Issam Kazim: Dubai is becoming known as a city that has to be experienced

Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), talks to Vision about his department’s future strategy, developing mid-range accommodation for tourists and Dubai’s unique selling point as a host city

Vision: What, to you, is Dubai’s USP [unique selling point] as a host city?

Issam Kazim: Dubai embodies every aspect of a ‘host city’ bringing together people from all over the world every single day. As one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural cities in the world, home to around 200 nationalities, Dubai is a melting pot of minds offering dynamism and opportunity to business and leisure travellers alike.  

V: How do you think the city’s branding has shifted in recent years?

IK: Dubai’s brand has always expressed our culture of success and spirit of rising to any challenge. Awareness of Dubai around the world has increased at a remarkable pace, driven by the forward-thinking vision of the emirate’s leaders and the phenomenal development over a short period of time, transforming a humble trading port to a futuristic city where anything is possible.

Thanks to iconic landmarks such as the Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa, Dubai has become known as a must-see city – a destination that wows visitors with its superlative views and sights of futuristic skyscrapers and manmade wonders, set before a backdrop of sand and dunes. More recently, however – purposefully driven by Dubai Tourism’s marketing and communications efforts – Dubai is becoming known as a city that has to be experienced. This subtle yet important shift coincided with and was complemented by the launch of the #MyDubai initiative by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, at the beginning of 2014.

V: Nation branding is a relatively new phenomenon. Why do you think it is important to think about?

IK: It is widely recognised that the way consumers gather and digest information has changed. They crave the human element and brands must invite participation and shared experience in order to be fully engaging – something we have embraced in every facet of our communications.

V: Families, as well as Chinese tourists are a large part of the Vision 2020 strategy. How are you marketing Dubai to them?

IK: This is all about development of Dubai's destination offering. The UAE aims to be the world’s leading family destination. With a hugely diverse offering, family-friendly accommodation and commitment to further strengthening the city’s attractiveness among families through tailored events, attractions and experiences, Dubai is fast paving the way for this to become a reality. Dubai Tourism-led incentives to develop more three- and four-star hotels, the opening of IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts next year as well as initiatives such as Dubai Airports’ creation in July 2015 of special areas within Dubai International airport aimed specifically at families and children - these all ensure that a trip to Dubai will be as easy as it is rewarding.

Similar efforts have been made for the Chinese market, which climbed into Dubai’s top 10 source markets for visitors in the first three quarters of 2015. The success of Dubai’s growing inbound tourism from China is a result of the combined efforts of Dubai Tourism, along with its four offices in China, and our partners within the emirate’s tourism industry, who are increasingly taking steps to not only expand their marketing in China but, importantly, also enhance their offerings to cater to the needs of Chinese visitors. This includes hiring Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking staff, providing guides, menus and other collaterals in Chinese and setting up websites in the Chinese language.

V: DCTCM has made decisions, such as encouraging investment into three and four-star hotels, that outsiders might find surprising in their former perception of the city. What other kind of decisions you are making that people may not expect?

IK: Our marketing strategy has always been to demonstrate the diversity of Dubai’s offering, from the cityscape to the desert to the Arabian Gulf. This approach is perfectly demonstrated by our position of encouraging mid-market accommodation in what is often seen globally as a predominantly luxury and five-star city. Dubai’s gastronomy scene is another good example. A few years ago, Dubai was not seen as a player in the global food scene, yet to address this we established the annual Dubai Food Festival to celebrate the rich food heritage and exemplary restaurant scene the city has to offer. Today, Dubai is firmly established as a gastronomic hub, home to some of the world’s best restaurants and dining experiences.