year Multi-Entry Visa and Virtual Working programme offer seamless pathways for international professionals to live in and work from Dubai. In fact, property consultancy Savills ranked Dubai as the world’s best city for remote workers in its 2023 Executive Nomad Index. Meanwhile, our Retire in Dubai programme provides a unique opportunity for individuals seeking a long-term connection with our city.

Dubai’s appeal as a thriving global hub lies in our steadfast commitment to delivering an exceptional lifestyle, recognised globally for its quality and safety, and the array of initiatives aimed at making the city a compelling home for global talents.

In 2023, Dubai was also named the cleanest and safest city in the world, according to the Global Power City Index issued by the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategies in Japan. This reflects our dedication to ensuring a secure and welcoming atmosphere for all residents and visitors.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role as the CEO of the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism?

The most rewarding aspect of my role is seeing Dubai flourish as a global destination and economic hub, and knowing that we contribute to the well-being and happiness of residents and visitors alike. It is truly satisfying to witness the positive impact our efforts have made on the city and its people, specifically our agility and adaptability in coping with an ever-evolving landscape. It is also inspiring to have the unwavering support of all our stakeholders and partners who continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that Dubai remains as one of the world’s leading travel destinations.

What advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to contribute to the growth and development of their city or country?

To young professionals aspiring to contribute to the growth and development of their city or country, I would offer these words of advice: stay curious, stay passionate, and never stop learning. Embrace innovation, adapt to change, and be agile and resilient in the face of challenges, eventually transforming them into opportunities. Also, take inspiration from those around you, including the visionary leaders guiding you, and the colleagues and partners collaborating with you.

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