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City of Gold: Dubai's Rise to Tourism Power

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© Getty Images Beach in Dubai. Panoramic view. (photo via Marrfa / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

By Lark Ellen Gould, TravelPulse

Dubai is a paradox in motion.

It sits at the edge of a vast desert, cooled by the breezes from the Persian Gulf. The pearl fishers that once populated the land are long gone and their wattle-and-frond domiciles have given way to gleaming towers that reach for the heavens in a skyline that is most famous, perhaps, for harboring the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

Dubai also houses some of the biggest shopping malls on the planet, lavish fountains bursting in cascades of light and sound, ice palaces with indoor ski slopes and other phantasmagoric attractions that belie its stark desert surroundings.

Sometimes referred to as the “City of Gold” because of its rapid transformation into a global business hub, Dubai is also emerging as a leading force in tourism. The destination attracted 14.24 million visitors last year, 800,000 of those from the Americas, with the U.S. serving as the sixth-largest market.

The city offers some 102,000 hotel rooms, and that number is expected to grow to 134,000 by the end of 2018. More than 70 of these hotels are in the five-star category but would deserve six- or seven-star ratings if such categories officially existed.

Hotel occupancy remains high all year—averaging 70 percent, and higher for the luxury brands. Leisure visitors will want to stay along the gulf-facing resort strip of Jumeirah Beach.

Dozens of resorts are here—from the uber-luxurious Burj al Arab to such three- and four-star family brands as Holiday Inn Express, Ramada, Rotana, Doubletree, and Radisson Blu. Guests will find all the beach, pool, spa, shopping—and even theme park action—one might crave.

It is also not difficult to find a wide range of North American hospitality brands in Dubai—including Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, Hilton, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Four Points, W, Westin, and more. However, Dubai-based brands, such as Emirates and Jumeirah, should be considered for those who want added touches of luxury. Everything is new here, as Dubai only began emerging as a tourism destination in the 1990s.

There are plenty of destination management companies (DMCs) to help you tailor one-of-a-kind excursions and experiences for your clients. “Travel professionals can use a hand with Dubai. There is a lot to know,” said Renata Graham, CEO of Graham International. Formerly the U.S. marketing representative for Dubai Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Graham now assists Desert Adventures in interfacing with travel professionals in North America.

“Desert Adventures is a leading DMC in Dubai and can deliver up what the United Arab Emirates has in store,” she said, from “well-appointed hotel accommodations to intriguing and engaging sightseeing tours,” as well as desert excursions, bargain shopping, and fine-dining experiences.”

In Deira, Dubai’s oldest neighborhood, your clients will find the Gold and Spice Souks, art galleries, notion shops and coffee houses. The truly curious can head to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and spend an afternoon talking to a local (likely wealthier than a Hilton heir) about the ways of the desert, the ways of the Beni Yas tribe, and the ways of the desert falcon—with lunch included.

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