Luxury Chinese Travel to the Middle East Hots Up; Chinese Travellers Seek New Silk Road Adventure

What are the opportunities for Middle-Eastern and North African brands trying to attract the luxury Chinese traveller?

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had previously lagged in popularity, but is now witnessing a boom in Chinese visitors. Growth is being driven by local travel incentives introduced into the region, including visas on arrival for Chinese nationals visiting the UAE, and the rising sophistication of Chinese travellers who are seeking new destinations off the beaten path. In addition, China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which cuts through the region, has the potential to put MENA on the map for travel savvy Chinese.

Closer Ties and Increasing Visitor Numbers

This week, China approved visa-free travel for UAE nationals, with Emiratis able to stay for 30 days, signifies further high-level ties between the nations.

In Abu Dhabi, plans to attract 600,000 Chinese tourists a year by 2021 would represent a 265 percent increase on recent figures. China is Abu Dhabi’s largest overseas market, with recently released figures showing that 334,000 Chinese guests stayed there in 2017, a 63 percent increase on 2016.

In Dubai, 540,000 tourists arrived from China in 2016, up from 450,000 a year earlier and cementing the country’s place as a top 10 source market for the emirate.

Thirteen Chinese cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as Hong Kong and Taipei, are connected to Dubai with more than 100 weekly flights.

New Service, New Tech, New Collaborations, Especially for Chinese Visitors

The popularity of Dubai in particular was clearly confirmed with the city being one of the first to collaborate with WeChat and its new WeChat mini-program city guide, which includes informative text and maps, helping Chinese travellers to explore different attractions, shops and restaurants through photos and audio guides.

In December 2017, a selection of luxury hotels owned by Emaar Hospitality Group received the award for ‘Chinese Preferred Hotel’ from CTrip, having met standards for guest service especially pertianing to Chinese visitors. These are aspects such as Mandarin-speaking staff and language throughout the property, as well as uptake of Alipay and WeChat pay. The properties were Palace Downtown, and the Address hotels on Boulevard, Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina.

Some hotels are already realising the need to be specific and targeted with the preferences of Chinese luxury travellers. Armani Hotel Dubai recently launched a collaboration with Kee Club in Shanghai, launching a series of high-end dining events in Shanghai, with Armani Hotel Dubai’s Chef. Kee Club members can also benefit from special room rates and benetifts. The hotel’s GM, Mark Kirby, said “China, in particular Shanghai, is one of our most promising destinations that has tremendous potential to build our relationship with Chinese visitors.”

The Luxury Conversation spoke with a few experts on the region:

Simon Press, Arabian Travel Market Senior Exhibition Director:

“It’s crucial that tourist hubs throughout the Middle East maximise their reach into mega-markets such as China. Demand cycles, budget trends, tech-savvy hotels, food and beverage, sightseeing, culture and heritage centres, can easily be met in many key destinations across the region.”

Elie Milky, Vice President for Business Development in the Middle East, Carlson Rezidor:
“We run nine hotels in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and we will open another 14 resorts by 2019. This is mainly because of the fast-growing number of guests from Asia, China in particular. All of our hotels in the Middle East employ Mandarin-speaking staff.”


Pascal Gauvin, IHG Chief Operating Officer for India, the Middle East and Africa:

“If a customer stays an average of 1.9 or 2 nights in Dubai, [the Chinese] stay an average of 7.3 nights. That’s a huge difference. They stay longer than anybody else because they don’t only go to one place for one event, they like to go to a place to shop, to do all of the sightseeing around it, take their time. The Chinese like activities, and Dubai is an active city, there’s always new things to do.”

Luxury Conversation Takeaways:

  • Chinese website and offline material translation is just the start. Excite Chinese travellers while they are at home with constant social media activity, and use WeChat for it’s wealth of communications functions, for special loyalty programs, bookings deals and more.
  • One word: selfies. Chinese people, especially, love to share with their contacts back home about every new thing they have tried. They want to hit all the checklists of a region — whether that’s dune-buggy or jeep driving or camel-riding in the desert, going to the ‘highest’ building in the city, the ‘most famous’ cultural attraction, the ‘best’ restaurant available. A hotel should be able to fully arrange all activities for them.
  • Collaborate — not only with the best Chinese KOLs for travel, but with people like designers, artists and also respected venues, whether a bar, restaurant, hotel or museum in China. As well as knowledge, this gains credibility and trust.
  • Target your consumers on the right Chinese travel app. Understand the power of a luxury brand x digital in China. Ctrip and are the big ones, but there are many other ways to get directly in touch with the enormous and growing base of Chinese travellers.

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