Dubai welcomed 4.67 million international overnight visitors in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 3.97 million tourists during the same period in 2022. This marks a 17 % YoY growth and the city’s best Q1 performance since the pandemic, placing it firmly on track to becoming the most visited international destination, according to the latest data published by Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET).
The growth, which sets the city on course to full tourism recovery, contributes to the goal of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai this January, to consolidate Dubai’s status as one of the world’s top three cities.
His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai, said: “The remarkable growth in international visitation achieved by Dubai in the first quarter of 2023 demonstrates the city’s emergence as one of the key destinations leading the way in the rebound of the global tourism sector. This achievement has been made possible by the far-reaching vision of the leadership to transform Dubai into one of the world’s fastest-growing metropolises and the globe’s pre-eminent hub for travel, talent, entrepreneurship and investment. The Dubai Economic Agenda recently launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, charts an ambitious new path for Dubai to enhance its contributions to shaping the future of the global economy. The tourism sector is not only the strongest pillars of our economy but also a key enabler of Dubai’s distinctive role in the world as a bridge between markets, cultures and regions. In the years ahead, Dubai will continue to introduce new pathbreaking initiatives to offer a distinctive proposition for travelers and achieve its goal of becoming the world’s best place to live, visit, work and invest in.”
The latest industry results - announced at the ongoing 30th edition of Arabian Travel Market in Dubai World Trade Centre, positions Dubai as the fastest recovering destination globally, achieving 98 % of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2023, and exceeding the projection made by the United Nations World Trade Organization that international tourist arrivals could reach between 80-95 % of pre-pandemic levels this year, especially in Europe and the Middle East.
The number of visitors in Q1 2023 was just two percentage points short of pre-pandemic volume of 4.75 million tourists that arrived in Dubai in the first three months of 2019, a remarkable achievement since turning the tide in July 2020 by reopening the city to international tourists, and in spite of current global economic headwinds. The industry performance also capped an exceptional first quarter for Dubai, which saw the city being crowned again as the No.1 global destination in TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards 2023, making it only the second time in history a city has won the coveted award for two years in a row.
His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, commented: “Q1 2023 has set us off on a very strong trajectory for the year and is driving us closer towards realizing the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai to make Dubai the most visited and re-visited destination. The positive industry performance is an endorsement of our well-defined strategy, and a testament to the unwavering support of our tourism industry partners and stakeholders. The coming decade will see our industry going through extraordinary phases of transformation, in terms of infrastructure, technology, attractions and experiences, as we focus on achieving the goals of the Dubai Economic Agenda 2033.
“To maintain Dubai’s global appeal as the first-choice destination for travellers, we will continue to follow the multi-pronged blueprint that largely contributed to our success in 2022 - evolving the destination promise, a multi-geographic approach to markets, constant international outreach through global campaigns, hosting international MICE, business and leisure events, and further improving stakeholder relationships. As we look ahead to further accelerating momentum in our tourism sector, the pillars of sustainability, gastronomy, trade, and technology will form the foundation of our future success. Notably, this year is declared as UAE’s 'Year of Sustainability,' marking a major milestone for us, as the city prepares to host COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference. Sustainability will form the core of all that we do, incorporating sustainable practices into every aspect of the visitor experience to advance our journey towards becoming the world's best city to live and work in,” HE Helal Almarri added.
Dubai’s traditional source markets delivered solid tourism volumes during the first quarter of the year with key regions continuing to make an impact on international visitation, further underscoring the success of the city’s diversified multi-geographic strategy. GCC and MENA combined was the top region, collectively contributing to 29 % of total volumes, reflecting the city’s continued appeal for travellers from neighbouring markets. Western Europe accounted for 22 % of tourism arrivals, while South Asia, accounted for 16 % of total international visitation, followed by CIS and Eastern Europe together contributing 15 %, Americas (7 %), North Asia and South East Asia (6 %), Africa (4 %) and Australasia (1 %).
The majority of the regions have demonstrated significant increase in Q1 2023 compared to the same period in 2022 while four regions have fully recovered and surpassed Q1 2019 levels – CIS and Eastern Europe (48 % vs. Q1 2019), MENA (32 % vs. Q1-2019), Americas (9 % vs. Q1-2019 and Australasia 2 % vs 2019). Both South Asia and Western Europe are close to achieving pre-pandemic levels in terms of tourism volumes.
Dubai’s hotel sector spearheads growth
Dubai hotels saw a surge in performance during the first quarter of 2023. Average occupancy for the sector during the January-March period stood at an impressive 83 %, making it one of the highest in the world, and almost on par with the 84 % occupancy recorded in Q1 2019. This achievement is particularly notable given a 26 % increase in room capacity since then. By the end of March 2023, the city's hotel sector had a total of 148,877 rooms in 814 hotel establishments compared to 118,039 rooms in 717 hotel establishments in 2019. Continued domestic and international investment into the sector helped further boost hotel inventory, with the first quarter of 2023 seeing a 6 % increase in the total number of hotels and rooms compared to the same period in 2022.
The hotel sector outperformed pre-pandemic levels across all other hospitality metrics. During the first three months of the year, Dubai hotels collectively provided 10.98 million Occupied Room Nights, a YoY growth of 7 % and a 27 % increase compared to the pre-pandemic period of Q1 2019, which registered 8.63 million Occupied Room Nights. The ADR of AED607 during the first three months of the year surpassed the ADR of 2019 (AED498), a 22 % growth while RevPAR of AED504 in Q1 2023, surged by 21 % compared to the first three months of the pre-pandemic period of 2019 (AED 417). The robust performance of the hotel sector is also evident by the fact that average length of stay by guests increased to four nights compared to 3.5 nights, a 14 % increase over the same period in 2019, highlighting the city’s appeal for longer-stay travelers.
His Excellency, Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said: “Inspired by our visionary leadership, we have made tremendous strides in our efforts to position the city as a must-visit destination through celebrity-led and digital first global campaigns in parallel with initiatives that increase accessibility, minimize barriers to travel, and make it as seamless as possible for travelers to visit Dubai. We express our sincere appreciation for the steadfast support from all our stakeholders and partners who relentlessly strive to uphold our city's position as a top-tier travel destination globally. Their commitment to our shared vision is instrumental in maintaining our city's global reputation and for the steady inflow of international visitors. We will continue to work with them to develop innovative and unique tourism products and experiences that will further amplify the appeal of our city as the top consideration for both first-time and repeat business and leisure travellers. With global travel undergoing a paradigm shift in terms of visitor expectations and experiences, we are making every effort to ensure Dubai performs even better in 2023 and beyond to remain ahead of the curve in a highly competitive global tourism landscape.”
Spearheading sustainability initiatives
In an effort to fortify its existing and emerging markets, as well as uncover fresh opportunities for growth both in the domestic and international markets, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) is ramping up its pursuit of non-traditional tourism avenues to attract visitors. This approach is particularly crucial, as the success of Dubai's tourism strategy will largely hinge on the pillars of sustainability, gastronomy, trade, and technology.
As Dubai shifts towards a more advanced, inclusive, long-term approach to sustainable growth, sustainability is becoming increasingly important as an opportunity and driving force for growth, as more and more travelers seek out sustainable destinations. Sustainability is a core component of Dubai's development strategy, and hosting global events like COP28 will provide an exceptional opportunity to highlight the Dubai Sustainable Tourism (DST) initiative designed to enhance the sustainability of the tourism sector and contribute to broader clean energy and sustainable development objectives. DST will also prepare Dubai to cater to global travelers seeking authentic local experiences that promote sustainable practices. A key DST initiative is the Dubai Can campaign, which encourages the use of reusable bottles. The initiative has successfully reduced the number of single-use plastic water bottles by over 7 million in just one year since its launch in February 2022.
DET will further enhance its Gastronomy Always on Campaign as Dubai drives growth in the hospitality and F&B sector, focusing on the four pillars of diversity, value for money, authenticity and experience. Additionally, the city’s investment in infrastructure and support systems for entrepreneurs has transformed it into a much sought-after destination for start-ups, global talent and entrepreneurs.
With the support of its stakeholders and partners, Dubai is committed to continuously offering novel and distinctive experiences for discerning global travelers. These developments will largely be driven by the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, which includes over 100 % expansion of tourism attractions, providing new areas for investment and increasing diversity of attractions and experiences for both residents and visitors. Dubai will also continue to showcase its offerings in various segments, including ecotourism, food tourism, wellness tourism, cruise tourism, sports tourism and destination weddings.
Leveraging its position as an international events destination to draw more visitors to its MICE, business and leisure events, Q1 2023 saw Dubai hosting an extensive line-up of events including the Dubai Shopping Festival, the flagship festival of the city’s year-round Retail Calendar, Art Dubai, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Dubai Duty Free Tennis, the Dubai World Cup, Dubai International Boat Show, World Government Summit, as well as Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food & beverage exhibition, which hosted a record 5,000 plus exhibitors from over 125 countries. In addition to COP28, other major events that are set to create greater visibility for Dubai around the world this year are the family summer extravaganza, Dubai Summer Surprises, Dubai Esports and Games Festival and Dubai Fitness Challenge.
Dubai will also continue to provide alternative growth pathways facilitated by reforms and regulatory enablers, including visa initiatives like the Golden Visa, 5-year Multi Entry Visa, Virtual Working, and Retire in the Dubai programs that have eased barriers to entry, promoted long-term affiliation with the city and further enhanced its position as a global liveability hub. Home to over 200 nationalities, Dubai also provides parents a choice of quality education for their children with many top-ranking international universities having established their campuses in the city. These initiatives have also strengthened Dubai's pro-business environment, making it an attractive destination for multinationals, family offices, global talent, entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors.