Family tourism heightening the economy


With summer knocking on the door, many people are planning their sweet escapes. Business persons usually await this time of the year to get away from their desks and forget about the working hours. They usually take advantage to spend some quality time with their own families to catch up on the busy year. Therefore, family tourism is at the vanguard of these escapes. However, with Dubai being a touristic destination His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai launched the ‘Dubai: Capital of Islamic Economy’ initiative, which attributes great importance to family tourism. In this exclusive interview, Abdullah Mohammed Al-Awar, CEO, Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC) talks us through DIEDC’s effort to promote and boost family tourism in Dubai and the UAE.



Family friendly tourism is one of the key strategic pillars of the DIEDC, what is the significance of this pillar?

Tourism in general is one of the key sectors that contributes significantly to the development and economic prosperity of the UAE and several other countries around the world today. It plays a major role in boosting the economy and invigorating trade, transportation, hospitality and the SME sector. Internationally, the increase in tourist demand has today become an indicator of the development of a country’s infrastructure, its security and stability.

Family tourism has been one of the key attractions of Dubai and the UAE for several years. When His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai launched the ‘Dubai: Capital of Islamic Economy’ initiative, special importance was accorded to family tourism, and was considered a primary focus area in the DIEDC strategy.

Due to the increase in spending by Muslim families on tourism and the contribution of tourism to other economic sectors, the sector has gained prominence in recent years. According to the Islamic Economy Status Report 2014 Muslim spending on outbound tourism surged 7.7% to reach US$140 billion in 2013 (excluding Hajj and Ummrah) – making up 11.6% of global expenditure. These numbers are expected to reach $238 billion by 2019.


How did DIEDC and the initiative of Dubai Capital of Islamic Economy contribute to boosting family tourism and shedding l$ight on its importance?

Following the DIEDC’s efforts to highlight family tourism as a core growth area within its strategy to articulate Dubai’s Capital of Islamic Economy vision, there has been a significant increase in local and regional interest in this specific sub-sector within the Islamic economy. This has helped raise awareness for family tourism in many countries across the world. Several countries have now started taking into consideration the unique requirements of families visiting them and begun to develop accommodation, retail and entertainment spaces that provide a family-friendly environment. Since the inception of DIEDC, we have been continually working with relevant stakeholders in family tourism and the Halal trade sector locally, regionally and internationally to enhance family tourism capabilities and meet the requirements of Muslims and non-Muslims through offering products and services that are compliant with Islamic values.

We also strive to strengthen the connection between family tourism and other Islamic economy sectors. Family travel and tourism requirements are similar for different cultures and religions. Families look forward to spending quality time together in places that factor in requirements and restrictions related to families and children. 


How do you see Dubai’s status as an international destination for Family tourism?

As I mentioned earlier, the UAE in general - and Dubai in particular – have always offered a perfect destination for family tourism. Emirati society is a traditional and conservative society that attaches high importance to values and heritage. This gives us a head start in consolidating and strengthening the family tourism concept.

Dubai is rich in options for family entertainment with its plethora of malls, hotels, parks and other destinations that enable families to spend good times together in line with their culture and traditions. Department Of Tourism And Commerce Marketing in Dubai estimates that family tourism presently comprises 85% of the total tourism movement. This is an important indicator of Dubai’s attractiveness for such tourism and the emirate’s ability to compete with other markets that are active in this sector. The department’s statistics show an increase in the duration of time that families spend in Dubai. These figures underline that we are on the right path towards achieving our goals and the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed in making Dubai a premier global family tourism destination. 


How does Family Tourism support Islamic economy sectors?

Family tourism is linked to the Halal products market – specifically with regard to Halal food, beverages, Islamic fashion and visiting holy sites and heritage/cultural locations. Muslim tourists today use digital platforms to make online bookings and payments for airlines and hotels. Complementing these offerings by the travel and hospitality sectors, Islamic banks also now offer sharia-compliant products that provide financial assistance during travel. This scenario clearly indicates that family tourism is helping to boost many other critical sectors.


How is it possible to reconcile Islamic services and products with the wider and more diverse general hospitality sector that caters for non-Muslims? Is there any contradiction between family tourism for Muslims and the tourism for non-Muslims in Dubai?

We need to identify the concept of family tourism in a manner that does not compromise the requirements of Muslims nor cause any confusion to non-Muslim families. Dubai and the UAE have successfully hosted more than 200 different nationalities from varied social strata in an environment that ensures respect for everyone.

The Islamic approach to family tourism is not limited to Halal as a religious concept but is a system or body of values that take into consideration a number of aspects related to health, environment, and family traditions. Islamic family tourism fits all families. However, we still need to identify the specific requirements of Muslim families and then establish unified standards within that framework. 


What are your expectations for family tourism in Dubai in relation to nationalities that would opt to choose Dubai as a destination?

We can see much interest in Dubai as a family destination, mostly from Asia. Dubai is expected to register the highest rate of growth in number of Chinese tourists. A report published by IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group) and research company, Oxford Economics anticipates a 98% increase in Chinese visitors to Dubai over the next decade to reach 445,000 in 2023. Those tourists are expected to spend US$781 million in 2023 compared to US$488 million in 2013. We are very optimistic about the future of family tourism in Dubai and we shall do our best to ensure that family tourism evolves into a major contributor to our national economy and a pillar in developing Dubai’s Islamic economy credentials.


Facts & figures

·         The direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was AED59.1bn in 2014.This primarily reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines and other services, but it also includes the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists. The direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP is expected to grow by 3.1% pa to AED80.1bn (4.0% of GDP) by 2024.

·         According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel & tourism will account for 369,000 jobs directly, an increase of 1.8% pa over the next ten years. By 2024, Travel & Tourism is forecast to support 626,000 jobs (9.3% of total employment), an increase of 1.8% pa over the period.

·         Family tourism has emerged as a major segment of the Islamic economy, accounting for as much as 12.5 per cent of the US$ 1.07 trillion global tourism market according to a latest study by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry based on Thomson Reuters data.

·         The size and potential of this market can be estimated from the fact that it is larger than the world’s largest conventional tourism market, the US, which is only 11.4 per cent of the global market.

·         Driven by population growth in Islamic nations and the healthy economic performance of these economies, industry experts forecast that family tourism sector will enjoy solid growth of 4.79 per cent annually until 2020 – higher than the global average of 3.8 per cent growth – reflecting its growing significance in the Islamic economy.

·         The UAE travel and tourism sector is expected to create 245,000 jobs directly by 2023, registering an annual growth rate of 4.1%, according to the latest research analysis released by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

·         The analysis also found that capital investment in the sector is expected to rise annually by an average of 4.5%, to reach AED143.4 billion in 2023. This would increase travel and tourism’s share of the UAE’s total private investments to about 23.2%, up from 22.8% in 2013.







About Abdulla Mohammed Al Awar

Abdulla Mohammed Al Awar is the CEO of Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre.

Prior to his current role, he was the CEO of Dubai International Financial Centre. During his overall 8-year tenure with DIFC that saw him hold various executive positions, he leveraged his exceptional skills in strategic planning, operational management and financial control to help develop DIFC into a global financial hub.

Under his strategic leadership, DIFC was ranked as the leading financial center in the region for the years 2009-2012.

Abdulla has served as member of several committees and boards in Dubai including the Economic Committee of the Executive Council of Dubai, Dubai Free Zones Council, Bourse Dubai and the Investment Committee of the Emirates NBD Real Estate Fund.

Abdulla holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from the University of Colorado at Boulder, US. He has also graduated from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Program for Leadership Development, an executive education program, through affiliation with Cranfield University, UK, IMD and INSEAD. 


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