Middle East: On with the show
Following a period of what can only be described as pure unadulterated hype when Dubai proudly promoted its bid to host the World Expo 2020, the city was declared the winning destination on Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
Dubai’s bid theme of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future will now be put into practice as the emirate embarks on the massive task of building an Expo site and supporting infrastructure. At the same time, new tourism-related projects already planned for the city are likely to be fast-tracked to ensure many are fully operational by 2020, while some projects put on hold during the global economic crisis are now set to be revived.
The six-month-long Expo 2020 will be staged at Dubai Trade Centre – Jebel Ali. This site has been selected due to its strategic location, equidistant between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and adjacent to Dubai World Central (DWC). The new business cluster is home to Al Maktoum International Airport, which commenced commercial passenger services in October 2013 and, when fully operational in the 2020s, will boast a capacity of 160 million annual passengers, although Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths has said this could be increased to up to 200 million.
The Expo site’s masterplan, designed by HOK, Populous and Arup, is a manifestation of the Connecting Minds, Creating the Future theme. At the core of the site is an open plaza called Al Wasl, which means ‘the connection’ in Arabic and is a historical name for Dubai. Branching out from the plaza are three main zones that symbolise the bid’s sub themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity.
Inspired by traditional Arabian souks, the site integrates the UAE’s unique architectural heritage and embodies the spirit of trade. This design, according to the Expo team, facilitates the goals of the historical event, which are to “foster the fundamental principles of innovation, partnership and collaboration between participants and visitors”.
Thinkwell, an experiential design and development firm, has also been appointed to develop the entertainment masterplan, which will included a programme of shows, performances and events that appeal to all generations in order to enhance the visitor experience and drive global tourist traffic to the Expo.
“This 438-hectare site will be one of the largest ever used for a World Expo and will ensure an unforgettable experience for the event’s 25 million visitors, who will collectively make upwards of 33 million visits,” explains Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy.
“Throughout the development process we have also sought to ensure the site will serve as a permanent attraction beyond 2020, to enhance the UAE’s long-term appeal as a premier destination for high-profile global events.”
The site’s design is aligned to the UAE’s legacy strategy, with the main walkways shaded by a photovoltaic fabric structure, which will capture solar energy and generate clean power, as well as contribute nearly 50 percent of Expo’s power requirements. At night, the solar-powered roof will transform into a digital projection screen as a means of enhancing evening performances. In addition, an underground transport system will not only connect the pavilions, but link the Expo site to the rest of the city.
“Every element of the [Expo site’s] masterplan has been designed with due consideration to its afterlife and with a defined strategy for re-use, striking a balance between long-term requirements for the city as well as the six months of Expo operations,” explains HE Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and CEO of Dubai World Trade Centre. “The site has been master-planned to create a legacy in environmental sustainability for the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) and the global community, while delivering a cost-efficient and viable infrastructure for Dubai and the region.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
On top of its multi-billion-dollar economic impact, the Expo’s effect on tourism will be substantial. Pre-Expo win, DTCM had set out its 2020 Vision to attract 20 million visitors, doubling in eight years the 10 million the emirate received in 2012. The 25 million visitors the Expo is expected to attract certainly ups the ante, placing pressure on DTCM and its travel and tourism industry stakeholders to get the necessary infrastructure in place that will diversify its offering to appeal to the widest audience possible.
“Further to the announcement by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, that the UAE should lead the way when it comes to the best family destination in the world, developing Dubai’s family offering is now a top priority,” says Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Strategy and Tourism Sector Development, DTCM.
“As well as permanent attractions such as Ski Dubai, Aquaventure at Atlantis, Wild Wadi and the Aquarium at The Dubai Mall – and the upcoming IMG World of Adventures – events are of key importance, with the aim being to transform Dubai from the regional events hub to a global destination for events and entertainment.
“Through the Dubai Convention and Events Bureau (DCEB), Dubai Calendar and Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), all of which are under the DTCM umbrella, we are focusing on events year-round that appeal to our key source markets as well as residents.”
He adds: “The expansion of DWTC’s facilities to create the region’s largest indoor events arena and concert venue will also add to the destination’s success as an events host.”
AT YOUR LEISURE
The aforementioned IMG Worlds of Adventure theme park in Dubailand – one of the Dubai districts undergoing a post-downturn resurgence – will feature the Marvel Universe, the Cartoon Network Zone and several additional entertainment zones, and is just one example of many attractions being built to lure families to the emirate.
The Falcon City of Wonders project is also underway, featuring life-size replicas of the Seven Wonders of the World, including the Pyramids of Giza. Additional family attractions under construction right now include Dubai Safari – a 120-hectare safari park near Dragonmart featuring a zoo, butterfly park, botanical garden and golf course.
A plethora of mega mixed-use projects are also in the pipeline. The US$3 billion (AED11 billion) Al Habtoor City entertainment and hospitality development will feature three five-star hotels and a theatre as part of the new Dubai Water Canal area – a multi-billion-dirham project connecting the Business Bay area to the Arabian Gulf.
Nearby, Emaar’s flourishing Downtown Dubai will be home to an new, architecturally impressive opera house by 2015. Shaped like a traditional sailing vessel, the facility will be built so that 900 of the 2,000 seats can be removed with the use of hydraulic technology to allow the theatre to be converted into a banqueting hall or exhibition space.
At the other end of town, the established Madinat Jumeirah development is being expanded to the tune of $700 million to include another five-star hotel, a villa complex, restaurants and retail outlets, while the beachside complex known as Jumeirah Beach Residence’s (JBR’s) The Walk is also being enhanced with a mall, amphitheatre, hotel and a beach club.
Nearby, the high-profile Bluewaters Project is being primed as a top Dubai family attraction for the future. This mixed-use island will comprise hotels, residences and retail outlets, as well as a 210-metre Dubai Eye Ferris wheel inspired by the UK capital’s London Eye.
Then, of course, there is Mohammed Bin Rashid City, one of the emirate’s most ambitious developments to date. This ‘city within a city’, which stretches east from the Burj Khalifa along Al Khail Road, behind Al Quoz industrial zone and all the way to Al Barsha, is being built in four phases and when completed in 2022, will include 100 hotels, a Universal Studios theme park and the world’s biggest mall.
Hotel groups say all of these projects provide good opportunities to expand their offering and cater to a new wave of tourists visiting Dubai.
“Projects such as the Dubai Water Canal Project, which is expected to be a major tourist attraction, will provide opportunities for our properties,” says Rezidor Hotel Group Regional Director for UAE, Egypt, Oman and Jordan, Marc Descrozaille. “We are fortunate that we already have established hotels in this area so are ideally placed to attract business from this venture.”
Descrozaille says the Expo win will drive a “surge in the development of new projects that will result in an increased demand for accommodation, particularly in the long-term and hotel suites sectors”.
“We will be part of the expansion with additional properties coming online over the next few years,” he says. “There is certainly going to be a need for more hotels in Dubai, with the bid win injecting renewed energy and belief in the city.”
All of the mega projects planned for Dubai spell good news for emirate’s meetings industry, providing the necessary infrastructure to help achieve its ambitious meetings, incentives, conferences and events goals.
“Business events are a very important part of the 2020 Vision,” explains the recently appointed DCEB Director of Convention and Business Tourism, Steen Jakobsen. “Part of the vision is that business events account for a bigger number of international visitors to Dubai.”
To achieve this, the DCEB has a three-pronged strategy: firstly, attracting existing international meetings and conferences that rotate around the world; secondly, growing the number of visitors taking part in events in Dubai; and thirdly, developing new events that fill a gap in the market. Jakobsen says the Expo will aid DCEB’s cause, positioning Dubai as a “business events hub” in the minds of influential congress and meetings planners worldwide.
“If they know Dubai is capable of hosting an Expo they will believe Dubai is also capable of hosting their meeting,” he continues. “The Expo can be used as a reference point in all future sales and marketing efforts.”
Almarri, added: “Events are very important to us, not only with the local benefits they bring, but also as they show other countries what we are doing here in Dubai. Events entertain, inspire and stimulate ideas, creativity and the economy. They enrich the lives of the local population and act as a catalyst for the growth of tourism.
“We want to move from being the regional events hub to a world leading events and entertainment destination and central to this is facilitating improvements in event organisation. We have high targets and big ambitions but we are confident they are achievable.
Arabian Adventures and Congress Solutions International (CSI) Senior Vice President Peter Payet believes the Expo will attract a wider range of meetings business to the UAE.
“Younger international MICE markets will be compelled to ‘try’ Dubai as clients demand to be part of this massive event,” he says. “We will see companies investing significantly in events to ensure they ‘wow’ their clients, and it will provide us with an opportunity to offer creative ideas and experiences that are geared around it.”
Destination Management Companies (DMCs) such as UAE-based The Vision also anticipate a surge in Expo-related business, but say it’s too early to estimate the true impact.
“We feel it, we are sure of it, but we cannot measure it until nearer the time,” says Director of Operations, Anwar Abu Monassar. “The Expo will showcase the maturity of the destination and its ability to deliver global events, resulting in worldwide notoriety. The actual business impact will become apparent closer to the date, but the indirect benefits will start immediately in terms of trust in the destination plus the improved selfconfidence of the meetings industry.”
As we move forwards into 2014, packed calendars will be the proof in the pudding.
A WIN FOR THE UAE
The World Expo 2020 will not only drive business and leisure tourism to Dubai but to neighbouring emirates, particularly the capital, Abu Dhabi, according to Mohammed Al Dhaheri, Director of Strategy & Policy at Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi).
“The Expo will deliver global exposure for the entire UAE and its tourism sector, including its world-class infrastructure,” he says. “Those visiting Expo 2020 will no doubt be open to discovering other parts of the country and its many facets both from a cultural and tourism perspective.
“The event will give us all an opportunity to demonstrate to a global audience our legendary Arabian hospitality, giving the world a chance to better know our culture of respect for others and to engage with a country which is characterised by a safe and secure society.”
Capital investment in construction and infrastructure in the UAE is set to reach $131.7 billion by 2016 – almost double the $77.4 billion invested in 2011.
Al Dhaheri anticipates Expo-related visitors flocking to one of the UAE’s most iconic projects to date – the Saadiyat Island Cultural District with its numerous museums, galleries and exhibitions.
“And by the time the Expo arrives, there will be additional luxury resorts on Saadiyat Beach, plus more attractions on Yas Island, all of which will heighten Abu Dhabi’s appeal,” he says. “New audiences are also likely to be attracted to our established heritage and cultural sites in Al Ain and new tours in our Al Gharbia Western region. With the eyes of the world on the UAE, I believe the hosting of Expo 2020 will enhance our ability to demonstrate that Abu Dhabi is a luxurious and culturally sensitive destination.”
Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah are also tipped to benefit from the Expo effect, says Arabian Adventures and Congress Solutions International (CSI) Senior Vice President, Peter Payet.
“Increased air access and hotel rooms have driven visitors to these emirates and they are tourism destinations in their own right with a lot to offer, often in contrast to Destination Dubai,” he says.
“For this very reason, we continue to see tourists arriving into Dubai and spending time exploring the surrounding emirates and we anticipate the same trend His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri during the Expo 2020.”
ADVANCEMENTS IN AVIATION
Developments at DXB
Dubai International Airport (DIA) is ranked the second busiest airport in the world in terms of international passengers according to Airports Council International’s latest figures. The airport serves more than 145 airlines flying to more than 260 destinations across six continents.
Following the opening of Concourse A in January 2013, the collective capacity of T1, T2, and T3 has increased from 60 million to 75 million passengers per annum. Passenger traffic in September 2013 totalled 5,407,326, an increase of 13.1 percent compared to 4,780,394 during the corresponding month in 2012. In the year to date, traffic is up 16 percent to 49,379,165 compared to 42,565,340 recorded during the first nine months of 2012.
Passenger numbers at Dubai International Airport are projected to reach 65.4 million in 2013, 78 million in 2015 and 98 million by 2020.
The rise of DWC
Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central (DWC), Dubai’s second airport, opened its doors to passengers on October 27, 2013 with Wizz Air as the launch airline. Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways launched services from October 31 while Gulf Air commenced flights on December 8, 2013.
Phase 1 of DWC includes a single A380 compatible runway; a passenger terminal with capacity of five million passengers per annum (expandable to seven million); a cargo terminal building with a capacity of 250,000 tonnes per annum (expandable to 600,000) and a 92-metre air traffic control tower.
The airport will have a total of five parallel runways, 4.5 kilometres long, each separated by a minimum of 800 metres. DWC will eventually become the world’s largest airport with a capacity of 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo per year.
A ROOM FOR EVERYONE?
Dubai has acknowledged that if it is to achieve its goal of doubling visitor numbers to 20 million in 2020 compared to 10 million in 2012, the city must provide more accommodation across all star ratings.
“Dubai’s hotel portfolio features more than 611 hotels, hotel apartment establishments and resorts with approximately 30 new additions coming on-stream by the end of 2015. This will bring our total number of rooms up to approximately 92,000 and we estimate that we need somewhere close to 160,000 rooms to cope with the demands of 20 million annual visitors – so there is clearly a need to stimulate the development of more hotels,” acknowledges Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Strategy and Tourism Sector Development at Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).
“A few months ago the DTCM and Dubai Municipality announced an incentive to encourage the hotel industry to develop more three- and four-star hotels in Dubai, further diversifying our hotel offering to ensure we are in a position to meet demand. Although this was unrelated to Expo 2020, broadening the range of the hotel offering will obviously help in hosting the visitors who come to Dubai during the Expo period.”
Arabian Adventures and Congress Solutions International (CSI) Senior Vice President Peter Payet says examples of top-end properties due to open this year include Four Seasons Dubai (237 rooms), Dubai Marriott Hotel Zabeel (352 rooms) and Waldorf Astoria Dubai The Palm (320 rooms). “Now Dubai has won Expo 2020, we expect further hotel development announcements across multiple areas of the emirate,” he says.
Widening visitor choice
Jumeirah Group Vice President Corporate Communications Piers Schreiber also believes a wider range of properties will open in Dubai in order to cater to all budgets in the run up to the Expo. “Choice is so important and an integral part of making Dubai accessible to a wider demographic,” he says.
With this in mind, Schreiber reveals that although Jumeirah is a luxury hotel operator, introducing a second brand to accommodate travellers in search of four-star accommodation is “not out of the question”.
A GCC hotel pipeline report compiled by hospitality industry analyst, Guy Wilkinson, Managing Partner at Dubai-based Viability Management Consultants, reveals that five three-star and 11 four-star properties are due to open in Dubai between 2014 and 2016. There are at least 32 additional hotels planned in the five-star segment.
“I expect to see a revival of many projects that have previously been stalled due to the recession, in areas such as Dubai World Central, The Waterfront, the Palm Jebel Ali and western Dubailand,” he says.
But he warns high demand for hotel rooms initially by contractors building Expo infrastructure and subsequently, from event-goers, could create price inflation.
“Hopefully hoteliers will be cognisant of this fact and not abuse the opportunity,” he adds.
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