Failing to start, the summer has come to an end. As always, in anticipation of the high tourist season, kicks off in the United Arab Emirates into the fall, as well as traditional INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION OF TRAVEL AND TOURISM "REST / LEISURE-2011" in Moscow, we met with M. Mani Chacko, Group President ROYAL PARK TOURISM SERVICES TO TALK ABOUT THE PROSPECTS OF THE TOURISM INDUSTRY AND PLANS FOR THE FUTURE.
Mr. Mani, let's talk about what Royal Park Tourism Services has achieved in recent years in the markets of Russia and the CIS. Is there any evidence that the tourism sector is emerging from the crisis?
To begin with, I would like to thank our partners, with whose help and support we were able to succeed, thanks to their exceptional desire, hard work and ability to conduct business.
Royal Park has been working with tourists from Russia and the CIS for the past 19 years. This is a rather long time, and I am happy that our sales throughout this period were stable, without any jerks. We are very pleased to work with tourists from Russia and the CIS. Last year showed fantastic sales results, and the year 2011-2012, I believe, will be the best for Dubai as one of the favorite tourist destinations among tourists from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
You named the three largest countries in the CIS, does this mean that it is from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan that the largest number of tourists flies to the UAE?
Yes, these countries are traditionally the largest of our target markets. We began preparations for the new tourist season, which starts in September. This time they approached this issue even more carefully than usual. We must be sure that all the needs and requirements of our tourists and partners will be taken into account. In other words, the number of tourists is increasing every day, and our figures show that this increase has already reached 100%. Therefore, we must be prepared for new realities.
What is being done for this?
Already, we have begun to improve the infrastructure of the company, we are opening new divisions, including a department for working with VIP-clients. Prior to this, we, of course, received and served VIP tourists, however, the number of such tourists is increasing, and their requirements are qualitatively different from the mass market. And we must be completely sure that we are ready to receive especially important persons and celebrities. Therefore, the first thing we will pay increased attention to in the coming season is a more personalized approach and service for customers.
The second point that we must take into account is the entry into the Russian tourist market of new tour operators starting to work with such a destination as the United Arab Emirates, as well as an increase in the number of flights of low-cost carriers, including Air Arabia and Flydubai to the largest cities of Russia and Ukraine. This trend will entail an increase in tourist flow from the post-Soviet regions, so we must also carefully prepare for the influx of tourists from there. In Dubai, a new era of tourism from Russia and the CIS begins, a feature of which will be a new class of travelers, who before that were not very many in the Emirates.
Please specify which categories of tourists do you mean?
Firstly, this is the middle class of travelers who can afford more affordable flights with low cost carriers. We also expect an increase in tourist flow due to those tourists who traditionally chose Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco as their vacation spots. Now, due to the unstable situation in many countries of the region, the UAE is the only alternative for many travelers.
Do these tourists choose Dubai for themselves, or are they also interested in such emirates as Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Fujairah or Ras Al Khaimah?
First of all, it is, of course, Dubai with its city and beach hotels. Then, interest shifts towards Sharjah beach hotels, then to other emirates, such as Ras Al Khaimah or Fujairah. But I want to note that we are experiencing an increased demand for trips to the UAE from the most diverse categories of travelers.
And when in November Emirates airline starts direct flights from Dubai to St. Petersburg, I believe that we will get a fresh stream of tourists who will be much more comfortable to get to the Emirates by direct flights from the northern capital of Russia. Add to this the plans of Air Arabia (Sharjah) and Flydubai (Dubai) for direct flights to major cities and see that almost all the major regions of the Russian Federation will soon have direct air links with the Emirates. And this speaks only about one thing - the UAE tourism and hospitality industry, having adjusted its policy during and after the crisis, is gradually recovering from the global financial recession. Therefore, the upcoming season promises to be very “hot”.
What is necessary for the implementation of all plans for the season?
The basis of the basics is the best prices for hotel accommodation. We must predict what demand will be. To do this, we need to anticipate how many tourists and from which regions of Russia and the CIS countries we will receive and serve. I am talking about all categories of accommodation, from city and beach hotels in Dubai to hotels and resorts in Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah.
The second important point is the number of our employees. We need to prepare a sufficient number of Russian-speaking people who can carry out meeting-seeing off at the airport at the highest level.
Do not forget about transport services, because if the demand for excursions increases, it is necessary that the company has reliable and certified vehicles, qualified drivers, as well as a sufficient number of licensed guides. Last year, for example, 45 qualified tour guides worked with us, and the season showed that this number was not enough.
I must say that thanks to the large-scale marketing of Dubai as a year-round tourism destination carried out by the Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing of the Government of Dubai (DTCM) in Russia, the Baltic States and the CIS, we see that tourist flows from these regions do not dry out even in the summer, and this summer proof of that. This means that all players in the tourism sector of the emirate need to constantly improve the existing infrastructure. This is the secret to success.
How do large and well-established players in the Russian tourism market behave in this situation of increased demand for Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, and what do newcomers do?
Many companies that have been working with the United Arab Emirates for a long time have begun to pursue a more aggressive marketing policy on the eve of the new season, and market newcomers who want to work with the UAE have already started arriving in Dubai in the spring and in the first summer months to negotiate, conclude contracts and gain support local travel agencies. Many tour operators from Russia and the CIS in the summer organized study tours for their agencies. In a word, preparations for the season have already begun and are being carried out very actively, long before the traditional September exhibition "Rest 2011" in Moscow. This annual international exposition will simply start the season, however it will be too late to talk about building partnerships or contracts. In general, everything happens as in the Russian proverb "Prepare a sleigh in the summer." That's all they cook.
You didn’t have the feeling that there was a need to open a Royal Park branch in the emirate’s capital due to the rapid development of tourist infrastructure in Abu Dhabi?
Of course, for the long-term, opening your own branch in Abu Dhabi is a good idea that requires detailed study. In the meantime, tourists at the international airport of the emirate capital are met and served by our employees from the Dubai office.
How high is the demand from tourists from Russia, the CIS and Baltic countries for new hotels in Abu Dhabi built on Yas Island near the Formula 1 racing track?
Demand for new Abu Dhab hotels is not great. I believe that these hotels need to better advertise their opportunities in such promising markets as Russia, the Baltic countries and the CIS, if they want to attract tourists. If these hotels can offer decent prices, a high level of service and interesting conditions, then most likely they will very soon become very popular, since the market of tourism and hospitality of the Emirates is very capacious, and there is always a demand for any offer if it is good. I would say: "The best win."
Do frequent visitors from Russia and the CIS practice combined tours, say, a few days in Dubai, and then somewhere else on the East coast of the UAE?
Yes, such a practice exists. Often Russian tourists, especially during school holidays, arrive in the United Arab Emirates for at least two weeks. Agree, it’s very boring to live all this time in one hotel, even the most luxurious one. There are mountains on the East Coast, and the climate is slightly different. Therefore, we offer them to live a few days in Fujairah or Ras Al Khaimah, and then move to Dubai, which is famous for its shopping and entertainment centers. Such a rest brings much more joy and gives a different impression. Previously, we could not always quickly and efficiently draw up such a tour due to the lack of hotel rooms, now the situation has changed for the better, and I think the demand for combined tours will grow.
Many market experts say that in Dubai, the supply in the hotel sector will exceed demand. Is it so?
It seems to me that for every offer (it’s good when it is), it will always be possible to form a demand. And here a lot also depends on pricing policy. At a time when housing prices are declining, demand is increasing, which means that there is an appropriate segment of tourists who are able to purchase this tourist product. And if experts say that in a couple of years there will be more than 90 thousand hotel rooms in Dubai, then due to the increase in air travel, the marketing policy of the Department of Tourism of Dubai and the active work of local tour operators, they will be filled. Thus, the balance between supply and demand is automatically stabilized.
Mr. Mani, and in conclusion I would like to know what would you like to wish your partners in the upcoming season?
We are very optimistic about the upcoming season and sincerely wish our dear partners good luck. Growth prospects are very obvious, which will be beneficial for everyone. Recognition by hoteliers will attract even more tourists to the UAE. And this is a good opportunity to become leaders, considering the UAE as a year-round tourist destination and highlighting new segments in the market.
Thank you Mr. Mani for the informative conversation and optimistic forecasts for the upcoming high season. Allow me to wish you good luck and say goodbye to its end, then to summarize together.
Thank you very much. See you at the exhibition "Rest-2011" in Moscow.