Australian expats missing out on Dubai's charms
Australian holidaymakers think Dubai is more stable and has a lower crime rate than most Middle Eastern countries, according to a new academic study.
Those interviewed for the project also said they believe Dubai is welcoming, especially compared to other Middle Eastern countries. They also see it as politically stable and a place where Westerners can easily adapt.
However, according to the study, most of those polled said they think Dubai lacks a clear identity and has no interesting cultural or historic sites. The findings have surprised Australian expats, who said their counterparts at home are clearly getting the wrong message.
Researchers interviewed 526 Australians, who see Dubai as being associated with “immense wealth, prestige, luxury, shopping gloss, expenses”, but few tourists expressed a strong desire in seeing it.
They cited one interviewee as saying the UAE was “maybe the most western country in the Middle East. We’ll I’m not going to the Middle East to see westerners”. Participants were questioned at length as part of focus groups. Another focus group member said: “It will probably in time develop its own personality or character, but not now.”
The authors said Dubai was a place Australians would feel safe compared to many Middle East destinations, but that it needs to develop more low-cost travel and also sharpen its identity internationally. Another focus group member praised Dubai’s “great engineering” but said it was competing for tourists with many other cities that also had great architecture and engineering.
The Australian research team, led by lecturer Romina Sharifpour, of the Queensland University Tourism School, recommended that Dubai focus more on for being a “gateway” destination for the Australian travellers passing through the region.
It also recommended that tourist officials try to include it in low-fare multi-city tours of the Middle East for Australian tourists.
Australian expats also urged tourism chiefs to make sure they are promoting all sides of the emirate. Brooke Sever, 27, from Renmark in South Australia, said Dubai misses the mark when it promotes itself as a “sun, sand and glitzy buildings” destination to Australians, insisting it should focus more on promoting its culture and nature.
“We’ve got better beaches, better weather and, in some cases, better architecture at home. If tourists from Down Under were more aware of the UAE’s other side - the bustling creek with its charming souks and abras, and the natural beauty of Saadiyat Island, for instance - they’d probably be more inclined to give it a go as a holiday destination.”
Sever would also like to see more emphasis on the variety Dubai has to offer.
“I recently took visitors to the Bastakiya district in the morning to see ‘old Dubai’, then to Apres for lunch overlooking the slopes at Ski Dubai and ended the day with a cocktail at 360 bar while we watched the sunset over the Burj Al Arab,” she said. “They were amazed that Dubai had so many different facets - and that we could see them all in a day.”
And Julian Greene, who has lived in the UAE for five years, agrees that the old parts of Dubai should be promoted more.
“We have some of world’s best beaches in Australia, so that’s not a big draw, and you can see malls anywhere,” Greene said. “People come to see Arab culture - the camels, the souks, the native dress, the mosques - here they can see it in a safe, stable city where you’re not going to get food poisoning or cramps like you can in other less hygienic parts of the Middle East - that’s a huge plus in Dubai’s favour.”
The report comes as Etihad Airways announced last month that it has bought a four per cent stake in Virgin Australia and hopes to increase the number of Australian tourists coming into the UAE.
Etihad and Virgin operate 24 flights a week between Abu Dhabi and Australia and plan to increase that number.
A spokesperson for the Dubai Department of Tourism said that the emirate was actively promoting its uniqueness through its recently launched ‘Do More In Dubai’ campaign, with the aim to increase tourism in the summer months by 25 to 30 per cent.
The department said in a statement that Dubai offers “a unique tourist experience” and is committed to having high hotel occupancy rates though promotions during Ramadan.
The Australian study is part of a much larger, yet-to-be-published report that examines the attitudes of people towards the UAE, Oman and Jordan.