Dubai hits tourists with tax to pay for World Expo

Fireworks illuminate the sky around Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, after the Emirati city was chosen to host the World Expo 2020.
Fireworks illuminate the sky around Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, after the Emirati city was chosen to host the World Expo 2020. Photo: AFP

Visitors to Dubai will be charged a room tax from the end of next month to help fund projects for the 2020 World Expo convention, it has been announced.

The 'Tourism Dirham' tax will apply to all guests staying at hotels, hotel apartments, guesthouses and holiday homes from March 31. The fee, ranging from AED 7 ($A2.14) to AED 20 ($A6.10), according to the type of accommodation, will be charged per room, per night, adding up to $42 to the cost of a one-week holiday.

The hospitality tax is expected to help pay for Expo 2020 projects and the promotion of tourism in Dubai, which hopes to attract 20 million visitors by 2020, twice the number it did in 2012. The emirate expects Expo 2020 to cost more than US$8.7 billion ($A 9.7 billion).

"The introduction of the Tourism Dirham will support Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, helping to ensure our continued competitiveness on the global stage, which will be reflected positively on the growth of two of our economic pillars - trade and tourism," said Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

Tour operators, however, seemed unsurprised by the new tax and confident that it wouldn't have a dramatic effect on tourism in Dubai. "Tourist tax and hospitality fees are now in place in many destinations around the world, and while this news will be met with criticism, Dubai will continue to have a great deal to offer holidaymakers," said Sean Dowd, General Manager at Hayes and Jarvis.

Tour operator Trailfinders "does not foresee the tourism tax having any affect on bookings to Dubai. With direct flights taking as little as seven hours and year-round sunshine, Dubai will remain a very attractive holiday option," said Tiffany Cope, Marketing Assistant at Trailfinders.

Travelbag.co.uk, which already reports a 67 per cent increase in forward holiday bookings for Dubai in 2014, also doesn't expect an immediate impact on bookings and sees it as a positive measure for tourism in Dubai.

"As the funds raised will be invested into Dubai tourism, it should make for an ever better holiday experience in the years to come," said Rianne Ojeh, PR and Publications Manager at Travelbag.co.uk.

Other popular holiday destinations have also recently announced plans to tax tourists. Last year, officials in Thailand said it wanted to bring in a levy of around £10 per person, payable by all foreigners entering the country. The government claimed it was introducing the tax in order to pay for visitors' unpaid medical bills, and would help attract a better "quality" of holidaymakers. The tax was criticised by tour operators and industry officials including Derek Moore, chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), who said it showed "a lack of understanding in tourism."

"It almost reminds me of the behaviour of the British government over Air Passenger Duty, which sees a tax on travel as fair game," he added.

In 2011, tourists in Venice were hit with a tax across hotels and b&bs in the city and the islands scattered across its lagoon, as well as camp sites on the mainland. Visitors staying in five-star hotels were expected to pay a fee of 4.50 euros ($A6.80), while those staying in less luxurious accommodation were to pay according to a sliding scale of fees.

The Venice council was hoping the tax would raise millions of pounds for the urgent maintenance of the city which is threatened by rising sea levels. But critics feared the tax could increase the number of day-trippers because tourists will be reluctant to pay the extra cost of staying the night.

The Telegraph, London

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