China has become the largest overseas market for Abu Dhabi for the first time, as the first quarter of this year saw 64,098 Chinese guest arrivals into Abu Dhabi, an increase of 99 per cent during the corresponding period the previous year – and an 82 per cent increase in guest nights at the emirate’s hotels and hotel apartments, to 91,449.
Booming China outbound travel is changing the global tourism landscape. In 2014, China surpassed the US to become the world’s largest outbound tourism market. Chinese travellers have also emerged as the largest travel spenders worldwide.
An eight-strong delegation, led by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and comprising hotels, travel agents, attractions and national airline Etihad Airways visited China for a five-city roadshow to help capitalise on the rapid growth of inbound tourism from the People’s Republic into the emirate.
“It is important for us to continue to build momentum in the China market and increase awareness about our portfolio of products across the emirate. China has now become our largest overseas source market for the very first time, overtaking the UK, India and Germany,” said Mubarak Al Nuaimi, director Promotions & Overseas Offices, TCA Abu Dhabi.
Clarence Tan, senior vice-president development Asia Middle East and Africa, IHG, helps explain the Chinese situation a little further. “During the turn of the century, the Middle East as a whole received about 63 million tourists, last year it was 73 million. The prediction is actually very scary if you believe in it – 179 million visitors by 2023.
“Where do you think these numbers will come from?” he asks.
The answer is Asia, of course. “Asian travellers may not form a big segment of the total travellers to the Middle East today. But by 2020, the middle class in China, India and Indonesia will count at more than 100 million. These travellers are very well versed with local travel within their own countries but they will be looking to go abroad.
“Interestingly, a big part of holy cities and religious travellers today is Chinese people, with its growing Muslim population, especially in Saudi Arabia. In Madina, Chinese travellers stay an average of seven days and in Makkah for six days.”
Sixty-two per cent of Chinese travellers to the Middle East come for leisure and their average spend in very high: $1,400 without the accommodation, explains Tan.
IHG enjoys a strong position in the Middle East. “We are the leading hotel company with 79 hotels in the region and 21,600 rooms,” says Tan. “That’s about 30 per cent of the total Asia Middle East and Africa portfolio that I look after. The key is to grow all brands across all sectors from mid-scale, upper upscale and luxury.”
Given the growing importance and great potential of the China outbound travel market, IHG launched Zhou Dao, a tailor-made programme designed to prepare its hotels to welcome Chinese travellers with a home-away-from-home experience. IHG has also invested in equipping its worldwide hotel staff with Chinese etiquette, culture and hospitality training.
Hilton Worldwide also announced the expansion of its own China programme, Hilton Huanying to more than 110 properties globally.
TCA Abu Dhabi’s Al Nuaimi has a similar view on things.
“To encourage a greater understanding of what we can offer, we recently welcomed 23 hotels, attractions and experiences into the Welcome Chinese programme in partnership with China Tourism Academy. We will also be hosting later this year the Meet China Summit – a key B2B networking forum and conference for travel industry professionals looking to capture more business from China.”
While there are already daily flights to Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways from Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai, a new daily service from Hong Kong launching on June 15 is expected to further boost inbound travel.
Nirvana Travel & Tourism, an Abu Dhabi-based travel company that specialises in cultural, adventure and tailor-made programmes to various destinations all over the world, joined the delegation.
Ahmed Abdelmawgoud, sales manager, says, “This year, our main focus is to increase our business from the Chinese market to reach Dh50 million ($13.6 million). During the roadshow, we will be meeting new companies and building fruitful relationships with them, as well as signing contracts. The Chinese market is now one of the biggest tourist markets worldwide and key to our continual growth and business plans.”
City Season Hotels director of Marketing and Brand Development, Elise Talj, said: “We have welcomed in excess of 7,000 Chinese travellers in 2014 and are expecting 12,000 Chinese travellers by the end of this year. We are also introducing Chinese speaking guest relation officers in our hotels. Our Royal Rose Hotel Abu Dhabi is already a certified gold member Welcome Chinese hotel and has the UnionPay scheme enabled.”
By Rashi Sen
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