Photo: Dinosaurs are a part of a collection of 69 animatronic creatures, created by Japanese company Kokoro, which are now installed at IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai, scheduled to open August 2016 / IMG Worlds of Adventure
DUBAI - Developers and hospitality groups in the UAE are increasingly expanding their focus to capture the lucrative family-friendly tourism market, and by doing so, they are also catering to the halal travel segment.
Since a huge proportion of Muslim tourists travel with children and parents, having family-friendly accommodation such as hotel apartments increases the attractiveness of a destination, according to the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2016.
Activities are also evaluated on their family friendliness. As such, some Muslims prefer to avoid facilities that serve alcohol, have discotheques or are adjacent to a gambling resort, the travel index reports.
The UAE ticks off all of these boxes – gambling is prohibited in the country and many hotels do not serve alcohol or house nightclubs.
“We’re very well-positioned in the UAE to continue to encourage Islamic tourism. With the emphasis that the country has placed on family tourism, this really does attract that particular segment of tourists,” Gerald Lawless, head of tourism at Dubai Holding, told Salaam Gateway.
Tamani Marina for example, which was named one of the top three Halal Hotel Apartments in the UAE at the World Halal Tourism Exhibition 2015, offers family-sized suites that can accommodate six adults and two children. In addition, the hotel’s swimming pool and gym are reserved for female guests twice a week, two hours each day.
Similarly, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Jumeirah Beach Residence recently launched a new three-bedroom suite that can accommodate six adults and two children. The hotel said it would target family travellers especially from the GCC region.
Although neither of the properties are listed on CrescentRating, a system which evaluates the halal-friendliness of hotels, both of them maintain an alcohol-free policy since establishment.
“We conducted a survey to get feedback from our guests on what made them choose our hotel and to our surprise, not only GCC visitors but also Europeans said they were more comfortable staying here with their families knowing that the hotel did not serve alcohol,” Sherif Elibrashy, director of sales and marketing at Tamani Marina told Salaam Gateway.
The mass shift towards family tourism is neither limited to Dubai nor to hotels. Across the seven emirates, tourism authorities are joining hands with private developers to create a haven for family travellers.
“I believe that cities around the world are creating new destinations which are more focused on family, values, and integrity,” Marwan Al Sarkal, CEO of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), told Salaam Gateway.
“This what Islam is about – providing a place where people can feel safe and not offended, whether by ladies wearing bikinis or guys having a drink in a pub. This is something we don’t encourage in Sharjah for example, and that’s what makes the emirate a destination that promotes a different proposition when it comes to tourism,” Al Sarkal said.
Sharjah has long been a leader in this market, partly due to banning alcohol in the emirate, and thanks to spectacular projects such as Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Montazah Amusement & Water Park, Mleiha Archaeological & Eco-tourism Project, and the newly opened Wasit Nature Reserve, which have boosted the emirate’s appeal to families.
With the recent launch of Shurooq’s ‘Sharjah My Family Destination’ campaign, the authority hopes to build on its recent achievements in the emirate, such as the 100 percent hotel occupancy witnessed during this year’s spring holiday.
In Ras Al Khaimah, eco-tourism holds the key to the future growth of the tourism sector. As Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority highlights, “We are not looking at competing, but complementing. You don’t see the Cote d’Azur racing to become the next Paris. Eco-tourism is where we are leveraging our national assets,”
“We grew by 6 percent in total visitors in 2015 over 2014, and we’re doubling our target to 12 percent growth reaching 820,000 visitors in 2016,” he said.
Meanwhile, the planned opening of two gigantic theme parks in Dubai before the end of 2016 will likely have the biggest impact on family tourism in the long run.
First, IMG Worlds of Adventure will open in August, bringing Cartoon Network, Marvel, Lost Valley-Dinosaur Adventure, and IMG Boulevard to the region. Two months later, the government-backed Dubai Parks and Resorts plans to open its doors to reveal the highly anticipated Legoland, Motiongate and Bollywood Parks.
Abu Dhabi, too, has embarked on additional family attractions alongside the existing Yas Waterworld. While Ferrari World is undergoing a third expansion phase that will add three new major rides by 2017, Miral Asset Management plans to open a Warner Bros theme park on Yas Island in 2018.
SAUDI, UAE FAMILIES LEAD
With such an enticing line-up of mega projects, it’s no surprise that HalalTrip, a sister brand of CrescentRating, ranked the UAE number one in its “Best 10 Family Destinations for 2016”.
Travel research website Wego ranked Dubai as the second-most popular city among Saudis for family travel after Istanbul. Having examined data trails on their website, Wego discovered that large searches for more than four travellers were regularly carried out from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
According to figures from Dubai's Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Saudi travellers accounted for nearly half of the 3.3 million GCC tourists who visited Dubai in 2015.
“Around 50 percent from Saudi Arabia and UAE are traveling with their extended family, and planning for these trips can be quite challenging. Very often, the responsibility of arranging the family’s travel plans falls on one person,” said Mamoun Hmedan, managing director of Wego Middle East, North Africa and India.
The answer possibly lies in the findings of a recent study commissioned by travel technology provider Amadeus. Titled Halal Travel 2016, the report found that women play an influential role in the travel decision process, planning and logistics.
“This is a cumbersome process where they are mostly relying on word of mouth, relatives and friends. Technology and social media are also essential, especially Instagram,” the report said.
In the mid-term, the UAE’s tourism sector will continue to rely on the safe environment that the country has become known for and the peaceful relations it has with its neighbors.
As Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing said at a panel session during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai at the end of April, “The region has been in the middle of negative noise for quite some time, so we need to show the positive energy that’s coming out of the UAE.”
© SalaamGateway.com 2016