Destination Readiness and Innovation in a New Era

By 20 March 2021April 12th, 2021Sustainability

Destination Readiness and Innovation in a New Era – Part 1

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By Julie King

Interview with Issam Kazim

The first destination that we will be showcasing is Dubai. In Part 1, we hear how Dubai as a destination has adapted to the challenges they faced and overcame, new measures that they have put in place and how collaboration has assisted this process.

Julie King welcomed Issam Kazim, who is the CEO of the Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM).

As we know, the global pandemic decimated tourism completely, but Dubai was one of the first destinations, to reopen in July, which is almost five months ago now. What I’d love to know is how challenging was that for you and Dubai Tourism, and what measures were put in place to ensure confidence from visitors coming back to the destination?

It was already a record-breaking start to the year when the pandemic hit the world in March, and the global lockdowns began. We quickly saw it as an opportunity to regroup while making sure we had all measures in place to ensure public safety and well-being.

In Dubai, we made sure we had all the health, safety, and isolation measures in place to ensure that we had the best management possible.

We looked at a phased approach to see what the tourism market start-up could look like. So we regrouped as a team, looked at our plans, and revisited those plans regularly. We looked at a June, September, and December market opening up with different scenarios. We even looked at market by market to ensure that we are not tied down to one or the other, because we know that this, is a situation where everything is in flux, and anything can happen at any time.

Some markets might take longer than others to recover. We wanted to be prepared. So, in a nutshell, that’s the approach that we took, and we also made sure that we had different messages for each of the markets we were looking at.

One of the mandates of DCTCM involves classifying all of the accommodation and experiences within Dubai. Was that something that had to go through quite a rigorous review to ensure public safety and hygiene?

Absolutely. In Dubai we had the COVID command centre – we worked closely with them and had daily briefings with all relevant authorities during lockdown and also kept in close contact with WHO.

The government put a lot of initiatives in place in cleaning up and looking after the hygiene of different areas. Then, once the city-wide cleaning had happened, we went into the private sector, the malls and restaurants and so on, making sure that those are also up to the standard.

The Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing rolled out a new programme called Dubai Assured as a brand with a sticker to display as an assurance to guests, residents and visitors that they are safe and meet all the requirements. Our inspectors monitor this at least every two weeks to ensure regulations and policies are being followed.

Our Dubai Assured programme and all of these things that we are doing helped us get recognised on a global front by the WTTC who then awarded us the safe cities stamp as well.

Did that go across other parts of the industry as well, or was it mainly the accommodation establishments?

It goes across every touchpoint for any of the visitors, or the residents, so it covered malls, restaurants, attractions, it covered hotels and even some of the public spaces as well.

We also met with all the stakeholders from the ecosystem; from the hotels, the retailers and everybody else. We have regular sessions with them. It used to be quarterly, now at least monthly but during lockdown we used to have these briefings once a week to keep them abreast of all the changes and everything that’s happening.

I know many government initiatives were put in place at the beginning to provide that support to the industry. Could you talk about those as well?

Well, as you know, tourism is the number one export in Dubai, and it was the hardest hit sector, so the government has put incentive packages in place since the pandemic began. So far these add up to roughly 6.3 billion dirhams.

During our briefings with the stakeholders, we encouraged our partners from both the private and public sector to share their concerns and highlight what areas they would like to see addressed. We made sure those concerns were then taken up to the highest level within the government to ensure that there is a continuous dialogue about the support that is needed.

“Our local community of over 200 nationalities took it very seriously and supported the rigorous government cleaning and testing processes.”

I’m sure this collaboration will be the envy of many countries where their tourism industries are having challenges with government around the world in trying to lobby them to support the tourism industry in the right way.

The success of Dubai has been based on the fact that Dubai as a City has never thought of itself as a government and different government departments. It has always, always acted like a private corporation. And so when a decision is made, or an idea comes up, it’s shared with the private and public sector. Then it’s about how they quickly bring both sides together, all pushing in the same direction, and that is why decisions and changes can be made very quickly.

There was also close collaboration with Emirates. Many positive actions came out of that collaboration, ensuring from the medical safety perspective, travellers had COVID-19 coverage and were adequately insured.

One of the questions we have often in this part of the world is will a tourism bubble between Australia and Dubai be happening soon. Are you aware of any of the government discussions?

Currently, I would say I am not able to give a more specific answer, but we are working towards making ensuring that we have quick turnaround times on tests and at the same time, the bilateral discussions are taking place to ensure that all governments are happy and extremely comfortable and confident in what Dubai and the UAE are doing. The UAE doesn’t want to put any additional restrictions to people coming back; that’s another important consideration for us.

From a Dubai Department of Tourism perspective, once we have made sure that the safety measures are in place, we look to open up more and more markets and getting things back to normal, whatever the new normal might be as quickly as possible.

In many cases, our PCR tests can come back in half a day, but unfortunately, because of the demand, sometimes it can take longer than that. If people are taking long breaks, the last thing that they want to do is spend two days, or three days in quarantine while they await the results.

In Part 2, Issam describes how Dubai has shifted marketing and introduced exciting new initiatives in preparation for international tourism, moving into the ‘new normal.’

“As an industry we weren’t solving the problems that really mattered. We were disconnected from each other and not leading the way.”

Julie King
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