Dubai 2020: The tourist destination

When Dubai Expo 2020 opens on October 20, 2020 in the UAE, it debuts with a mighty goal: luring 25 million visits to the UAE’s largest city over its six-month run. Expo organizers forecast 70 percent of those visits coming from outside the UAE. Historically speaking, this is an unusual and ambitious forecast, as most past expos have drawn 30 percent or fewer of their visits from abroad.

Reaching their attendance goal will take an effective marketing campaign, and Dubai officials seem prepped to step up. Starting May 2018, they’ll launch international efforts to lure Dubai newbies to experience not only the technology-savvy event, but also a host of other attractions opened recently or under construction. In the meantime, in January 2018 – 1,000 days before opening day – the country introduced a global advertising campaign, which began to appear on a variety of media platforms in the US, UK and India.

Where Dubai tourists hail from

Those three nations are prime tourist targets, and there are others. Like regular Dubai tourism, Expo 2020 visitors will likely come from a mix of destinations. Currently, of Dubai’s 15.79 million annual visitors, 15 percent travel from India, according to Visit Dubai’s Dubai Tourism 2017: Performance Report. Other top markets are Saudi Arabia, Oman, China and Russia.

“When it comes to the Dubai Expo, a high number of visitors are expected from Western Europe, South Asia and Gulf countries,” says Kinda Chebib, a consultant with Euromonitor International. “Western Europe and Asian countries are particularly being targeted by UAE authorities. Within Western Europe, Germany will play a major role with an investment estimated at 50 million euros and 3 million expected visitors for the expo.”

Marketing initiatives outside the UAE

So far, outside of the UAE, travel industry marketing efforts are minimal, and there are reasons for that. According to organizers, the expo itself plans to begin its outreach in May 2018. And airlines won’t be booking flights until a year out. As a result, air-inclusive package tours can’t be priced and sold until that time – thus no marketing from that quarter. Likewise, Emily Zazado, a spokesperson for, indicated that its online platform, on which independent travelers book lodging, won’t see action for a while yet. “Typically, our lodging partners do not load any inventory on our site more than 18 months in advance, so we wouldn’t have any data pertaining to 2020 yet,” says Zazado.

Still, exceptions can be found. Manak Flights, a flightbooking website based near Toronto, is eager for expo momentum to build. The firm, billed as a “top producer” for Emirates Airlines, according to Director of Sales and Operations Saleem Akhat, specializes in flights from North America to the Middle East. As such, Akhat anticipates “very, very” special deals on flights from the airlines that link Canada, the US and Dubai. Akhat indicated that his firm will pass on “early bird” savings to consumers. “The airlines will do the marketing,” he adds. “They might have a big gold raffle, a car raffle,” and other such promotions, he said.

For its part, Manak has a website page with information about Dubai, and will add content about the 2020 expo in the future. “This will make readers alert that the expo is coming,” says Akhat, noting that viewers will then have access to info when flights are announced. “When the date of the expo is within a year, we will start promoting our low fares on the website, in e-mail blasts, and via radio programs, newspaper and TV ads,” Akhat says. “As we get other information, we will start spreading it to consumers. We will also run promotions such as, ‘Receive a $10 gas card if you buy a ticket to Dubai during the world’s fair.”

Since four entities – United Arab Emirates, Dubai, the Emirates airline and the world’s fair – are “the same people” related under the government’s umbrella, Akhat notes, the Manak execs plan to encourage the airline to offer business incentives such as lower airport landing taxes. His reasoning: bringing people into the country will benefit all.

Marketing initiatives closer to home

Within Dubai, planning is aggressive. The hospitality company Jumeirah, for instance, is based in Dubai and is in the midst of a pre-expo boom. “We currently have 11 luxury Jumeirah hotels and resorts in the United Arab Emirates, offering nearly 4,000 rooms across Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and with a robust pipeline we anticipate opening two further Jumeirah luxury hotels and resorts in Abu Dhabi and at least one other Jumeirah hotel in Dubai before the start of Expo 2020,” says Vicki Morley, senior director, corporate communications. “In addition, we recently launched a second brand, Zabeel House by Jumeirah™, which offers visitors an upscale casual experience, and we will have at least three Zabeel House hotels open in Dubai welcoming guests by 2020.”

Although Jumeirah has no solid marketing plans related to the world’s fair just yet, much is under discussion, Morley notes. “Commercially we are of course working with Expo 2020 organizers to see how we can assist, and with travel partners to explain our offerings as they look to bring their clients into Dubai for the event. We have looked at ways that our Emirates Academy of Hospitality and our catering division, Jumeirah Hospitality, can provide services or expertise to the Expo 2020 organizers and we are open to discussions and engage in regular dialogues as required.”

On-the-ground tour company Dubai by Foot is prepping for what Operations Manager Arushi Bhargaba sees as a tourism renaissance. “We’ll be unveiling the Dubai Eye, which will be the biggest observation wheel in the world. We will probably double the number of tourists who come here yearly by 2020. We’ll have a new train, a new museum, new beach property and many new structures. Right now, people come to Dubai by chance, stopping over on the way to Australia or Europe. Once the expo is here, those who visit will see that this is where technology is, that it’s easy to do business here, that we are not afraid to experiment with the future.”

Bhargaba agreed with others we spoke to about timing – “It’s a little bit early to do the marketing” – but feels confident the government will not only market effectively but will also help local tourism professionals do their jobs well. “All tour guides here take a rigorous, three-week training session to get licensed,” she says. “As the new attractions open, we’ll have more materials to learn and explain to visitors.” At her company, an offshoot of a Washington, DC-based tour group, existing tours will be expanding, and an expo 101 tour will likely be added. “Some people will feel overwhelmed and want someone to lead them through the world’s fair,” she predicts. “Our Downtown tour may highlight the modern new buildings, and our Doing Business in Dubai tour will probably have an Expo 2020 angle,” she says. “We’ll conceptualize the details closer to the start date.”

We’ll report back soon, as Dubai begins its marketing push, to let InPark readers know how the outreach and marketing campaigns continue, to fulfill the promise of the unprecedented 70:30 world’s fair attendance model. Their efforts may well be as innovative as the expo displays. •



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