Teenagers who have grown up in Dubai are internationally-minded, well-travelled young adults of the world, who have seen the city grow and have also welcomed a number of their visiting friends and family to the UAE. So what do they think of Dubai as a family holiday destination and what advice do they have for DTCM in the pursuit of ambitions to make Dubai the world’s family-friendly destination of choice? Hotel News ME, in association with TIME Hotels, finds out.
Over recent years Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has been heavily promoting its ambitions to appeal to the global family holiday industry, not only from the staple GCC markets, but from Europe, the US, Asia and Africa.
In 2014, DTCM director general, His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, said: “Dubai today is definitely a high-end destination, by which we mean affordable luxury. It’s not a destination that is only for the rich and famous, never has been – that’s a misperception. Dubai is a destination which caters to families and when you look at the type of hotels – it’s not about affordability.”
“We are not looking to go into mass tourism like some destinations. But what we are looking to do is maintaining Dubai’s affordable luxury, we are looking to make sure that as we grow as a destination, we are getting families from more and more geographies. As more and more routes open up, it does give us that direct access,” he added.
In achieving what has been set out, a year round calendar of events for residents and visitors alike has grown from low seasons events such as Summer Surprises and Modhesh World to include a number of international shows and outdoor activities, year round. The emirate is also home to a number of malls, two water parks and hundreds of resorts.
But according to one panel of 16 to 18 year olds, there is an age group being forgotten under the current strategies. Talking on behalf of themselves and the visitors they have welcomed to Dubai, the teenagers in question see plenty for the under 12s and over 25s, but little for those between. They are what is known as “third culture” teens. Well–travelled expatriates, raised outside of their parents’ culture. They’re not particularly discerning by nature, but they draw on a wealth of experience when sharing their opinions.
Speaking to Hotel News ME this month during a roundtable discussion at TIME Oaks Hotel, Tecom, this particular group of teenagers praised the quality of activities in Dubai, as well as its safety, ease of living and growth, but concluded that many of the activities aimed at families skip the late teen/young adult age group. When talking about Dubai, only half the group expressed excitement about the upcoming theme parks and everybody suggested the emirate should advertise its diverse range of sports and activities to international audiences, rather than just the malls and luxury hotels.
Affordability was also high on the agenda, with even this young group feeling the impact of an average room rate which stands at $234 YTD. As a group of internationally-minded third culture kids, who were raised in Dubai and have seen huge parts of the world, their insight was both informed and informative.
What is your current perception of Dubai as a holiday destination?
Soheil Hashemi: I feel it’s for older people. Dubai itself is mostly about shopping and relaxing in the sun and I don’t think there is anything more exciting that appeals to the younger age group.
Christian Sintoni: I think it appeals well to anybody over 30 because of the shopping and luxury things and it appeals well to children under 10 with Ferrari World and the new theme park developments, but that isn’t for us.
Nathan Sharples: Dubai as a family destination is one of the best. It has the waterparks which are very good, the malls and the restaurants. So I think it appeals to a range of people and families as well.
Rosaline Daher: It’s quite safe for our age group, so I can take the Metro by myself and also take a taxi by myself.
Isbah Bandeali: For families who live here it has great schools and that’s one of the reasons my family moved here. For tourists it’s more for the 25 plus age group.
Madmavi Kakulavarapu: When you see adverts for Dubai it’s become so generic. It’s just the malls, the shopping, everything that has been there for a while, and there is nothing new in that. For example, the desert tourism and safaris aren’t as focused on as they should be.
Christian: Abu Dhabi does that a lot. Every time I go to Europe I see adverts about the desert lifestyle and I think that’s what appeals a lot to Westerners. Etihad just bought AItalia so there are lots of adverts in the airports in Italy which focus on these things.
Milos Marinkovic: Because of the hype that has been around Dubai people want to say they have been there and seen it but it isn’t a place you would go to otherwise.
What does Dubai do well for families?
Celine Charles: The hotels seem to be good at offering the all-inclusive option and in buffets they have kid’s and adult’s dining options, so nobody has to worry about where and what to eat. Then you have the resorts like Atlantis The Palm, which has a waterpark on-site and an aquarium, so there are lots of activities.
Rosaline Daher: There are a lot of things you can’t do anywhere else. For example in Ski Dubai, you can touch penguins and apparently it’s the only place in the world you can do that, and then you can ski.
Nathan: I think Dubai innovates quite well. They have the biggest and best of everything. Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Frame, Burj Al Arab.
Christian: The events are quite good. My parents will go to something and then there is something for me too. It’s a wide taste.
Rosaline: Even international singers and performers come here for concerts.
Isbah: Our family friends from Kenya enjoy it here so much they have a second home. They like the environment and that they can buy whatever they want and relax.
Nathan: I have friends that come here because they like Dubai, not just to see their friends here. They are a family of five and they love Aquaventure, desert safari, the malls.
Milos: I’ve had friends who want to return in five years to see how it’s changed.
Rosaline: One thing my visitors have enjoyed is the practicality. Grocery shops are open 24/7, malls are open late, restaurants serve until late. Small things like this just make it so much easier and remove some stress. People enjoy that. It’s so easy going.
What does Dubai need to do to ensure families continue to come here on holiday, and also attract a greater share of the market?
Madmavi: I think they should advertise different things. Dubai is already seen as an expensive place but it has many things it can promote that aren’t so expensive. If a family is going to stay here for a week, you need a lot of money. In Abu Dhabi they advertise tradition and culture and things that are foreign to visitors and interesting to them. So if they concentrate more on that rather than theme parks, malls and waterparks, it could be more attractive for families.
Nathan: I think Dubai is great at appealing for families for a one time holiday but they don’t visit again. I think that to keep families coming they need to offer a discount rate because Dubai is really expensive. For example, if a family visits for two weeks and then comes back the next year they get a discount. If they return four times they get even more of a discount. But this would be a loyalty scheme for Dubai, rather than individual hotels.
Milos: And you can do that through tourism agencies because they have a record of what you booked and where you stayed.
Isbah: I think Dubai has a lot of activities people don’t know about like camping, surfing, sky diving, go-karting. There are a lot of things you can do here but Dubai is just seen as malls, restaurants and buildings.
Christian: XDubai is good too and they are growing a lot so they could help in promoting Dubai and its activities.
Milos: Dubai is really good at social media. Tags like #MyDubai allows people to share their experiences and I think that’s one of the best ways to advertise the emirate. Especially to people in our age group.
Celine: Dubai also takes a lot of inspiration from social media, like the Freakshakes that were popular all over the world and then they were brought here.
Looking now at the leisure industry and Dubai’s key attractions, how good are the waterparks and how can they be improved?
Rosaline: They have some really good activities and a separate section for younger kids. I think it’s easy to go there but after a while it does get boring. There aren’t many rides.
Milos: The worst thing about waterparks is food. The lines are too long, it’s expensive and it isn’t healthy. There isn’t enough choice. You don’t want to eat a hot dog on a hot day before going back in the water, you want something refreshing.
Madmavi: The waterparks here are all the same, the big drops, the trap doors, it’s become kind of obsolete because after you have been to one you don’t need to go to the other. If Dubai could have a waterpark that is completely different to anything else available then people will be more interested.
Isbah: The waiting lines are too long, especially during holidays and weekends and for that reason I don’t enjoy going. There needs to be some indoor slides.
Celine: If you go in the summer it’s too hot and you get sick quickly, so you can only really use them October to May time. Once Ramadan starts that’s it for the summer, so when people are on holiday during the summer, they can’t go to the waterpark.
Milos: They need to improve the lines and make slides that younger children aren’t allowed to go into all areas.
Regarding the malls, what do you think about Dubai’s range and location of malls and the facilities and attractions offered there?
Christian: They’re great. I don’t think they can be improved much.
Rosaline: Dubai Mall is huge and if you just want to go to one shop for one thing, it takes hours because of the size and crowds and that’s quite impractical, so you only really get the tourists going there. If you live here you go to places like Mall of The Emirates.
Nathan: The Metro stations aren’t always connected to the malls and where they did connect it to Dubai Mall the walk is so long it’s crazy. I go to Mall of the Emirates and Ibn Battuta for that reason. Dubai Mall can be difficult for tourists because it’s so big and they don’t know where to go.
Rosaline: I think they should improve the signs to shops. The electronic directions are there but they aren’t very helpful.
Madmavi: It’s a hassle to find your way there on public transport and if you go with parents and they drive the parking can take a good hour because some malls don’t have proper parking. It’s busy at the weekend and that is the only time we can go to the mall. Also I think there should be more public transport for tourists because they don’t all rent cars and there is only one taxi rank at The Dubai Mall.
Suhail Usman: I think the malls have a good range of attractions and shops. There are things for kids, movies for teenagers, shopping for adults.
Carlos: I think it’s good for the different social economic classes because they have all the brands and shops for different budgets and income levels.
If you were in another country and you saw an advert for Dubai, what would you want to see included in that advert?
Nathan: I think it should show Dubai’s culture and how it differentiates itself from other countries. It should show Burj Khalifa, the skyline and the malls, then the desert, Old Town and culture to show how international yet cultural it is.
Carlos: They should show the infrastructure and development of the city. Dubai is a futuristic city so they should show it is possible to build a great city with investment.
Rosaline: They should advertise the luxury of Dubai in its quality of hotels, the very clean malls and public transport. That’s what differentiates Dubai.
Christian: It’s about the things people want to see. The things people associate Dubai with are modernity and progress. That’s why it’s important to get the Burj Khalifa in. If you come from a cultural place you may want something different and those things are Dubai’s culture.
Rosaline: So many people I know don’t want to come to Dubai for that reason. They say it’s materialistic, empty, I think you should do a good mix and show people having fun. There are so many activities here, so show people enjoying them. You can go to Ski Dubai, ride a camel, watersports. If you see people having fun it makes you want to do it too.
Madmavi: There is already a lot of hype around Dubai and it is already advertised heavily but perhaps market the proximity to Abu Dhabi, where there is Yas Island, Yas Marina Circuit, Du Forum. They could then promote Dubai without focusing on those more materialistic aspects.
Milos: Show the two extremes and let people find their middle ground. Show that you can experience the highest luxury, or Arab culture, then people can split the ratio themselves.
Isbah: I think Dubai should promote how it caters to different cultural needs and how it’s also very easy to travel around here in taxis and on the Metro.
Nathan: I think at the moment Dubai promotes itself quite narrowly, so instead of showing the luxury show it’s affordable. Don’t just Atlantis The Palm and Burj Al Arab, but some of the really nice other hotels there are.
What do you class as affordable?
Nathan: Affordable, depending on where the advert will be aired, changes. In the UK advertise Rove or Gloria Hotels. Don’t’ just advertise Armani at The Dubai Mall, but perhaps the Outlet Mall or Ibn Battuta.
Rosaline: The thing is some activities are cheaper depending on where you are. Like jet skiing in the Marina is expensive, but in Sharjah it’s cheaper. There are lots of things like that.
Milos: I think the marketing should be based on the target market because different countries have different levels of income and people need to relate to the people and the things in the Advert.
What do Dubai’s theme parks need to do in order to compete with those international parks?
Christian: Building around the park, kind of like the standalone city idea. Like Disney in Orlando, there is a whole town built around it. If you’re going to have a big new unique park you may as well do that do people can spend two or three days on site.
Madmavi: Every park I have been to has been quite big and Dubai doesn’t lack space but their waterparks are small; they need to spread things out. Universal Studios in Osaka makes you feel like you’re in your own city and they need to do that here and make sure the environment of the park is reflective of Dubai. Visitors should know they are in Dubai but also that they are in a world-class park. They can make it unique by intertwining some culture, but I a futuristic way.
Nathan: You need to give tourists a reason to come to Dubai. If you make it like other places you may as well go to other places. They do the bigger and better so well, but they need another reason too.
Rosaline: If you look at Wild Wadi, that’s a smart idea because they use the local geography.
Celine: Perhaps like a whole parks pass system so for a single price you get access to all of them. Yas has a single pass for all its attractions, which is a great idea. You can do a water park and theme park promotion. It helps people to budget their trip and time.
Madmavi: You should set a time frame on the trip so you can opt for the different attractions and you have a week.
Dubai has everything up to 7-star hotels and the industry is very much trying to capture different price points and ages. How successful do you think this is?
Rosaline: I think Atlantis, The Palm is one of the best hotels. It’s expensive but the resort has a lot of facilities. It has a theme and it is worked into everything.
Suhail: I think Burj Al Arab is the best because they greet you, open the door, take you inside. When my family dines there they know when we leave the restaurant and they have my dad’s car ready for us at the door. That’s why we return.
Carlos: Burj Al Arab is the best. The attention to detail, not only design but customer service, food, you pretty much have your own butler even in the restaurants, the restaurant staff aren’t just waiters. Any specific thing they have.
Celine: Sofitel The Palm has a great setting.
Madmavi: I’ve never stayed in a hotel here so I can’t comment on the rooms. Most of the hotels along Sheikh Zayed Road are very accessible and the prices are reasonable. People don’t want to spend all their money on a hotel.
Milos: Jumeirah Beach Hotel is really cool but I think that the price to quality ratio is important. Here you can have a comfortable luxurious hotel without spending Burj Al Arab rates. In Dubai the quality is good.
Soheil: What makes a hotel enjoyable and great is the amenities they have. When I’m in a hotel I always look for whether they have the jet pack or jet skis and high-end hotels in Dubai charge AED800, whereas hotels in other places are much cheaper.
What can Dubai’s hotels do to become more family friendly?
Nathan: They need more facilities and a wider variety of activities. Atlantis The Palm is good at providing something for the kids, teenagers and adults.
Soheil: Most hotels have a kids’ club and hotels sometimes do that well which means kids can socialize and make friends while their parents relax.
Rosaline: Kids’ clubs don’t need to be supervised that much, but should have some activities for teenagers and divide it by age, like 16 to 18. I travel to France with my family and the clubs there are great. You can use its to meet new friends early in the holiday and then the activities are there if you want them.
Suhail: I used to go to kids’ clubs when I was younger and most activities were films or games, so you didn’t need supervision, and it was somewhere to hang out where there is something to do.
Isbah: Hotels can offer things like rock climbing, walking, active things.
Rosaline: Dubai can often forget the basics. It’s really simple but something like just organise a volleyball game or a football game. Anything simple to bring people together.
Celine: There is definitely a market for the 16 to 18 age group and we do get left out a bit. When I go on holiday with my parents, I’m an only child so I want to meet other people my age. Hotels can have a room for table tennis and somewhere to just hang out and be social.
Madmavi: When I go on holiday with my family my sister and I sometimes want to just enjoy the hotel; order room service, watch movies, and our parents do something else. So the hotel could have a dry club where teenagers can hang out at night.
Rosaline: Under 16 is well served but the 16 to 21 age group is left out in Dubai.