Creating the Dubai tourism experience

Dubai’s Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing is utilising new technology and platforms to support the tourism sector and create new standards for visitors to the Emirate

Tags: Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing - DubaiSmart governmentTourismUnited Arab Emirates
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Creating the Dubai tourism experience Ahmad AlFalasi, CEO, Corporate Services and Investment, Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  November 2, 2017

Dubai’s tourism sector is one of the success stories of the Emirate, with a thriving tourism sector springing up in barely the space of two decades. Today Dubai has become the fourth most visited city in the world, with the world’s busiest airport for passengers, and tourism has become an essential part of strategic development plans for the Emirate.

While many of the players in the tourism and travel sector are private companies, the government of Dubai has taken a leading role in shaping the sector and in managing the growth and development of the industry. The Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, (Dubai Tourism), has led these efforts, and today it is focused on the entire strategic direction of the sector in Dubai, and on serving both tourists and the needs of the private operators.

Ahmad AlFalasi, CEO corporate services and investment, Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, said that the tourism sector has been an early adopter of technology in many different areas, and that Dubai Tourism aims to support the changing demands of the market.

“Tourism is one of the industries that I believe is an early disruptor. Customers have become much more sensitive, it is continuously evolving and we are aware that there are more ideas that are going to come up in the industry, we need to support,” AlFalasi said.

Dubai Tourism has been keen to engage early with disruptors such as Airbnb and Uber, he added, and to understand the requirements of the operators and the customers, as well as to align with the strategic objectives of Smart Dubai. In terms of technology adoption and services roll out, Dubai Tourism has been keen to look at the overall strategic picture rather than focus on app releases or online services. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, has set a target of attracting twenty million visitors to Dubai by 2020, double the number attracted in 2012, and Dubai Tourism aims to support the private sector to meet this goal, and to use digital to attract and satisfy tourists.

The strategic support for the sector has extended in a number of directions, AlFalasi explained. One aspect of the goal of twenty million tourists is to create year-round attractions to bring in visitors and to promote Dubai outside of seasonal peaks. Part of this involved working with event organisers to help them promote their events, and to help them address any areas for improvement or challenges.

One such concern that was raised through discussion and work with the events sector, was the amount of time it could take to get the necessary permits for an event.

Depending on the event, in the past organisers may need permissions from the RTA, Police, Municipality, Dubai Economic Department and so on, and approvals could take as much as one month. Dubai Tourism created a single gateway for all permission, with one fee, with integration with all the relevant departments, so that approvals can be issued in five days, although they often only take one or two days, he said.

Another requirement of events was the need to issue paper-based tickets for all events, through which the government takes a ten percent fee. Across the private sector stakeholders, including the event organisers and the ticketing agencies, there was varying degrees of readiness to switch to electronic ticketing, so Dubai Tourism took the decision to mandate the switch, while also creating business models and e-services which would ensure that all parties could participate in issuing and accepting e-tickets, and that the tourists would gain the best service.

The ticketing services also tie into Dubai Tourism’s first app, Dubai Calendar, which was created to promote events to tourists. The first version of Dubai Calendar was mainly an events listing, but this was updated to enable users to buy tickets to events through the app, and in future versions, there are plans to integrate ticket buying with other online services, and to reserve blocks of tickets so that tourists can still get tickets for popular events.

“We are working very closely with the industry to enable them to become much more successful,” AlFalasi said. “Our aim is that the tourists might extend their length of stay, it is part of our strategy to get more tourists into Dubai. Having a happy tourist is our objective, and we are keen to make their experience amazing so they invite their friends and family to Dubai.”

In terms of engagement with tourists, Dubai Tourism has been careful not just to rely on a single app or website, but rather to look at the entire digital ecosystem of platforms and presence, AlFalasi said. Social media forms an important part of the interaction, to attract visitors and inspire them to visit Dubai, so Dubai Tourism has worked on digital marketing to promote the city through various social channels and travel platforms. The Dubai Tourism website provides an informational resource for visitors for things like visa requirements, while apps including Visit Dubai, the official Dubai Tourism app, help visitors to plan their visit and access services during their stay. The department then works with social media as a good follow-up platform to share content after their visit.

There are plans to expand the Visit Dubai app, with new features, more languages and more social media integration, although this is just one area where Dubai Tourism is looking to deploy new technologies.

In line with Smart Dubai’s initiatives, Dubai Tourism is working towards open data, and enabling sharing of data with the private sector for the benefit of the tourism industry. Confidentiality, and ensuring visitors that their data is being handled properly is extremely important, but one particular technology that may provide a solution in this area and several others is blockchain.

AlFalasi said that Dubai Tourism is considering a number of potential uses for blockchain, starting with enabling it for ticket sales. Other possible areas include hotel booking, communications between hotels and travel agents, room inventory marketing, and other services where a secure, authenticated, and confidential transaction might be required.

“Blockchain will enable a lot of things that we are not able to do because of confidentiality. I can share customer information, without sharing confidential information, acknowledge transactions and support tourists, without tourists being concerned about their information,” he said.

Another important area where blockchain may play a role, is in developing the ‘frictionless’ tourist experience, AlFalasi added. Dubai Tourism is evaluating projects that will involve integration between government departments such as immigration and customs, airlines and hotels, to enable tourists to move straight through the airport without the need for separate checks for each department, through to hotel check in, by securely sharing data among all parties. The idea is to create a smooth process and a superior experience for the visitor.

Dubai Tourism is also supporting the quality of the visitor experience through delivering a standardised set of training, called the Dubai Way. This program will deliver standardised training for any personnel, public or private sector, across a variety of roles, who interact with tourists. Dubai Tourism has worked with a leading training provider to develop the courses, which will be delivered digitally, with high levels of interactivity and gamification to encourage users to get the most from the courses. The scheme is intended to create a single customer-oriented model so that visitors can have the same high expectations of all their interactions in Dubai.

The aim for Dubai Tourism is to build on the strength of the private sector, and to leverage technology to elevate the Dubai experience to new levels, AlFalasi said: “We are capitalising on our strength, we have a very healthy private sector, and this helps us to evolve and develop the latest technology. We are not going to stick with the same capabilities, we are evolving with the industry and we are pushing the industry to learn more capabilities to engage.”

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