Tourists, businesses flee to Dubai to escape storm

Wed Mar 30, 2011 1:07pm EDT
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By Martina Fuchs and Shaheen Pasha

DUBAI (Reuters) - Regional turmoil is creating an unexpected boom for Dubai as tourists and businessmen flock once again to the shopping and skyscraper oasis after fleeing just a few years ago in the wake of its spectacular debt debacle.

Visitor numbers are noticeably higher in Dubai's gleaming malls and restaurants, and hotels are ecstatic as rooms fill up and deals are done.

"It has been a windfall. There are 65,500 hotel rooms and apartments in Dubai, and they were all full. There was not a single one available," said Guy Wilkinson, managing partner at Viability Management Consultants, a hospitality consultancy.

"Dubai occupancy has been better, unfortunately, since the unrest started. It lives a charmed life through big events in the region."

Occupancy rates have surged for hotels and hotel apartments in the emirate since a wave of unrest hit the region. Hotel occupancy in Dubai increased by 7.9 percent in January compared with the same month in 2010, data from STR Global showed. February data is not yet available.

However, Dubai is still off its peak, when free restaurant tables and taxis were as rare as water in the desert.

The main driver, however temporary, appeared to be business.

"We're seeing a number of clients, particularly among large multinationals, that have moved people and operations to Dubai," said Nabil Issa, Dubai-based partner at law firm King and Spalding. "The common theme is becoming 'get them out of Bahrain and send them to Dubai for a while'."   Continued...