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Dubai – A Star in the East: A Case Study in Strategic Destination
Article in Journal of Place Management and Development · March 2008
DOI: 10.1108/17538330810865345
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Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan
Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government
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Dubai – a star in the east
A case study in strategic destination branding
Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan
University of Wollongong in Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Purpose – Worldwide approximately 200 national economies are competing in the destination
market. In 2006, global government and capital expenditure exceeded US$1,480 billion making
destination branding an important concept that still remains fragmented and unplanned. Dubai, an
emirate of the UAE in the Middle East has been chosen as a case study to explain some elements of
successful destination branding. This paper aims to apply a framework developed by Balakrishnan to
explain areas of caution when competing in an international market where success is also partially
dependent on the macro-environment.
Design/methodology/approach – The framework was developed by reviewing literature on
destination, place, corporate, product portfolio and service branding. The framework was tested using
case study methodology. Secondary research was primarily used to develop the case.
Findings – There is a strong fit with the model suggesting that destinations can use this as a basis
for continuity in strategy even as governments change. Based on the analysis and review; a checklist
for destination branding strategy was recommended.
Research limitations/implications – Since, this study depends on secondary research there is
some limitations as data in this region is not easily available.
Originality/value – Destination branding differs in challenges vis-a`-vis product and service
branding. This paper depicts steps essential for creating a successful branding strategy which can be
applied in a real world context to maximize returns for the destination.
Keywords Brand management, Dubai, Marketing, Tourism, Brand image
Paper type Case study
Tourism and destination branding: a symbiotic relationship
Worldwide destinations are spending an estimated US$1,480 billion on attracting
tourism through both capital and government expenditures (WTTC, 2007a), making
this a lucrative product where very little organized academic research exists (Pike,
2005). According to Blain et al. (2005), execution of destination branding is often
confined to logo design and development. It is estimated that more than US$2 billion is
earned per day through international tourism. What makes this a complex topic is that
the success of a destination is not always dependent on controllable factors in the
microenvironment but that it is also dependent on uncontrollable macro-environmental
factors. Earthquakes, tsunamis, disease other competing government policies and
terrorist attacks can disrupt tourism earnings (WTTC, 2007b). As information and
travel becomes more accessible, customers have a greater variety of destinations to
choose from. As a tourist, there is a choice of approximately 200 nations and 2 million
destinations to visit. How does a destination stand out, attract its target customer and
generate sufficient earnings to ensure its economy grows? Classical marketing points
to successful branding strategies (Fan, 2006; Matear et al., 2004). This paper discusses
how those strategies can be adopted in a “destination” context.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Journal of Place Management and
Vol. 1 No. 1, 2008
pp. 62-91
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/17538330810865345
Destination branding: academic foundation for framework development
Places are products but existing branding frameworks cannot be directly applied to the
destination context (Hosany et al., 2007; Hankinson, 2005). Some of the reasons why are:
. past history;
. geographical constraints (location, weather, resources, infrastructure and
. inherited names;
. stakeholders – destinations are run by governing bodies which often report to
their citizens and are influenced by other stakeholders limiting the decisions they
can take (Stokes, 2006; Hankinson, 2005); and
. personal, consumer, business and government service dependency (McDougall
and Levesque, 2000).
The destination branding framework can be developed looking at place and destination
marketing theories, services, product, portfolio and corporate branding strategies. Some
of the frameworks and theories reviewed to develop the destination branding framework
were the HEADS2 framework (Balmer, 2001) which looks at corporate branding; the
BAM strategy for increasing brand value (Davis, 2002), the Double Vortex brand model
that looks at brand components (de Chernatony and Riley, 1998); brand portfolio
strategy (Aaker, 2004); product and service brand dimensions (O’Cass and Grace, 2003)
and the service branding model (Berry, 2000). Destination cases like Bradford, UK
(Trueman et al., 2004), Scotland (Donnelly, 2004), Singapore (Wong et al., 2006), Kerala,
India (WTTC, 2003), Sydney Olympics, Australia (Woodside et al., 2002) and New York
(Rangan et al., 2006) were used to increase the fit of the destination branding framework
in the international context. Academic work by Lee-Kelly et al. (2007), Assiri et al. (2006),
Koch and Nieuwenhuizen (2006), Box and Platts (2005), Øvretveit (2005) and LaBonte
(2003) were extrapolated from the business context to the destination context.
Dubai, a star in the Middle East
This paper focuses on Dubai, an emirate of the UAE. UAE lies in the heart of the
Middle East (ME) and is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with a per capita
income of US$31,000 (IMD, 2005). Worldwide, in 2006, the ME Travel and Tourism
economy was ranked number nine in terms of absolute size (US$150 billion) and is
expected to grow to US$280 billion by 2020 (WTTC, 2007a; Husain, 2007a). UAE ranks
18th in the world and number one in the Arab world, according to the global tourism
competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum (Rahman, 2007a, b). Global
Futures and Foresight, a British think tank expects the investment in tourism and
infrastructure for the ME to be about US$3 trillion by 2020, with current investments
standing at US$1 trillion which is much higher than what is considered current global
expenditure (Husain, 2007a).
As a country brand, UAE is known as the 4th best for conventions and 3rd best for
business, but, it still does not feature in the top ten country brands (Future Brands,
2006). Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the main economic contributors out of the seven
emirates (formally known as the Trucial States) that make up the UAE. Non-oil
revenues contribute 63 percent to the GDP (UAE Interact, 2007a). Abu Dhabi
contributes 59 percent to the GDP of UAE (56 percent which is oil dependent) while
Dubai – a star
in the east
Dubai contributes 29 percent (5 percent is oil dependent). Dubai contributes over
80 percent of the non-oil assets (Middle East Monitor, 2007).
Dubai is very strategically placed. It lies at the confluence of the ME, Asia,
Western Africa and Central/Eastern Europe. It is in a bed of ancient civilizations, a
birthplace of three major religions and a transit point for onward journeys. See Figure 1
to see Dubai’s location. Dubai, an emirate of UAE, is spearheading the destination
branding revolution in this area which is why it was chosen as the focus of this
research. This paper applies a strategic destination branding framework developed by
Balakrishnan (2007) to Dubai (Figure 2).
A brief literature review: discussion of key elements
Branding of a destination can take some cues from corporate and service branding.
The branding of a destination begins with the strategic vision of that place as a strong
vision results in performance (LaBonte, 2003). Vision, as a driver should facilitate trade
and investments (Hankinson, 2005). Strategic vision of any destination can look at five
drivers for their branding strategy: economics, tourism, retail, services and transit hub
drivers. These drivers are derived from destination case studies and research work by
Jamrozy (2007), Eraqi (2006), Wong et al. (2006), Hankinson (2005), Gonza´lez and Bello
(2002) and Warnaby and Davies, (1997, see city servuction model p. 207).
Vision must be focused, yet consider the diversity of stakeholder needs (Pike, 2005)
often looking for commitment from inhabitants to get performance (Hwang et al., 2005).
Stakeholders can be internal like people/citizens (Aaker, 2004), business/governing
bodies and influencers like media or they can be external governments, NGOs,
businesses, or influencers. When looking at internal stakeholders; heritage, citizen
values and priorities, level of citizenship and ethnocentric tendencies need to be
Figure 1.
Strategic location of Dubai Source:
considered (Aaker, 2004; Javalgi and White, 2002). With respect to external stakeholders
which might influence or contribute to the destination branding, factors like the country
of origin (COO) effect, destination product portfolio performance, ability to
match/contribute to international quality and delivery of services, and information
are some of the factors that must be considered (Aaker, 2004; Javalgi and White, 2002).
Governing bodies can exploit existing networks or forge dynamic alliances and
partnerships between key stakeholders and influencers to add value to the brand
(Ferguson and Hlavinka, 2006; Wallis et al., 2004; Knox, 2004; Morgan et al., 2003).
With respect to a destination, often a portfolio of products is developed and then
offered to a targeted segment. Product portfolios must take advantage of natural
assets, past history, culture, developed infrastructure and facilities (Future Brands,
2006; Hankinson, 2004). What is most easy to exploit is past history and the natural
advantage of a strategically placed location. Hence, a destination can act as a transit
point for trade, logistics and even people.
When segmenting the target customer, a destination brand must be able to match
customer needs. The needs for visiting can be business travel, family or friend visits,
trips based on health, education, rest, recreation or retail (Gonza´lez and Bello, 2002;
Gamage and King, 1999); exploring regions, experiencing culture, history, lifestyle,
nightlife, and enjoying natural geographical assets, infrastructure and entertainment
(Future Brands, 2006; Hankinson, 2004). A study by Chen and Gursoy (2001) found that
destination loyalty (level of tourist perceptions of a destination as a recommendable
place) was significantly dependent on safety, perceived cultural differences and
perceived convenience of transportation. These were augmented product services
required by the target customer.
Figure 2.
Strategic branding of a
destination: success
Customer Targeting
Positioning /
Tangibilizing Evidence
Successful Branding
Source: Balakrishnan (2007)
Product Portfolio
Dubai – a star
in the east
When positioning and differentiating the destination, COO effect or heritage must be
considered as both residents’ and customers’ perceptions and attitudes can be changed
only after the negative COO effect is corrected (Aaker, 2004; Thakor and Lavack, 2003;
Piasecka, 2001). The image of the brand must be carefully designed as it must take into
. past associations of the place;
. alignment and consistency of brand image and attitude with customer
perceptions of themselves and with other users; and
. the usage occasions (Grace and O’Cass, 2003; de Chernatony and Segal-Horn, 2003).
An interesting study by Carpenter et al. (1994) found that irrelevant attributes can be
used to differentiate brands and even create value but its impact is dependent on
competition. Destinations are products with a heavy dependency on services which act
as a destination differentiator, increasing brand value (Kalafut and Low, 2001;
McDougall and Levesque, 2000).
Vision, which needs to be translated into the brand promise, needs to be clearly
communicated to all stakeholders to gain a competitive advantage (Trueman et al., 2004;
Sohal, 1994). The value of a brand can be increased by using any ingredient brand of
greater value (McCarthy and Norris, 1999; Javalgi and Moberg, 1997). Hence, governments
can use consumption at FMCG, luxury, infrastructure, macro-environmental and business
levels to increase perceived brand value of the destination (Balakrishnan, 2007). The
consumer trust and comfort level increases when they see brands familiar to them in a
place. Though destinations use the entire range of media vehicles, there is still a significant
amount of dependency on word of mouth (WOM) generated through friends, family and
travel agents (Future Brands, 2006). Also when using advertising, it has been found that
emotional advertising helps in the initial brand contact and influences the decision to visit
again (Grace and O’Cass, 2003; Mattila, 1999). The destination experience itself, which
leads to positive WOM must be a sensory delight, using sights, sounds, smells and taste
(Roberts, 2005; Trueman et al., 2004) that ideally must reinforce the “flavor” of the place.
Making services tangible affects impressions of the brand (Bang et al., 2005).
However, services are people dependent (de Pablos, 2002; Spithoven, 2000; Eastgate,
2000). Though various communication tools can be used to convey destination
positioning, one of the most important methods is the people of the destination. They
are involved in the service process, affect brand associations and help customers form
emotional attachments with the brand (Grace and O’Cass, 2003; Katzenbach, 2003).
According to Simon Anholt, the Founder of the Anholt-GMI City Brand Index,
immigration as a strategy does affect the nations branding strategy (Shikoh, 2006).
Immigrants are more likely to invest than transient labor who are perceived as
“outsiders” (Timberlake, 2005; Bontis, 2004). Transient labor will repatriate assets out
of the destination which means loss of potential financial investments.
Branding must often start with the people of that destination – the feeling of pride,
the essence of the place and maybe even sufficient knowledge to create a positive
association for visitors with the destination. Pride is considered one of the greatest
motivational factors (Katzenbach, 2003). The positive associations with the destination
experience and its people will contribute to positive WOM which will increase the brand
image of the destination (Wangenheim and Bayo´n, 2004; Grace and O’Cass, 2002).
A simplified version of the destination branding framework is shown in Figure 3 as
a simplified seven step process.
A case study research methodology was used. The case was Dubai. The objective of the
research was to apply the branding strategy framework developed by Balakrishnan
(2007) – see Figures 2 and 3, and test its fit to the case. Most of the historic background
and reports were obtained through secondary research using government reports,
published international research and books, newspaper press releases and articles.
Confidential interviews with organizations like Emirates Airlines, JAFZA and Dubai
Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) were used as a basis to collect additional
secondary research and information. Primary research based on conversations with
residents, looking at the reasons why they came to Dubai and their recollections were
used as a basis for further secondary research. The information was categorized by the
author into the relevant subheadings for analysis. This study is an exploratory study
where case study analysis depends largely on secondary sources of information.
Analysis: a case study: branding of Dubai as a destination
A historical perspective
Dubai was a sleepy fishing and pearl diving village that had over the years survived on
the bounty of the sea. Through visionary leadership, it used its strategic location to
grow into a trading centre, and overnight transformed into an economic beacon for the
ME. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (1958-1990), facilitated this change. In 1958,
Figure 3.
Key components for
destination branding
2. Stakeholders
3. Portfolio
of products
4. Target
6. Communication
5. Image/
7. Response
Source: Adapted from Balakrishnan (2007)
Dubai – a star
in the east
he borrowed millions of dollars from Kuwait to have the creek (the original trading
souk) dredged. The chance discovery of black gold (1966) further financed his vision: in
1970 he began the Jebel Ali port project which today is the world’s largest man-made
port (Figure 4).
In 1971 when the British left, the warring tribes of the Trucial States were brought
under one banner by the creation of UAE. It enabled synergistic pooling of the
resources. The rapid pace of development in Dubai was initially fueled by oil but today
this forms less than 6 percent of the overall GDP. Sheikh Rashid’s mantle was
eventually succeeded by his youngest son, the current ruler of the emirate, HE Sheikh
Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President and
Ruler of Dubai. HE Sheikh Mohammed (2007) is known to be a perfectionist
and reviews key projects personally. He plans surprise visits – to reprimand, reward
and identify new talent for key projects (Molavi, 2007).
Dubai has some unique advantages. First and foremost its leadership has been
strong and endowed with great vision. They have constantly taken advantage of the
strategic location and been proactive to global change. Historically and geographically,
Dubai is a transit point, but the refocus is to make it much more. To forget the barren
desert, Dubai has encouraged trade, business, shopping, lifestyle and tourism. Projects
have been completed at a rapid pace. For example, the city metro was conceptualized
from a survey in 1997 and by 2009 will carry 1.86 million passengers daily. The
Airport which was created in 1961 today has 25 million passengers transiting per
annum. A new airport being built in Jebel Ali will handle 120 million passengers and
12 million tonnes of cargo. Nakheel (a part of Dubai Worlde), is one of the world’s
largest privately held real estate developers. It takes credit for planning over 1,000 km
of coastline through its Palm Trilogy, World and Waterfront projects and will develop
over 2 billion sq.ft. of land (see Figure 4 for dramatic cityscape changes).
But there are some inherent disadvantages Dubai has to work with. History of this
region has always been distorted and September 9-11, 2001 made things worse with the
ME region being clubbed as one area of political instability and terrorism. The average
global citizen viewed his Middle Eastern counterparts as backward or threatening.
Arab leaders said in a survey that the two largest external factors affecting
leaders were the political situation (35.56 percent) and international perception of ME
(26.77 percent) (Survey of Arab Leaders, 2005). The negative COO impacted the DP
World (a part of Dubai Worlde) takeover of the 6 P&O managed USA ports. American
public pressure was strongly against having a company from the ME managing their
ports though the US Government including President George Bush vouched for DP
World. Another potential disadvantage is that 82 percent of Dubai’s population is
expatriates. With a service dependent economy, people play a very important role in
the perception of service satisfaction. A majority of the cheap labor is male and they
live without their families; this makes for very skewed demographics. Sheikh Zayed
Road, the main feeder road that runs the length of Dubai in the 1990s, had very little
building construction along it, but that no longer remains true (see Figure 5 – figure
circled is the World Trade Centre, which in the 1990s, was the tallest building in
Dubai). Parking, the huge number of apartments and villas that will hit the market by
2010, and maintaining security when tourists will outnumber residents by 4: 1 are
areas of worry.
Strategic vision
Vision must take destination limitations into consideration. Besides, perceptions about
the place, Dubai needs to look at future revenue. It lies in the heart of the desert and oil
which is a critical economic contributor to most GCC countries is less than 6 percent of
Dubai’s GDP. It is estimated that oil will exhaust itself in 20 years (Middle East Monitor,
Figure 4.
Changing face of Dubai
Dubai – 1990s* Dubai – 1970s*
Dubai – 2000s*
City starts expanding
Dubai – 2007*
Redefining the coastline: Palm Trilogy,
The World
Dubai – The Future
Sources: *Photos courtesy of the US Geological Survey; photo: Dubai – The Future, courtesy of Nakheel
Dubai – a star
in the east
2007). Hence, there is an overwhelming need to diversify Dubai’s assets (see Figure 6 for
2005 GDP breakup). This fact is realized in the government’s vision as outlined in the
2015 Strategic Plan, which is to make Dubai a “globally leading Arab city” and a “Global
City” (HE Sheikh Mohammed, 2007) with services being a key contributor to its growth.
Dubai has identified tourism, transport, trade, construction and financial services as the
key drivers of its economy in its 2015 Strategic Plan.
Vision – economic drivers
Economic drivers look at welfare of its citizens and investors. Dubai as of 2005 had a
GDP of US$37 billion with a per capita income of US$31,000. The 2015 vision is to
increase GDP to US$108 billion and GDP per capita to US$44,000. However, the
Figure 5.
Dubai cityscape changes
Dubai in 1990
Dubai in 2005
economic welfare of residents need not equate to nationals who form a shrinking
minority. The median income of its average expatriate citizen is less than US$700 and
in response to recommendations of UN experts, the Ministry of Economy has begun
UAE’s first household income and expenditure survey to form a consumer price index
(Gulf News, 2007a).
Looking at businesses, Dubai has been able to attract foreign direct investments
(FDI) through incentives like no tax, free zones and the revised property ownership
laws. The World Competitive Yearbook ranks Dubai 5th in terms of positive image
abroad with respect to encouraging business development (IMD, 2005). There is still a
long way to go though UAE has joined WTO in 1996. International laws as of yet do
not apply uniformly across the entire Emirate – only in free trade zones. There is
nepotism when you look at national companies which makes real business
performance harder to evaluate. Information is not very easy to obtain in Dubai
especially from business organizations as there is no need to disclose financials.
With the booming economy, inflation is an issue as the Dirham is pegged to the
dollar. As of May 2007, the US dollar was devaluing compared to the Euro.
For residents this was a problem but for European investors it was a boon. Cost of
living within the city is high with rents comparable to Singapore (IMD, 2005).
There is disparity between official figures of inflation (7 percent) and banking reports
(12-15 percent) (Baik, 2007). Another issue Dubai faces due to its population
composition is the remittance of money (12.5 percent of global remittance) where the
flow of money is outwards (Gulf News, 2006). Currently imports are higher than exports
so this is one area of refocus. Small- and medium-sized enterprises have been identified
as engines for economic growth, but this region has a deficit of venture capitalists.
Programs like Bedaya funds new ventures but target only Emiratis (Elewa, 2007).
Figure 6.
Dubai GDP sector
contributions (2005)
Wholesale / Retail
Utlities / logistics
Source: Ministry of Economy (2006)
Real Estate
Rest / Hotel
Dubai – a star
in the east
Vision – encouraging tourism
Tourism in the ME region is booming post 9-11. The World Travel and Tourism
Council (WTTC) predicts the UAE travel and tourism industry will grow at 5 percent
(2007-2016), which is higher than the ME average of 4.4 percent and the world average
of 4 percent. UAE T&T industry attracts one in every 8.5 jobs whereas the world
average is one in every 11.5 jobs (Rahman, 2007b). A lot of the UAE activity is
primarily due to Dubai. As of 2006, 6.5 million people visited the emirates excluding
visitors staying with friends and family (Rahman, 2007b).
Tourism according to DTCM’s Director, Mohammad Khamis Bin Hareb, currently
contributes 18 percent to Dubai’s GDP directly and 29 percent indirectly (Al Hakeem,
2007). Current destination focus seems to be on individuals: the lifestyle, business
conferencing, sports (17 golf courses, dhow racing, horse racing, and tennis),
entertainment and shopping. Future sports attractions range from cricket, football,
formula one racing and the development of the “Sports City” make it an ideal venue for
future Olympics. Dubailand will also host the Bawadi – a hotel strip similar to Las
Vegas and the world’s largest Ski Dome which will attract an additional 200,000
visitors per day (Husain, 2007b). The “family” is partly the focus with Dubailand’s
Universal theme park however these are expensive options. Dubai should look at
culture and historical exploration as other areas for development. By becoming a cruise
terminal, it could do just that.
Medical tourism exceeds US$56 billion worldwide in 2006 and is growing at
15 percent pa according to a report by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and
Industry (Al Deen, 2007). Within the UAE it is expected to generate AED 7 billion
(US$1.9 billion) by 2010. The focus is to attract 6 million of the 600 million tourists with
special needs and get residents to use medical facilities within the emirate rather than
going abroad. Education is another potential area for tourism. HE Sheikh Mohammad
announced an AED 37 billion fund (US$10.8 billion) for education and
knowledge-development in the region (Zawya, 2007).
Vision – retail spending
According to the 2006 Global Retailer Development Index, UAE ranks 16th with
respect to Gross Leasable Area (GLA) (see Table I for GLA per capita estimates). The
GCC itself will be home to five out the eight largest malls in the world by 2012
(Thompson, 2006; Retail ME, 2006a). Average daily private consumption spending in
UAE is at US$26.80 making it the highest in the Arab world where others spend
an average of US$3.50 on consumer items (Kawach, 2004). People spend over
US$700 million per annum in the Dubai Duty Free alone, which is the third largest in
Estimated mall
GLA (m2
Estimated total
GLA (m2
GLA per capita
(Dubai population)
GLA per capita
(population including tourists)
2005 1,103,463 1,379,463 0.98 0.51
2010 4,820,320 5,670,964 2.73 1.25
2015 11,630,347 12,922,608 4.23 1.66
Note: A healthy GLA per capita is below 2.5 m2
Source: GRMC retail services Ditcham (2007)
Table I.
Dubai retail market
estimates (2005-2015)
term of turnover next to Heathrow (London) and Incheon (Korea) (Retail ME, 2006a, b).
In 2006, the average spend of Dubai visitors amounted to AED 6,429 (US$1,785.8) per
day (Ditcham, 2007). In order to support the retail industry successfully, spending per
capita has to rise from US$3,000 to 7,000 by 2010 (this will decrease by 40 percent with
tourist influx), which means retail will contribute 50 percent to GDP (PRZoom, 2007;
Davis, 2006).
Dubai has positioned itself as a home of luxury brands. Damac Properties, the
largest private master developer in the ME has a tag line “Live the Luxury”. But
besides the rich and super-rich, resident consumption must increase. Dubai has been
able to do that also. For example, summer is a low-retail month due to harsh weather
conditions and the fact that most expatriates leave for annual vacations. For the last
ten years, Dubai has tried to revive this period through the Dubai Summer Surprise – a
ten week shopping, child-focused extravaganza. In 2006, 1.87 million tourists came
during that period (Gulf News, 2007b). During every winter, The Dubai Shopping
Festival takes place and in 2006 attracted over 3.6 million tourist contributing 8 percent
to the overall GDP (Gulf News, 2007c). The Dubai shopping festival, Dubai summer
surprises and Ramadan initiatives account for nearly two-thirds of annual gold and
diamond jewelry sales (Dubai Gold and Jewelry Group, 2007). This marks a change in
tourist attitude: in survey conducted during 1998-1999 by the DTCM, it was found that
the main reason people came to Dubai was primarily leisure (44 percent) and business
(39 percent), with shopping being a low priority (4 percent) (DTCM, 2007).
Vision – strengthening services
Services contribute 74 percent to Dubai’s GDP and have a CAGR of 21 percent.
Services must look at business government and consumer services; intellectual, social
and human capital; welfare; quality of life and security (Balakrishnan, 2007). One of the
areas the Dubai strategic plan focuses on is people management. Dubai faces brain
drain, has issues attracting competent skilled labor, and scores very low on
remuneration, productive labor relations, worker motivation and employee training
(IMD, 2005). Hence, intellectual capital is low. According to the World Competitive
Yearbook, the people of Dubai work the hardest of the 60 regions surveyed clocking
2,298 h per year versus an average of 1,922 h per year (IMD, 2005).
Of a population of 1.4 million (growing at 7 percent pa), 85 percent is employed. Of
the employed, 97 percent is foreign labor. This means over 82 percent of the population
is expatriate, mostly Asian with a majority working in the construction industry
(Dubai Healthcare City, 2007). Services currently account for 85 percent of the
employment of nationals who are less than 2 percent of workforce. A key driver is
Emiratisation where the emphasis is to balance demographics and responsibility
(create greater ownership), reinforce culture and knowledge management through a
quota system for nationals.
Services are not only people dependent but also on rules/policies and infrastructure.
Dubai embraces the latest technology (UAE has one of the highest mobile penetrations
and internet usage in the Arab world) and is currently integrating eServices of all 24
government offices. Not only does it allows electronic payment of bills but also allows
access to information on fines, utility bills and business queries. Hotlines like Al
Ameen (a security hotline for suspicious activities not in the general purview of the
police) have been launched to improve government services. The government
Dubai – a star
in the east
constantly benchmarks itself against other cities and nations. The Department of
Economic Development of the Government of Dubai partnered with the IMD World
Competitiveness Centre to identify a competitive framework. The 2005 World
Competitive report compares Dubai with 51 countries and nine regions on 314 criteria
(IMD, 2005). USA, Hong Kong and Singapore led the survey in that order and Dubai is
benchmarking itself against the best (Table II).
Vision – facilitating the transit hub
The ME, which is strategically placed in terms of resources and location, is able to
facilitate trade (Siddiqi, 1999). When the UAE joined the Customs Union in 2003, it
helped Dubai become a major port of entry for the ME and Africa. In addition, it has
become both a sea and air transit point. In 2006, Dubai processed 1.5 million tons of
cargo and 28.7 million passengers through the Dubai International Airport according
to the Airports Council’s International Report (Rahman, 2007c). The Jebel Ali port with
67 berths is attached to JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone), which is home to 5,500
companies from over 120 countries. Dubai’s seaport is currently the 9th busiest in
terms of container traffic (DMCC, 2007). The proximity of JAFZA and the new Jebel Ali
Airport (stated to be the largest in the world) will lead to an economic free zone with
access to sea, road and air. Emirates, Dubai’s flagship airline files to 83 different
destinations. Today Emirates is the 4th largest airline in the world (in terms of
passenger traffic) with its 18th consecutive year of profit. Dubai’s open sky policies and
facilities have encouraged over 112 airlines to connect via Dubai to more than 165
destinations (Emirates Airlines, 2007).
Dubai has historically been associated with trade. More than 80 percent of the
UAE’s AED 510 billion (US$139 billion) merchandise trade is conducted through Dubai
(Rahman, 2007b). Dubai is currently the third largest re-export centre in the world
serving a massive regional market (DMCC, 2007). Dubai’s strategic location is not only
geographical but also in terms of time zones as it falls more comfortably between
Europe and the Far East which makes it a potential financial centre.
To ensure the growth of trade and to become a trading hub, Dubai has initiated
bodies like the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (formally known as Dubai Metal and
Commodities Centre). It was set up in 2002 to facilitate trading of gold and precious
metals, diamonds and coloured stones, energy and other commodities. It is rated “A”
by Standard & Poor’s and has over 850 registered businesses (DMCC, 2007). Dubai’s
construction boom has seen approximately 8.1 million tonnes of iron and steel traded
through Dubai (the world produced 1.8 billion metric tonnes of steel in 2006) and it is
expected that this demand will rise by 8.4 percent to 43.6 million tones (Dow Jones
Evaluation criteria No. of criteria Ranking
Overall ranking 314 17
Economic performance 77 6
Government efficiency 73 9
Business efficiency 69 21
Overall infrastructure 95 32
Source: IMD (2005)
Table II.
Dubai ranking in the
World Competitive
Yearbook 2005
Report, 2007). Dubai has the highest per capita gold consumption in the region at 30
grams (19 percent of world consumption) and in a survey conducted by AC Nielsen, it
was found that tourists account for 52 percent of the gold and jewelry sales in Dubai
(Dubai Gold and Jewelry Group, 2007; Husain, 2007c). In terms of diamond trade, in
2006, Dubai was the 5th largest trading centre in the world (Husain, 2007c). Dubai is
trying to replicate its success in metals and commodities by trying to become a
regional flower trading hub with the Dubai Flower Centre which was created in 2004.
The Dubai Urban Development Framework was created in August 2007 to look at
both the environmental and social aspects of urban development and to facilitate
integration between government, quasi government and private stakeholders. This is
of importance as already 50 percent of the emirate’s land is under urban planning
(Rahman, 2007d) and as more businesses move to this region, coordination between
them and government for smooth functioning is paramount. When looking at the
strategic vision of Dubai (Figure 7), you see a good fit with the model. Areas for
development are highlighted with an asterix.
A big caution area for Dubai is the rapid pace of development which may not give
sufficient time to learn from mistakes. The free trade zones and the multiple real estate
projects have put demands on existing basic infrastructure and transportation. Road
upgrades are happening at a frantic pace. Will it be sufficient? This is yet to be seen
once all real estate properties are occupied as parking and free space seems to be at a
shrinking as vacant dunes disappear under concrete and glass. Water is at a premium
as 70 percent (about 24 million cu. Meters per day) of the UAE’s water comes from
Figure 7.
Strategic vision of Dubai
– an analysis
Business – Yes (ranks high
as convention/exhibition
Dubai Vision
Global Arab City
Tax free, Investment zones,
Real estate
Economic Returns for Stakeholders
*Implied as Finance is key area
Economic Prosperity per capita
GDP increase by 42%
Key area
Travel – open
skies; port; cruise
Logistics and Supply
Management – trade
Rest and Recreation –
Beaches, Golf,
Health – Health City
Education – Academic city
Retail – Big brands, retailers,
duty free, Shopping Festival
Locals Tourists
*Social/Human Capital
*Intellectual Capital
Quality of Life/Security
* – Areas of Refocus
Dubai – a star
in the east
desalination plants and UAE has the 3rd highest water consumption per capita with
USA and Canada ahead (ME Electricity, 2007).
Most higher education still focuses on business degrees though as an area this
region can encourage archeological, geological, architecture, engineering, energy,
science and medical education. Dubai is still seen by many as an “earning transit
point.” To encourage intellectual and social capital, and balance demographics,
immigration can be used as an alternative. Security though one of the strongest in this
region will need to be strengthened as tourists numbers start increasing. Dubai has a
strong vision but needs to integrate and balance the pace of progress of all components
of its vision.
Vision: discussion and recommendations
Vision should be the starting point of any destination strategy. Vision must be
well-rounded with all components integrated. The key questions practitioners must
ask are:
. What benefit is there for the people of the location?
. Why should visitors come to the location and spend/invest their money?
. What policies/infrastructure/investments are required from the governing side to
encourage the first two questions?
. Is there a mind-set change that needs to be facilitated among the residents to
encourage tourism?
There are also several caution areas:
. maintaining continuity with change of governing bodies;
. integrating elements for better synergy;
. keeping vision current with changing world expectations; and
. moderating pace of development.
A strong vision takes advantage of its history and geographic areas and builds
infrastructure to make it more accessible. It must balance all stakeholder needs to gain
the momentum needed to make the destination branding strategy a success.
Dubai, the most liberal emirate of the UAE has to balance its culture with the more
conservative dictates of the ME and hence its ambition to be a “Global Arab City” has
to have a strong grounding in its heritage. This has to be balanced by integrating and
educating expatriates and residents to deliver best practices in services and products.
Balancing the Arab traditional laws with international laws is not very easy. The great
diplomacy and skill of the ruler of Dubai, who also holds the Vice President and Prime
Minister’s office for UAE has been recognized to this effect. As of 2007, he has been
given overall responsibility for developing and implementing UAE’s strategy. This
should help facilitate change and bring some synergy into the regions plan. With
Dubai’s success – each emirate has been replicating the real estate and free trade zone
formula which reduces differentiation and causes confusion as the distances between
emirates is small. It is estimated that in this region over US$1,200 billion worth of real
estate projects are under development with US$600 billion in UAE, 50 percent of which
is Dubai’s (Hussain, 2007a, b).
Nationals are a key area of focus as not only do they form a small percentage of the
population, they control sizeable assets and have a huge unemployment rate. Other key
stakeholders are residents, individual investors from the ME, Europe and Asia;
corporate investors and businesses (some details are covered in the section on target
customers); governments and other international bodies that can add to the credibility
of Dubai. Growing demand is coming from overseas expats including returning
short-stayers (tourism). This includes rich Muslims from the West, rich GCC and
South Asian citizens, upper middle income groups from Western and Central Europe
who want a home in Dubai for visits and/or investment.
Though expatriates are the majority and the economy depends on them, it was only
in the last decade that they were allowed to own properties in designated areas and get
a residency visa with it. Residency visas are normally employer-sponsored which
meant in the past expatriates with children over 18 years had no way to keep their
children with them. Now with education visas and property ownership, the situation is
changing. The past policies encouraged illegal immigrants and led to violation of
human rights. To combat this, in 2007 under the government’s amnesty program, more
than 184,000 applications were received for repatriation without consequences (Gulf
News, 2007d). Jeff Swystun, the Global Director of Interbrand says:
Place Branding is actually a misnomer, it’s actually about people branding. It’s about
branding the people that represent the region because there are actually very few
differentiators that you can hang your hat on from a geographic basis … .it’s the people who
populate [the place] that [make] it unique. [Dubai]… should be a global center, but not a
transient one – one that attracts and makes people loyal” (Shikoh, 2006).
There has been a change in the government’s outlook with respect to the average
citizen. In the past, government programs like Tanmia focused on a quota system
where even private sectors companies like banks needed to hire Nationals, today the
focus is on development where Nationals will have to compete on equal footing with
expatriates which is a tremendously progressive step to take. Dubai has identified its
key stakeholders well and is actively pursuing them to influence and spearhead
change. An additional refocus on ALL residents will create a greater feeling of pride,
loyalty and unity and encourage social, human and intelligence capital.
Stakeholders: discussion and recommendations
Stakeholder identification is derived from the vision itself. Governing bodies need to
ask themselves the following key questions.
Who/which bodies will be responsible for:
. Sanctioning?
. Investing?
. Implementing/coordinating?
. Promoting/influencing vision?
Stakeholders need to be identified, convinced to participate and to influence other
stakeholders to make a vision succeed. Destinations should look at domestic, regional
and international stakeholders. These can be government, public and the private
Dubai – a star
in the east
sector enterprises. At the micro-level, an important category of stakeholders are the
residents who help indirectly implement destination branding as we will see later in the
case study.
Portfolio of products
Immediately following the aftermath of September 9-11, investments that would have
gone to the west were redirected back into the region after the negative impression and
treatment of people with Arabic profile. Taking advantage of its strategic location
Dubai has started several free trade zones. The portfolio of products is diverse (there
are 23 free trade zones) ranging from IT/media; education; health; trade of
commodities, gold, diamonds and gemstones; logistics; manufacturing and finance.
With the opening of the Dubai International Financial Centre in March 2000 more
than 250 players have come to Dubai. There are over 58 brokerages which mean there
is nearly one brokerage firm per company listed in the stock exchange. Still, there is a
long way to go. GCC’s share of global banking assets is less than 1 percent. However,
there is some positive movement forward as more multi-national banks adopt Islamic
financing to woo their Arab customers. Islamic finance assets are worth over US$250
billion and even the British government is trying to woo this neglected cash-rich source
with its first Sharia-compliant bond (Reuters, 2007).
The hotel industry is growing with the real estate industry. There are 285 hotels and
135 service apartment blocks according to DTCM in 2006 (Rahman, 2007a). According
to Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, ME investment in hotel sector is to exceed US$7 billion in
2007 and with UAE investors like Nakheel, Emaar and Tameer accounting for more
than 76 percent of MENA regional hotel investments (Shuey, 2007). Real Estate is
booming: Nakheel projects are expected to contribute 25 percent to Dubai’s tourism
GDP (Nakheel Advertisement, 2007). Dubai Holding is developing the Bawadi project
which is a Las Vegas type hotel strip and a Universal Studio operating over 6.5 million
sq. ft. which will open by 2010.
Dubai has a well diversified portfolio targeted at the high-end customer. Being a
transit destination and a purely expatriate dominated destination means it cannot cater
to the lower-middle income groups which maybe a neglected sector. In business there
are some international systems (labour and legal laws) that need to still be put in place
but efforts are underway to that effect.
Portfolio of product: discussion and recommendation
As with brand portfolios, consistency is important. That means not only must the
products have consistency across the range (if you offer world class hotels, other
services must also match up) but also tourism does depend on the how clearly you can
segregate brand identities. Often destinations will attract the low-budget traveler, the
business traveler and the wealthy jet set. Each has different needs and requirements.
Hence, the clearer the portfolio of products, the easier it is to identify the target
audience. The advantage of diversifying the portfolio, is that you reduce the
investment risk. The moment a destination becomes a transit hub, you must be able to
provide a range of destination products from middle income levels onwards.
When designing the destinations portfolio, there are two key perspectives:
(1) infrastructure; and
(2) revenues.
Long term infrastructure investments that need to be funded with foreign capital
becomes a destination product though often the initial capital outlay will be funded
from the destination itself. Revenue generating activities like hospitality, retail and
business are some activities that need to be supported by destination information
services, banking, transportation, security and even cultural activities (museums,
entertainment, etc).
Target customers
Who are the customers that Dubai focuses on? An interesting fact is that over
50 percent of the investment comes from the private sector. Within the ME
Subcontinent, North Africa to the Caspian region, there are more than 544 million
people with a GDP income of over US$1,000 (Gulf News, 2007e). It is estimated
according to the Hedge Fund Report that the value of the potential Middle Eastern
capital available for investment (private wealth and institutional funds) is
approximately US$4.1 trillion (Rahman, 2007e), which makes this a lucrative
segment to focus on. Kuwaitis are the largest owners of land in Dubai (29 percent),
followed by Saudis (27 percent), Omanis (19 percent), Qatar (13 percent) and Bahrainis
(12 percent) which shows that FDI is mostly regional at this point (Zahid, 2006).
With the relaxation on property ownership, and increase in business investment, the
population has grown to 1.422 million, adding a total of 800 people daily in 2006
(Ahmed, 2007). The challenge would be to make the composition of investors more
international. Key trading partners in terms of exports are also regional – India,
Pakistan, Iran and Kuwait. In terms of re-exports, key countries were India and Iran
and in terms of imports it was China then India. Dubai is looking at more countries to
form strategic alliances as seen by the spate of foreign travels HE Sheikh Mohammad
has made in 2007 alone. The visitor composition has changed (Table III). The tourist
numbers have more than doubled since 1999 and more Europeans are being wooed
with Dubai’s lifestyle, weather and facilities.
According to DTCM’s (2007) One Stop Information Centre, though hotel occupancy
has increased from 66.8 percent (in 1999) to 82 percent (in 2007); average guest nights
have not increased significantly (2.5 nights in 1999 to 2.7 nights in 2007), Hence, Dubai
is not considered a long-stop location, it is more a transit point. This raises an
interesting question as it is not a very economical transit point. These two opposing
sides of the equation need to be balanced. Studies like the one conducted by Gonza´lez
and Bello (2002) should be conducted to offer insights on tourist consumer behaviour to
increase length of stay keeping in mind in 2010 many new hotels will be opened. Very
often target customer segmentation is by geographic area or income but a study by
Woodside and Ronkainen (1978) shows that though demographic profiles of tourists
can be same across geographic areas, the psychographic profile will differ. This
highlights the importance of matching the personality of the brand to the target
customer (Hosany et al., 2007), especially as brand “Dubai” moves westwards.
Year Total visitors Arabs (percent) Asian (percent) Europeans (percent)
1999 3,026,734 39 22 28
2006 6,441,670 30 22 31.7
Source: DTCM One Stop Information Centre (2007)
Table III.
Visitor composition
Dubai – a star
in the east
Target customers: discussion and recommendation
Though the target customers outside the destination are crucial to bring in revenue, it
is the residents that will help make it happen. Somehow that part often gets lost in
wooing customers. Dubai is no exception. The key questions destinations need to
address are:
. Who is your target market (looking at psychographic profiles also)?
. What kind of revenues are you looking from them?
. Who are the influencers for this group of customers?
. Are these groups of customers homogeneous across regions or does the regional
differentiation need special services?
. How can you profile this group of customers yet have one common theme that
attracts all of them?
. What are these target groups of customers looking in terms of service
interactions from your residents?
Image, differentiation, communication and response
Dubai actively pursues ingredient branding. There are over 400 international brands in
Dubai. Its no direct tax policy encourages investment. Its open skies policies allow any
airline to land, increasing transit traffic. It has been the promoter of the Dubai Shopping
Festival which has spurred retail sales and resulted in the world’s best brands being
found here. Its free trade zones have many Fortune 500 companies setting up offices
(Microsoft, Nokia, CNN, Pepsi), Banks (Credit Suisse; Merrill Lynch; Deutsche Bank,
etc.) and Hotels (Sheraton, Hyatt, Meridian, Raffles, etc.). Home brands like the Jumeira
International Group (hotels), Emaar, Nakheel and Dubai Holding (real estate), Dubal
(Aluminum) Emirates Airlines and DP World (port management) are among its brand
ambassadors. Many of its home grown brands are superlatives (Table IV). It is
Media proclaimed 7 star hotel Burj Al Arab
The world’s highest hotel The Burj al Alum
The world’s largest hotel Asia-Asia
The world’s first underwater hotel Hydropolis
World tallest building The Burj
The world’s tallest building built to be bigger
than The Burj
The Al Burj
The World’s richest horse race The Dubai Cup
The self proclaimed 8th wonder of the world “The Palm –The World”
The world’s largest waterfront development Dubai Waterfront
Dubai Marina World’s largest man-made marina
World’s first purpose-built sports city Dubai Sports City
The world’s largest mall Mall of Arabia, which will be bigger than
Dubai Mall which will become the world’s
largest mall
World’s largest gold souk In Dubai Mall
The world’s largest amusement park Dubailand of which Universal studios is a part
The world’s largest man-made port Jebel Ali
The world’s largest airport Jebel Ali airport at Dubai World Central
Regions largest logistic hub Dubai World Central
Table IV.
Some of Dubai’s
estimated that in order to promote the “Dubai” brand, the Department of Tourism and
Commerce’s unofficial marketing budgets are to exceed US$32 million. However, when
you add the projected spend of quasi-government organizations like the above, the
amount will exceed US$275 billion for the year 2010 (UAE Interact, 2007b).
Emirates Airline is a Brand Ambassador for Dubai like Singapore Airlines was for
Singapore or Lord of the Rings was for New Zealand. It is the world’s youngest and
fastest growing airline (it will accept delivery of an aircraft every month for the next
eight years) and the strongest brand in the UAE and the second strongest in the ME
(Dore, 2007). Its association with FIFA as the principal sponsor has helped change the
image of Dubai. Emirates Airlines is perceived as a global carrier. During the 2005
FIFA World Cup campaign, their emphasis was “We all speak the same language”
(implying football) which helped negate the negative COO effect. Today, over 120,000
UK citizens and 5,000 Germans have established residency in the UAE, plus over 1
million UK visitors and 30,000 Germans come every year (Anastasiou, 2007; Zahid,
2006). Their current campaign “Keep Discovering” encourages people to explore
through emirates.
Dubai has used its international exhibitions and its “transit hub” status to facilitate
travel. It featured on the cover issue of the January, 2007 National Geographic issue. It
was used as a movie backdrop for Academy Awards Winner Syrianna. It has
associations with celebrities who have “homes” here like football legend
David Beckham; actors like Michael Owen and Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan
(Nakheel, 2007). Dubai features in special documentaries on its mega construction
projects to create a “Buzz”.
There are cautions. The “tallest, biggest, richest, unique” are all short-lived
differentiators and when building destination images, it is better to build it on the
promise of something more tangible and concrete than a passing title. Though Dubai is
associated by so many images, not all images encompass the image of Dubai totally.
There is no single logo or symbol representing Dubai. Singapore has the Merlion, the
Singapore Airlines fabric, New York has its “I Lkve NY” logo, the Statue of Liberty
and the “City that Never Sleeps” campaign, Egypt is associated with the pyramids but
Dubai has yet to decide what will be its key image differentiator. Most tourists buy a
camel as a souvenir which is alright if that is a part of the branding strategy, but more
likely it is an entrepreneur’s interpretation of a destination. Image also needs to be
linked to an emotion. What emotional experience does the Destination want to
engineer? These are areas that Dubai needs to work on branding. Services are the
driver for the “Dubai brand.” The portfolio of products Dubai has to offer: real-estate,
business investment, financial services, lifestyle, tourism, shopping, healthcare and
education have a strong dependency on people and other auxiliary systems like laws,
regulations, infrastructure and social support to ensure that the overall “image” is
How can the response be managed? Though Dubai uses a variety of components of
the communication mix as seen above, there still has to be:
. consistency; and
. feedback.
Dubai needs to synergize its media and branding strategy across government, quasi
government and private sector companies. Also with respect to market information,
Dubai – a star
in the east
there is lack of access of to data. Companies are reluctant to give information as are
their employees (perhaps due to low job security). Another caution area is the promises
so heavily advertised on which the brand Dubai stands for are still being completed.
This can cause disappointment in investors and tourists. One traveler said “I was
surprised to see so many buildings that were un-finished”.
If we look at the brand strategy framework, Dubai focuses on most of the key
elements but there are a few areas that can be strengthened. The vision is clear, but it
needs to be focused. Dubai is associated with too many images which makes it
confusing. City of Dreams is too vague. To build a brand image sometimes we need to
focus on a few key elements at least in the initials stages to get greater recall,
association and usage.
Dubai is building a destination with the right brand equity blocks. What they do not
have in-house they are not afraid to ask for from outside. Since, people are the key
drivers, they all need to own the vision and this is a challenge given the size of the
expatriate population. At his historic speech in front of key influencers of the nation,
Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of
UAE and Ruler of Dubai said:
… It is common knowledge that it is far easier to build financial capital than it is to build
intellectual, psychological and moral capital. Building a road, or a bridge, may take a year or
two, but building a person takes a lifetime. We live, today, in the ever changing era of
knowledge, requiring continuous learning which does not end at a certain level, or by
attaining a … certain expertise.
Pride is a good way to start. The pride “of belonging” and “visiting” a destination. All
this together will make Dubai a truly “global city.”
Image, differentiation, communication and response: discussion and recommendations
How do you create a positive image? When looking at ingredient branding,
international brands give the tourist and business investor some immediate sense of
affiliation and trust. A study by James et al. (2006) finds that the more similarity
between brand alliances (looking at functional and emotional aspects of the brand)
exists, the greater likelihood of consumers purchasing that product. The destination
must also export “home” grown brands as most tourists are looking for the “unique”
destination experience. So the key question is how do you differentiate regions?
Destinations need to identify which tangible and intangible components their target
customers’ value. For example, O’Cass and Grace (2004) and de Chernatony and Riley
(1998) have identified a detailed list of brand dimensions important for customers.
Images based on destination attributes (Correira et al., 2007; Hankinson, 2004, 2005;
Pawitra and Tan, 2003; Leisen, 2001) need to be matched to the customers perceptions
and self image (Jamal and Goode, 2001). Destinations need to balance
tangibles/functional attributes with emotional/ambience components (Hankinson,
2005) and can use methods like “Mood” marketing (Pritchard and Morgan, 1998). On
the other hand negative images of a destination need to be assessed as they affect
overall image. For example, a study by Pawitra and Tan (2003) found that negative
images of Singapore arose from the expensive price of goods and unfriendly people.
In today’s technology based world, tourists still prefer traditional distribution
channels, especially for visiting new destinations though the net is used to supplement
information (Law et al., 2004). Results of a survey conducted by Future Brands (2006),
a Simon Anholt group found that tourists preferred to depend on friends and family
recommendations prior to choosing a destination 29 percent of the time and then they
used the web 66 percent of the time post selection to get information. The net will
become a formidable medium and it is important to keep track of its growing
importance. Studies like the one conducted by Martin et al. (2007) show netnography as
a way of getting firsthand feedback on perceptions of travelers to destination. It also is
a useful way to find ways of uncovering the real “flavor” of a place and positioning the
brand in a language they are comfortable with. The communication mix must look at
the target customer behavior patterns and also must be able to display consistency of
information and easy networking between various sites.
Findings and future recommendations
The analysis of the case study found a strong fit with the model. Some recommendations
were also derived from the analysis. A key constraint of this study is the availability of
sufficient information which is still limited in the UAE. This would affect the
interpretation of the result. Dubai is truly a Star shining in the East with respect to
destination marketing. They still need to continue focusing on new trends. They need to
continue identifying new tourist segments, for example, China will become a key source
of outbound tourism by 2020, supplying 100 million travelers (WTO, 2007). In addition
Dubai needs to focus on Stages 6 and 7 of the branding framework model (Figure 3)
where they need a clearer unified brand promise and a few select representative images.
Responses must be engineered, so positive WOM can increase.
This is a new area of research. This model can be applied to several destinations to
test its fit. A survey tool on customer perceptions can be developed to further help
cities in their branding strategies. This means looking at internal and external
customers. External customers will be of two types – visitors and people who have
never visited. This can help remove the negative COO effect and reinforce positive
brand elements. Since, people are a key driver of services and destination marketing
and brand perception, more research can be conducted about understanding how a
government can take onus for its population and the impact they have on key drivers
like tourism and business. National pride can be reinforced in service delivery to make
more positive experience outcomes.
The communication mix can be researched looking at well-established destinations
and emerging destinations. WOM is a strong influencer for shortlisting countries
(29 percent dependency) hence reference generation must be an activity pursued
(Future Brands, 2006). Research suggests that simplifying positioning based on the
visitors experience of features in a destination can improve the branding (Foley and
Fahy, 2004). Caldwell and Freire (2004) recommend that countries focus on emotive
parts of brand identity due to their diversity, while regions and cities can focus more on
functional attributes.
This paper contributes to the overall body of academic knowledge and provides a
constructive guideline in the development of destination branding. As more economies
move towards a service economy the distinction between one destination and another
blurs. As one customer joked “Everything is made in China so what is unique about the
place?” Destinations must start focusing on the service experience and all customer
touchpoints especially the people as they help deliver the experience. The checklist in
Table V is developed looking at the literature review (destination and business context),
Dubai – a star
in the east
Checklist Concept
Purpose What is the objective behind destination branding?
What values will you hold?
How will you share and create ownership of vision across various stakeholders
especially residents?
How will the vision also improve social and economic prosperities of residents?
What are key factors on which vision hinges on (resources available, investments costs,
revenue returns, intellectual/social/process capital)?
People Who will benefit (internal and external)?
Who are the key internal stakeholders needed to be aligned for the strategy to succeed
(government/(s), publics, media, influencer, private sector – domestic and international)?
Who are potential external stakeholders that can facilitate the strategy (influencers like
media, governments, NGOs, financial bodies, transportation companies, etc.)?
Who is the strategy targeting?
What resources and how much time is required to change mind-set?
Performance What is the current status (SWOT)?
How do you wish to change that perception building on your strengths?
What are the performance guidelines you will use to measure change?
Who will monitor and be responsible for the change?
How do you cascade, communicate and align the performance objectives across
government departments, private firms and publics?
How will you keep performance expectations abreast with changing world situations?
What other destination will you use as a benchmark and why?
Product What portfolio of products will you offer for which you need to create a brand strategy?
Which products will bring revenues into your destination? Which products will be used
to increase prosperity of your residents?
Which products will build your brand/image?
How will investments in these products change in the future and how easily replicable
are they?
Which of these products take advantage of your core competencies – geographical
location, history or people?
How will be products be synergized across product types, customers, services and
policies, infrastructure requirements, stakeholders and media?
Positioning What are your key attributes (physical, business, emotional, cultural, etc.)?
What do your target customers value?
Is it unique and not easily replicable?
Are the brand components – name, slogan, color, trademark/logo, personality, image,
service performance/benefits, representations (corporate/human), culture, messages, and
emotions – reinforcing each other?
How are you monitoring these components?
Process What system change do you need?
How can you synergize information and processes (for speed, service, security,
information and convenience)?
Can you create one-stop information and process handling points for target customers?
What technology/infrastructure do you need to keep your destination brand promise?
Who will be accountable?
Are your systems leading to intellectual capital generation in the case of extended
product ranges?
Through what systems/channels/processes will you offer your destination product
portfolio and how will you control and integrate these systems to reach your correct
Table V.
Destination branding –
the six Ps: a checklist
the case studies and especially Dubai. It can be used to help develop a strong brand
strategy for the destination. It focuses on six Ps crucial to destination branding:
(1) purpose of the destination brand design and promise;
(2) people that will be affected, influencers and target of branding;
(3) performance expected after a realistic audit;
(4) products offered under the destination portfolio and their management;
(5) positioning expected and ways to reinforce it and finally; and
(6) process of ensuring the brand promises are delivered as effectively and
efficiently as possible.
This is the start into the study of a topic that will continue to gain more importance as
borders blur and revenue from destination branding continues to increase.
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Corresponding author
Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan can be contacted at: [email protected]
Dubai – a star
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