Insights & Publications

How Can the UAE Attract More Chinese Tourists?

12 February 2018

Tourism is a key contributor to the UAE’s GDP and experts predict that it is role is set to grow. Travel and tourism is expected to make up 12.4 per cent of the UAE’s GDP by 2027. The latter is evident when comparing tourist numbers over recent years. In the first 9 months of 2017, Dubai attracted 11.58 million tourists, showing a 7.5 per cent growth as compared to 2016. The largest number of visitors came from India, followed by China. However, since the UAE government announced that Chinese tourists would be granted visa-on arrival, the number of Chinese tourist arrivals increased by 46%, which represents the largest growth in tourist numbers.

Also read: Dubai Tourism in 2017


Travel and tourism's contribution to UAE's GDP



Chinese tourists in UAE


Although 573,000 Chinese tourists visited the UAE in the first 9 months of 2017, the number only represents a small fraction of total Chinese tourists. In 2016, there were close to 135 million Chinese tourists internationally that spent $261 billion, and the figure is only expected to grow due to increasing holidays, easing travel restrictions and greater desire for new experiences. Understanding Chinese tourists’ travel habits and better catering to their needs can therefore be beneficial for the growth of tourism in an economy.

573,000 Chinese tourists visited the UAE in the first 9 months of 2017 Click To Tweet


Chinese tourists in UAE in 2017


Expenditure of Chinese tourists


Data from Ctrip, a travel service provider which compiles data on travel and tourism spending, suggests that Chinese tourists spend more on shopping than most other nationalities. The report also suggests that by 2023, China will be third on the list of visitor travel spending per trip by origin, after UAE and Brazil. Chinese tourists therefore have a great deal of market potential. Catering to their shopping needs could not only serve as a way to attract these tourists, but also creates further revenue generation opportunities.


Shopping expenditure by Chinese tourists


global ranking of international travel spending


How to attract Chinese tourists?

1) Provide affordable hotel options

China’s middle class is growing, creating an increased demand for travel. According to the China National Tourism Administration, more middle-class tourists from China in Q4 2017 led to an increased demand for affordable hotels. As a result, mid-range hotels experienced a 7.2% increase in room occupancy whereas high-end hotels only experienced a 0.7% increase. The UAE should therefore focus on building and promoting affordable hotels and encourage budget hotel chains such as YO! Company’s Yotel to open in the country.

2) Be present on Chinese social media channels

The average Chinese tourist is said to begin research for trips 3 months in advance. Research suggests that 38 per cent of these tourists use social media as part of their research process. WeChat and Weibo are some of the most popular social media platforms in China and visibility of destination cities on these platforms is therefore crucial. Weibo is considered to be the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Destinations could set up accounts to share pictures of attractions that may appeal to Chinese tourists. They could also create partnerships with Chinese social media influencers.

Use of social media by Chinese tourists


3) Create travel packages

Dubai and Abu Dhabi should offer group packages catered to Chinese tourists. According to a report by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), many Chinese leisure travellers prefer packaged group trips. The latter provides them with the comfort of a guide who speaks a familiar language and fellow tourists who they can communicate with. It also provides tourists with reduced air fares, lower accommodation rates and discounted ticket pricing for entertainment. Despite lower costs per traveller reducing benefits for the destination market, the destination would benefit from large visitor volumes. Although travel preferences are changing, and millennials prefer individual trips, the latter would help capture previous generations that represent a significant portion of the Chinese population.

4) Increase number of flights to major Chinese cities

A factor that the UAE can use to their advantage is their airlines, which are known to be some of the best in the world. By increasing the number of flights from key cities in China, they are likely to attract more visitors. Philippine Airlines has recently done something similar. They announced their plan to increase flights from China to boost tourism. Additionally, airlines should also invest in advertising themselves in China to raise awareness. They may also include Chinese food and Mandarin-speaking staff on board to ensure a luxurious yet familiar environment for tourists.

5) Organize Chinese holiday festivities

The UAE should take into consideration Chinese holidays, which typically differ from Western holidays. They should introduce special rates and packages for holidays such as Chinese New Year. Discounted rates for attractions and celebratory performances would further enhance the experience. In 2017, Thailand announced a tourism festival during the Chinese New Year.

6) Be culturally sensitive

A factor which is of immense importance to the Chinese, is the importance of symbolism in their culture. They associate certain flowers, numbers, and colours with specific characteristics. For instance, red is considered as a lucky colour and flowers must always match the colour of the vase. The latter could be of use to hotels placing flowers in guest rooms. Switzerland, for instance, released a set of guidelines titled “Swiss Hospitality for Chinese Guest” which educates the hospitality industry and teaches them to avoid things like assigning room numbers that may be considered unlucky in Chinese culture.

7) Promote high service standards

The Chinese are known to expect high service standards. From hotels to airlines to shopping and entertainment destinations, Chinese travellers would like to deal with efficient and attentive staff. If a destination could successfully become synonymous with good service, it is likely to attract the Chinese. The Australian government recognizes the importance of good service to Chinese visitors and mentions it on their official tourism website.

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