The Royal Opera House, Muscat

From camel beauty contests, dhow racing, falconry and other traditions rooted in Bedouin culture and heritage, it appears that the Middle East is broadening its tourism offerings to attract a wider market, especially to families and those seeking unique, enriching and authentic travel experiences.

As the Middle East moves away from its historic reliance on oil, tourism is heralded as a key driver of the region’s economy, placing significant importance on harnessing new trends and developing sustained growth to attract international visitor arrivals.

This was the focus of the Arabian Travel Market, the leading international travel and tourism event for inbound and outbound tourism professionals.  Staged in Dubai in its 24th year, it showcased over 2,500 exhibiting companies each reflecting the trend in “Experiential Travel”

Armed with bold masterplans, mega theme parks, new entertainment concepts and a diverse portfolio of hotel properties in place across the Middle East, the event unveiled future plans and exciting developments to attract the increasingly demanding global traveller. Authenticity, connectivity and sociability were key factors in creating tourism of the future in the region

Today’s travellers want to be immersed in the destination and live like a local whether it means learning to cook traditional dishes, stay in family homes, learn from museums and shop in the backstreets. A yearning for culture and history is becoming far more important than sunbathing, beaches and shopping.

Address Boulevard

Dubai has experienced an increase of 127% in the number of visitors to its popular museums and galleries. This figure will be boosted over the coming 24 months with the opening of the Museum of The Future this year and Mohammed Bin Rashid Library in 2018. As for entertainment, last year saw the opening of Dubai Opera while this year will welcome La Perle, a 1,300-seat purpose-build state of the art theatre, which will offer 450 performances per year. It marks the first time in the region that a show will become a permanent live destination-defining attraction all year round, based on a water theme.

Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi will increase its appeal when the first of its highly-anticipated museums opens later this year. By 2020, the island will be home to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Zaha Hadid designed, Zayed National Museum.

In the Sultanate of Oman, the $120 million Majarat Oman futuristic theme park will add to its existing 18 museums, four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Royal Opera House Muscat and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

The United Arab Emirates now ranks as the world’s fastest-growing theme park market as the country’s spending in this area is forecast to grow six-fold to US$637 million by 2020. Smart technology will enhance visitor experience with the use mobile apps for ride wait times.

The growth in theme parks and range of entertainment options is hoped to lead to a rise in the average length of stay. IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts opened in Dubai last year while Abu Dhabi is set to welcome the $1 billion Warner Bros. theme park on Yas Island in 2018

Sports tourism is also spiking visitor arrivals with key events such as the annual Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, the Dubai World Cup and the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

A place to stay will never be a problem with the number of glitzy high rise hotels opening and under development. The Address Boulevard, in Downtown Dubai has just opened its doors. It’s styled on a Parisian apartment with interesting art pieces dotted around, impressive high ceilings, glittering chandeliers and afternoon tea served in a jewellery box.

Dukes Hotel, in comparison, is a slice of British hospitality in residence on Dubai’s Palm.  Here you can experience Dubai as a local by tucking into Cod & Chips in its signature Great British Restaurant, sipping on Martinis in the Dukes Bar or enjoying the facility of the dedicated ladies-only Duchess floor complete with Liberty furnishings, if, of course, you are a woman.


Jane Wilson, Editor of The Healthcare Holiday