|By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
June 29, 2006 -- Terrorism fears scuttled Dubai's attempt to take over the Miami seaport, and now the Arab emirate has the Caribbean spooked, too.
But this time the nervousness stems from a desert ski slope, hotels built on a giant palm-tree island and the rest of Dubai's zany offerings as the world's hot new vacation spot.
Dubai's growing popularity with European and Asian travelers makes it a prime example of the competition the Caribbean faces in the global battle for tourist dollars.
"Dubai is catering to what the new traveler is looking for," Helen Kidd, chief executive of the Nevis Tourism Authority, said during this week's gathering of the Caribbean Hotel Association in Miami. "They're creating experiences there. To me, it's like a big theme park. It's so spectacular."
Seen as a tamer, Arab version of Las Vegas -- gambling is not allowed -- the financial capital of the United Arab Emirates has poured its oil revenues into remaking itself as a lavish tourist destination.
An enclosed mall features an indoor ski complex, with five runs, chair lifts and a 25-story mountain. Developers last month announced plans for a Vegas-style strip there, with 31 hotels modeled after Egyptian palaces, London's House of Parliament and the moon. One, with 6,500 rooms, would be the largest hotel in the world.
And Kerzner International picked Dubai for the first expansion of its famous Atlantis resort in Nassau. The 1,500-room Dubai Atlantis will rise on a frond of a massive island being built in the shape of a palm tree in the Persian Gulf.
"Right now, Dubai is the hot thing," said John Fareed, a travel marketing consultant in Winter Park. "Everyone is saying: Have you been to Dubai? Have you been to Dubai?"
Dubai's rise coincides with an uptick in tourism to the Middle East. Since the early 1990s, international tourism there has increased 2.3 percent to 4.6 percent. But while the emerging vacation spot has enjoyed growth, the venerable Caribbean saw its international market share drop from 2.5 percent to 2.3 percent, according to the World Tourism Organization.
"There are only so many discretionary travel dollars out there," said Gary Sain, a partner in Orlando's YPB&R travel consulting firm. "As more and more travel destinations come into play, it's going to eat into those destinations that have been around for a long time."
At the CHA conference, leaders pushed their plans to market the Caribbean as a single destination to compete in a more crowded travel marketplace. And with the world's second-largest sporting event -- Cricket World Cup -- coming in March, they hope to introduce the Caribbean to thousands of far-flung travelers, particularly those from cricket-mad Australia.
But with more countries entering the tourism marketing derby, Caribbean destinations -- not to mention those in the United States -- find it harder to convince vacationers to cross the Atlantic.
The United States has seen its share of the foreign travel market drop from 7 percent to 6 percent in the last 10 years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Industry executives blame the slide on increased marketing from other destinations.
This decade, one of the world's largest building booms reshaped Dubai into a fast-growing resort destination. An estimated $200 billion in construction projects are underway, with Dubai claiming to account for as many as 25 percent of the world's cranes.
After adding 10,000 hotel rooms in the past five years, Dubai expects to double its room inventory to 52,000 rooms by 2010. Passengers at Dubai International Airport are projected to increase from 25 million this year to 60 million by 2010. And while the Caribbean's tropical breezes probably trump Dubai's desert climate in the minds of most travelers, the Arab city's gleaming new hotels and attractions offer the kind of luxury getaway that's hard to find in the islands, said hospitality consultant Bill Freeman.
"If you're an English person wanting some sun, you can get to the Caribbean in eight hours. Or you can fly eight hours to Dubai," said Freeman, whose company, Freeman Group, sells hospitality training to Caribbean tourism bureaus. In Dubai, "the environment isn't great, but the service is absolutely, unbelievably good."
The Caribbean also beats Dubai in price, since only Paris charges higher hotel rates (with New York a close third), according to the Dubai tourism authority.
But for tourists with deep pockets, a fresh experience often takes top priority in vacation plans.
"The four- or five-star clients this year are going to Fort Lauderdale and next year Dubai and then Australia. They want something new," said Peter van Berkel, a North Miami travel wholesaler.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald
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