In the UAE, a country that has its sights set on attracting international visitors, public planners are looking to improve the tourism industry through partnerships with one of the leading innovative travel businesses in the marketplace - Airbnb.
The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) recently signed an agreement with Airbnb that will provide more consistent experiences for customers while streamlining the process of registration for property owners.
As part of the agreement, Airbnb is pledging to use demographic and anonymous data about short-term rentals in the area to “raise awareness on the positive impacts of the Airbnb community,” while also creating a hosting page that will show those with available spaces how to host guests responsibly. Dubai property owners will also get regular updates from Airbnb about the rules for home sharing.
As a concession to local residents who want to open their homes, the Dubai Tourism government office approved a resolution last month to allow private property owners to apply for a home license without going through an approved Dubai Tourism operator as long as they fit the criteria for responsible hosting.
Although promoting Airbnb in the Emirates makes sense in the big picture, it's only a small part of what the region offers and may only attract a niche audience.
“(Airbnb has) had a profound effect here in the U.S.” Steven Cook, an Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Gulf News Journal. “There is a lot of tourism in the Gulf - maybe (the agreement) will spur some more.”
Still, Cook said, most business travelers are unlikely to choose an Airbnb hosting setup, opting instead for one of the vast range of luxury hotel accommodations available in places such as Al Marjan Island or downtown Dubai.
Also, he added, while Airbnb may be popular for informal, fun vacations, a lot of other travelers will want the kinds of upscale or corporate accommodations that go along with many of the attractions in the region.
“The kind of attractions that the Gulf offers are more geared toward luxury accommodations.” Cook said. “People want to hang out by the pool.”
At the same time, Cook conceded that diversified tourism could make a lot of sense.
“I think the Gulf is making a big push on tourism from the European Union and other places.” Cook said.
Officials backing the Airbnb agreement are optimistic.
"In keeping with global demand trends and a highly digitized market place for key enablers of tourism infrastructure, we are pleased to partner with Airbnb, a pioneer in this space, to help promote diverse accommodation options to our visitors in a safe, secure and controlled manner.” Helal Saeed Almarri, Dubai Tourism’s director general, said in a press statement. “This not only lets us be more competitive as a tourism destination, but also speaks to our ability as government to drive demand-led policy-making and embrace innovation to further our proposition. … This is one such example of how we continue to partner with the private and public sector to deliver against our destination promise."