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BTN interview: Shahab Shayan, senior manager, international operations, Dubai Tourism

BTN interview: Shahab Shayan, senior manager, international operations, Dubai Tourism

With an economy dependent on international tourism, it was no surprise to see Dubai reopen its doors to travellers in July.

The commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates counts on the sector for over ten per cent of gross domestic product, or upward of US$30 billion, each year.

However, what was not inevitable, was the success the emirate has welcomed over the following months.

A strict testing regime at Dubai International Airport sees all guests checked for Covid-19 on arrival, limiting imported cases.

At the same time, comprehensive protocols govern the day-to-day actions of both residents and guests across the emirate.

Combined, these measures have allowed the city to curtail the growth of the pandemic, and led to the return of something like normal life.

As Shahab Shayan, senior manager for international operations at Dubai Tourism, tells Breaking Travel News: “We reopened on July 7th, and since then we have made sure there are strict guidelines and protocols in place, and that they are followed.


“We have used the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which are essentially to test, test and test – so far, we have carried out around 14 million tests here in the United Arab Emirates.

“On top of that, we are trying to make sure safeguards for residents and for visitors coming to the destination are being met.

“There are frameworks from the World Travel & Tourism Council, called Safe Travels, as well as the Dubai Assured programme, both of which are being adhered to across the emirate.

“All customer touchpoints, across hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls have seen the regulations enforced – all public spots.

“Checks are carried out on a bi-weekly basis; we send inspectors in to make sure all necessary protocols are being implemented.”

This was due to be a banner year for Dubai, with the emirate hoping to welcome 20 million international guests for the first time.

While the figure will not now be achieved, a domestic boom has made up for some of the short-fall, with plans in place to ensure growth returns in 2021.

Shayan explains: “We have seen a big domestic boom in tourism since we reopened in July.

“We had around 750 hotels open in Dubai pre-pandemic, in February this year, and we currently have around 600 open.

“There has been some international visitation, and we are looking at a positive feeling moving forward.

“At this stage we are not able to put a figure on how many guests we will welcome this year, with hotels opening and closing, it has been a more complex situation than normal.

“However, we hope to have some numbers out by the end of the year.”

While the market looks likely to remain subdued in the short-term, investment has continued to flow into the emirate, suggesting confidence in a long-term return.

Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk recently became the latest in a long line of hotels to open this year, while properties set to come onto the market in coming months will allow the emirate to reach previously untapped segments.

Shayan continues: “There are new properties opening, which does show the strength of the industry here in Dubai.

“We have the Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk which has recently opened, while there is also the Rove La Mer Beach.

“The latter is an affordable hotel, aimed at families who want to be right next to the beach, but do not want to pay Palm Jumeirah prices – really for those in the know.

“There is also the Riu Dubai, a four-star beach resort, the first of its type here in Dubai – with around 800-keys.

“These are all very exciting openings and show our strength in the long term.”

Of course, there would be little point opening new rooms if travellers were unable to get to the emirate.

Flag-carrier Emirates has been instrumental in the success of Dubai as a tourism destination over the past three decades, and there has been no change this year.

“Emirates remains one of our key strategic partners and they really have been since the emergence of Dubai on the world hospitality map,” says Shayan.

“They have done a fantastic job throughout the pandemic, initially by providing insurance for travellers, which has now been extended until the end of the year.

“They have also gone back to two thirds of their network, and they are now flying to over 90 destinations.

“Emirates has also given residents who want to come back to Dubai a chance to do so, and this has been getting some very positive feedback.”

The carrier most recently returned to a series of European cities, while it has also been at the forefront of Covid-19 testing.

Over the summer months, when demand is traditionally low, even without a global pandemic raging, Dubai has also worked to develop new markets.

New types of visa are now on offer, both to those looking to ‘work-from-home’ in Dubai, or considering somewhere to retire.

Both are part of a wider plan to grow the emirate in new directions, explains Shayan: “As a destination we always need to look at how we can evolve, looking at different angles of how we can introduce different people to what is on offer here.

“There is a big belief at Dubai Tourism that this is a city for all, and we try to showcase that through products we have, as well as through the initiatives we launch.”

He adds: “The two new visas are an example of that.

“The retirement visa is pretty straightforward, it is aimed at people who have been to Dubai before, who have spent some time here and are looking for a destination which has sun, sea and sand.

“They know their retirement funds are doing well, there is no complicated paperwork, and it is an easy step forward.

“Secondly, I think the work visa is one of most exciting things we have done during the pandemic.

“In this new day-and-age, with people working from home, what better place to work from than by the pool here in Dubai?

“We have the perfect eco-system to support this market, and we have had major success in terms of enquiries on this – people asking how they can make the move.

“This is a nice alternative to people who might have travelled to Dubai, who can now spend some time here longer-term.”

As attention turns to next year, and a possible Covid-19 vaccine brings hope to the global hospitality market, Dubai is well placed to return to growth.

The rescheduled Expo 2020 Dubai will provide a focal point for the year, while there is optimism Covid-19 regulations might eventually be relaxed.

Shayan continues: “Expo 2020 Dubai will now take place in October next year, running into March 2022.

“There are a lot of fantastic people working on the project and they are looking into how best we can showcase the experience of an event of this kind in the post-pandemic world.

“I think, with the expo itself, it is really meant to be an event for all.

“A lot of people initially thought it was for a business market, but this is not the case – it is very much aimed at the public, offering a chance to come and learn.

“The team, right now, are examining how they can come back stronger, to reassure everybody things are going to be managed well.”

In closing, Shayan says Dubai is now once again very much open for business: “Dubai is really open for all, and with the different protocols and measures we have put in place we are very confident we are ready to welcome people safely.

“The message is very much that we are ready.”

More Information

Dubai is considered the Middle East’s Leading Destination by voters at the World Travel Awards.

Find out more about visiting on the official website.