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Dubai hospitality: poolside luxe versus Gen Z entertainments

The future of Dubai tourism could evolve towards more carefree, young travellers who crave new experiences on holiday

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For younger visitors, Dubai's sun, sea and sand is becoming secondary to the bright lights of Downtown Dubai

Discussing ‘the future’ in Dubai, especially in the hospitality industry, is unlike discussing it elsewhere. 

While for other destinations the future comprises three, five, and ten-year plans, in Dubai, the future can be as early as next month. As forward thinking as they come, Dubai is a place that helps define a trendsetter, rather than a follower. 

And so, when I sat down with other industry leaders as part of The Future Hospitality Summit last week, we all agreed on one thing, standing still in this city is something that is not an option. 

Indeed, by the end of this year alone, an estimated 10,000 new hotel rooms will be added to the city’s inventory, while new retail and restaurant spaces are opening all the time, offering some of the finest culinary and shopping experiences in the world.

While for existing businesses, this all may sound incredibly daunting, the continued increase in demand for visiting Dubai proves that, if done correctly, there can be space in the city for all. 

Indeed, over seven million people visited Dubai in the first half of this year, and with the emirate’s tourist visas being extended from 30 days to 60, it’s clear that Dubai is continuing to unrelentingly pursue its goal of becoming the world’s most visited destination.

What is also clear is that the perception of Dubai is changing. Previously, it was the guarantee of year-round sun and soft sand beaches dotted with palm trees that sparked feelings of wanderlust, but the beach has now become secondary to the vibrant bright lights of Downtown Dubai. 

Tent, Soil, Camping
Iconic music festival Tomorrowland is opening Terra Solis, a ‘glamping’ retreat in the Dubai desert for partygoers and star-gazers

You need only look to the changing demographic of visitors to the emirate to see why this is the case. With those arriving at Dubai International Airport becoming younger and younger, they are generation Z travellers whose main priorities are the basics and a great location, as opposed to the more opulent offerings of the Palm Jumeirah. 

A more carefree generation who are perhaps more immune to the effects of a global recession than others, this is a new wave of travellers who crave experience-led vacations rather than lounging by the poolside.

That is not to say they can’t combine both – indeed, one of Dubai’s main advantages is its versatility – but with Dubai the fourth most geotagged location on social media, for gen Z, space exclusivity and tailored journeys that allow them to capture content are key.

Away from their smartphones, it’s also these younger travellers who are also more conscious of environmental issues.

Although sustainability should never be about profit, it’s clear that those businesses who don’t find ways to reduce their environmental impact will suffer.

With inaction simply inexcusable to the younger traveller, it should be no surprise that sustainable brands such as the Six Senses resort continue to grow in popularity. 

What is also inexcusable is inconsistency. While I may have used the word ‘carefree’ earlier, make no mistake, businesses should be clear that these gen Z travellers know what they like, and know what they want.

With a wealth of information and options at their fingertips, ensuring consistency, especially in the food and beverage sector, and having clearly defined concepts that differ from competitors is crucial.

And finally, when we look to the future, and we look at more ways to attract tourists to Dubai, we also shouldn’t forget those that already call Dubai their home.

All tourists will leave at some point, and so it’s crucial that the industry tailors its approach to those who work and live in the city.

Ever-evolving menus and concepts to keep things fresh and wallet-friendly packages such as Business Lunches and Happy Hours can ensure that a local becomes a regular for life, something a tourist will very rarely be.

Naim Maadad is CEO and founder of Gates Hospitality, and treasurer of UAE Restaurant Group

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