Dubai continues aggressive pursuit of tourism goals with H.E. Issam Kazim, CEO of DCTCM

No let up in developing innovative initiatives to continue the city’s leading position as a global tourism hub
Dubai continues aggressive pursuit of tourism goals with H.E. Issam Kazim, CEO of DCTCM
H.E. Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing

In this interview with Economy Middle East, H.E. Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DCTCM) shares how Dubai has successfully established itself as a world-leading travel destination and what the key factors are that will continue to shape the future of the city’s tourism sector.

Dubai is a leading tourist destination globally. What do you think is Dubai’s biggest appeal among tourists?

Dubai welcomed a record 17.15 million international overnight visitors in 2023, representing 19.4 percent YoY growth. The city continues to build on this momentum with 3.67 million international tourists already visiting in January and February this year, an increase of more than 18 percent YoY. The exceptional performance of Dubai’s tourism sector is the result of strategic initiatives the emirate has launched under the guidance of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Moreover, it reflects the ambitious goals of the Dubai Economic Agenda, D33, to further consolidate Dubai’s position as one of the top three global cities for business and leisure.

Dubai also further bolstered its ranking as the top 1 global destination for an unprecedented third successive year in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2024, the first city to achieve this accolade.

This unique achievement and Dubai’s growing global appeal are a testament to the emirate’s vibrant and diverse offerings. Hence, it has world-class infrastructure, exceptional service at all touchpoints, and continuous collaboration between the government and private sectors. One of the city’s biggest appeals is that it has something to offer for all budgets and preferences, positioning it as a destination that makes luxury travel affordable. Dubai’s three-star hotels are comparable to many five-star hotels around the world. Meanwhile, mid-range properties match or even exceed the service and amenities of many prominent full-service hotels around the globe.

What are Dubai’s most important initiatives that will help the city maintain its leading position in the tourism sector?

Dubai has established itself as a world-leading travel destination through visionary leadership, innovative strategies and powerful public-private partnerships. Those are key factors that will continue to shape the future of the city’s tourism sector.

With a mandate to create new pathways to growth beyond traditional tourism, Dubai focuses on key pillars such as investment, entrepreneurship and attracting global talent. Therefore, the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) has implemented a range of forward-thinking initiatives and strategies. Dubai has also adopted new measures to position itself as a leading sustainable tourism destination and a city that is inclusive and accessible for all. Our concerted efforts to drive visitation, both domestic and international, continue to encompass our robust network of stakeholders and over 3,000 global partners. We particularly place emphasis on building on emerging trends around key areas such as gastronomy, trade and technology.

The ongoing expansion of the cruise sector has significant benefits for Dubai as a tourism hub. Hence, the development of the cruising industry is further consolidating Dubai’s status as a gateway to the region. With this objective, Dubai has been a significant player in the Cruise Arabia alliance – a strategic regional partnership that will promote the Arabian Gulf as a cruise ship destination globally. Key objectives of the alliance include:

  • Collaboration to enhance the cruise experience for passengers
  • Attracting  more cruise liners to the region
  • Improving infrastructure at ports
  •  Driving economic growth in the regional cruise tourism sector

Our growing year-round calendar of leisure and retail events is driving international interest in visiting Dubai. Moreover, it is engaging with the domestic audience. The city is also consistently enhancing its reputation as the host destination for international meetings, conferences and exhibitions, drawing more business travelers.

In recognition of the importance of the business audience, including global investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, Dubai has in recent years introduced different categories of visas for specific needs including the Golden Visa for investors and specialized talents. Moreover, it has introduced the Five-year Multi-Entry Visa, especially suited for MNCs. Furthermore, there are visas for freelancers and remote workers under the Virtual Working program. In addition, the Retire in Dubai program seeks to encourage long-term stay and association with the city.

Issam Kazim

For visitors across all segments, with the steady increase in global travelers making Dubai their destination of choice, it is crucial that we deliver exceptional experiences across the board. To achieve this, it is important to develop a knowledgeable and well-rounded workforce. This enables the workforce to confidently impart the correct knowledge and information about the emirate.  A range of courses by Dubai College of Tourism (DCT), part of DET, achieves this goal. Through its online training platform Dubai Way, DET also empowers those employed in tourist-facing roles with the knowledge and skills to impart standardized information and instructions to visitors including People of Determination. This ensures excellent guest relations and customer service at tourist touchpoints across the emirate.

In 2023, DCT launched its ‘Autism and Sensory Awareness’ course. This course has contributed to Dubai being on record pace towards becoming the first Certified Autism Destination™ in the Eastern Hemisphere.

We reiterate our commitment to further elevating our standards and expanding with innovative and distinctive attractions, facilities and services. We will continue to focus on the key elements that have ensured the industry’s success over the past decade as we look towards 2024 and beyond. The extensive range of offerings and a continued focus on consolidating Dubai’s position as a safe, inclusive, and accessible destination will also help realize the aspiration of our leadership to make Dubai the best city to visit, live and work in.

Tourism and hospitality are key pillars of Dubai and the broader UAE’s economic diversification efforts. What are the biggest upcoming projects that will substantially contribute to the city and the country’s economic growth?

Dubai’s offering will be further expanded with the implementation of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan. Strategic goals of this long-term plan include doubling green and leisure areas and enhancing their qualities. The plan also seeks to safeguard the emirate’s cultural and urban heritage and provide sustainable and innovative means of mobility. Under the Master Plan, the total space dedicated to hotels and tourist activities will increase by more than 100 percent over the next two decades. With the objectives outlined under the D33 Agenda to further consolidate Dubai as one of the top three global cities to visit, live and work in, our communication strategy is closely aligned with driving forward these goals. Hence, we aim to showcase the pro-business landscape, vibrant tourism attractions, and events the city offers. Meanwhile, we also continuously emphasize that Dubai is a must-visit destination.

In Dubai, there is never a shortage of new attractions and exciting tourism projects. The city is growing its tapestry of experiences for visitors, captivating them with its unparalleled blend of culture and innovation. Hatta, Dubai’s mountain town, has become a prominent travel destination. It is contributing to the emirate’s bustling tourism sector. A noteworthy ongoing partnership is the multi-year agreement between DET and Real Madrid, signed in October last year. The agreement will create growth opportunities for both institutions and support Dubai’s D33 Agenda. This complements the recent opening of Real Madrid World, an exciting new theme park within Dubai Parks and Resorts. It is the first to be operating under the branding of the world-famous football club.

The city’s hospitality offering will also grow in 2024, with the upcoming openings of new hotels such as Jumeirah Marsa Al Arab, the newest five-star addition to the Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts portfolio. We look forward to the opening of more attractions and infrastructure and leveraging our year-round calendar of leisure and business events to attract more visitors.  New initiatives will be launched to further increase visitor arrivals, strengthen relationships with the travel trade and explore new channels to source visitors. We are confident that Dubai will deliver on its vision of being the world’s leading global hub for investment, business, talent, travel, technology, events and gastronomy.

How are you promoting sustainable tourism, given how the UAE is committed to hitting its sustainability targets?

Dubai recognizes the importance of prioritizing sustainability initiatives to preserve its natural resources and further improve the overall visitor experience. With the UAE’s Year of Sustainability extending into 2024, there is an increasing focus on traveling more responsibly. Therefore, Dubai is proactively evolving its tourism value proposition to cater for emerging trends.

In line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the UAE’s Net Zero 2050 strategy, Dubai’s hospitality and tourism sectors are driving the city’s sustainability agenda. The ongoing Dubai Sustainable Tourism drive, initiated by DET, provides support for the hospitality industry through several programs. This includes the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Stamp for hotels and the citywide Dubai Can movement. Under the DST initiative, there are four pillars – standards, awards, programs and education. Those pillars have played a crucial role in raising the awareness and engagement of hotel staff to support them in driving environmental initiatives and educating them about sustainable tourism.

In July 2023, DET launched the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Stamp. This initiative has now recognized 70 hotels with the highest level of adherence to DET’s ‘19 Sustainability Requirements’, the first of its kind in the region. Developed in collaboration with Dubai’s hospitality sector, the stamp is designed to accelerate efforts towards empowering the tourism sector to achieve its sustainability goals. Moreover, it serves as a validation of the hotel’s dedication to sustainable practices.

Other key efforts are being driven through the umbrella of the Dubai Can initiative, which continues to epitomize the emirate’s can-do attitude around sustainability. Most recently H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai, inaugurated the landmark Dubai Reef project with the launch of the pilot reef modules. This marked the start of the world’s largest marine reef development project. Dubai Can has already made a strong impact through the ongoing ‘Refill for Life’ campaign. The campaign promotes the use of reusable bottles and encouraging people to refill via 50 water fountains established throughout the city. Since its launch two years ago, the initiative has seen the reduction of almost 18 million 500ml single-use plastic water bottles.

Which feeder markets are you expecting to deliver big inbound tourism numbers? What are some of the marketing initiatives that you are doing globally to promote the city and what’s the focus of these efforts?

We saw major growth in key regions in 2023 including Western Europe, which now accounts for 19 percent of inbound, as well as the GCC and MENA, with 28 percent, and South Asia with 18 percent. We anticipate continued momentum in growth from these traditional markets, as well as emerging feeders.

A key driver of this is DET’s approach to showcasing Dubai to the world, built on diversified and bespoke strategies covering more than 80 markets, and stakeholder collaboration with over 3,000 international partners. The agreement that we have signed with Real Madrid is a shining example of two leading brands coming together with joint values, ambitions and a dedication to excellence and innovation.

Film tourism is another important way we have reached wider audiences. Dubai has collaborated with leading film industries including Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood. We have built on previous campaigns and established a strong and ongoing partnership with Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer that goes beyond typical concerts.

Read: Andrew Spearman, general manager of Six Senses Zighy Bay, on sustainability and community support

What are the biggest challenges facing Dubai’s tourism sector, and how are you addressing them?

Inspired by the guidance and support of our decisive leadership, Dubai has time and again leveraged its abilities and agility to evolve and adapt to changing situations and circumstances, both at a domestic and global level, as well as in specific source markets. A diversified market approach has also ensured that there is no overreliance on any single market or region. This maintains our competitiveness as a global destination. Dubai’s success is due to its commitment to mitigating risks and remaining focussed on unique value creation and ultimately delivering the best guest experience.

While we continuously launch new strategies and initiatives, we will also focus on building on our key strengths. This includes our diverse multi-geographic marketing campaigns. Hence, these aim to drive consideration from a broad spectrum of countries and visitor segments. Additionally, our future growth will also continue with our strategic investments, federal policy reforms, and long-term global partnerships – all backed by the tremendous support of our stakeholders across the government and private sectors to help increase Dubai’s accessibility, visibility and international appeal.

About H.E. Issam Kazim

Issam Kazim is the CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), which was established in December 2013 as an affiliate of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism).

Issam Kazim is responsible for DCTCM’s network of international offices, overseeing the branding, promotion, and marketing initiatives that has been instrumental in establishing Dubai as the world’s 4th most visited city. Issam Kazim has played an active role in negotiating and facilitating global partnerships with international media houses.

Moreover, Issam Kazim plays an integral role in the development of relationships with industry stakeholders, partners and investors. Before joining DCTCM, Issam Kazim was the Director of DXB Live and Commercial at Dubai World Trade Center (DWTC). Issam Kazim successfully launched strategic live events including Dubai Music Week.

Issam Kazim has a higher diploma in Business Administration from Higher Colleges of Technology, Dubai Men’s College and an Advanced Management Program from IESE Business School in Barcelona.

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