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Middle East tourism income to rise by 89% over 10 years

Tourism revenues in the region by 2016. The industry already accounts for 21 per cent of Dubai's GDP and is expected to continue growing. (REUTERS)

By Aimee Greaves

Arabian Adventures (AA) is one of the UAE's largest and longest running tour operators. Though it is part of Emirates Group, it operates independently, offering packages to external customers as well as those of its parent.

With a portfolio of excursions that include city tours, desert safaris and wadi adventures, AA looks to stay ahead of the competition by continually offering new packages.

According to the research from World Travel and Tourism Council, annual travel and tourism revenues in the region will rise by 89 per cent over the next 10 years and will be worth $279bn (Dh1,025bn) by 2016. The industry already accounts for 21 per cent of Dubai's GDP and is expected to continue to grow.

This week, AA announced it had moved its headquarters to Dubai Investments Park. Emirates Business spoke to Senior Vice-President Frederic Bardin about the company's future as the world emerges from the recession.

How has the business fared during the credit crunch?

It was challenging last year. A lot has been said in the press about Dubai, especially in the UK, and we have lost a lot of time explaining the situation and have seen a downturn. But the Emirates is seeing traffic increases every month, so it means Dubai is still growing. The tourism sector has lost about 10 to 15 per cent of overall business this year but Dubai Tourism statistics show a five-per cent rise and the emirate had more hotel guests in the first half of 2009 than in 2008.

UK and Russian visitors were a few but other European markets, for example Germany, France and Switzerland, were up. At the end of the financial year we grew three to five per cent over the year before.

What do you envisage for this year?

This year is going to be more or less flat apart from some emerging markets. If we look at how economies are doing the crisis has definitely bottomed out, but growth this year will not be enormous. It's held back by unemployment and people being careful.

Dubai's growth, however, will be bigger than other countries'. We are the crossroads of the planet so everywhere there is growth will be beneficial for us. There was a downturn after 9/11 from Europe and the US, for example, but growth from Africa and the Arab World. In 2002 Dubai was the fastest-growing destination in the world. I don't think this year will be brilliant. We'll probably see some growth but the real rebound will be in 2011. The new operations centre will allow us to consolidate our existing facilities into one new purpose-built centre. This will create significant efficiencies in our operations and will allow us to grow even further in the future. We are predicting an annual increase in business of 10 to 15 per cent.

Which are the top emerging markets at present?

The UAE was given approved destination status in China in September so now tourists are allowed to travel here, which should benefit us this year. India has between 100 and 200 million tourists travelling abroad, which is a lot of people, while South America has seen a lot of growth, especially from Brazil now that Emirates flies to Sao Paulo. Australia is not emerging but growing quite fast and Africa has potential due to the commerce being done that can generate tourism.

What is new for 2010?

The latest tour is called New Dawn, which takes people to all the new and future projects in Dubai, such as the Burj Khalifa, Old Town, Business Bay and the Atlantis. We have sold it on the side all last year but now it's in the brochure. We're introducing a lot more sport options. We've had very few in the past because we're strict on insurance. We'll offer hot air balloon trips, fishing, sailing, mountain biking, trekking and diving. We also have a revamped winter tour that goes to Old Dubai, which for me is very important as it's where the story started. It covers Bastikiya, abras and the souks and with the temperatures as they are it's very pleasant to do.

There is a lot of competition, especially in the desert safari category, so how do you try to stay ahead?

It's the quality of the experience. There are a lot of fly-by-night operators and a lot of that is probably because the industry is not regulated. Drivers offer safaris in their own cars but are not insured to take passengers so we would like to see more rules and regulations targeting them to rid the industry of non-serious operators.

Do you spend much time on typical tourist pursuits?

After 19 years, here I don't do it so much but I was in the desert a couple of weeks ago. I don't like doing it in the summer, but in the winter, yes.

Are you confident business will pick up in the not-too-distant future?

We have bright days ahead as a business and in Dubai as a whole. I don't see a downturn in the growth of Dubai any time soon.


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