The holy month of Ramadan, which has traditionally seen a slump in tourist numbers due to curtailed working hours, has been one of the best this year, helping Dubai retain its image as a safe and exotic holiday spot.

The Jumeirah International group, which owns the landmark Burj Al Arab, a seven-star hotel, has just seen a record month in terms of occupancy.
  
"Historically Ramadan is considered a month where five star hotels expect occupancy rates of 50%, but we have been at full capacity and
we expect 2004 to be a record year," said Bill Walshe, corporate director of sales.

Mina A'Salam, a resort built like a traditional Arab village which opened in September, is reporting occupancy rates between 70-80% and is likely to be fully booked well into January.

"It's been very busy in Ramadan with the majority of our customers from the leisure market, coming from Germany, France, Italy and the Gulf," said Helen Zhang, sales coordinator of the hotel.

State backing

At the root of this unprecedented tourist interest is the Dubai government, which has been aggresively marketing the emirate's sandy beaches as a Caribbean equivalent.

Sheikh Mohammed (R) is the force
driving Dubai's progress

The emirate is also making efforts to shift its allure from the time-tested beaches, shopping and desert safaris to include modern-day attractions.

In pursuit of this, Dubai's ruler Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum unveiled the $5 billion Dubai Land as a regional equivalent of Disneyland.

In May, Dubai had announced plans to build an artificial $2 billion residential island on reclaimed land on top of three similar projects.

New attractions

Also rising from the sands are Dubai Marina, a $10 billion city to house 100,000 people, and a $1.6 billion Dubai Festival City. The ultra-modern Dubai airport is also slated to get a $2.5 billion facelift.

The only missing segment for Dubai since the September 11 terror attacks had been large conferences and incentive groups.

However, with Ramadan coming to a close, a number of conferences are being planned in December through January, when Dubai holds its
annual shopping festival, a huge draw in the region.

Dubai, part of a seven member federation, currently boasts five million visitors a year for a population of 1.1 million, but is targeting 10 million by 2007 and 40 million by 2015.

World Tourism Organisation figures describe Dubai as one of the world's fastest growing business and tourist destinations. Tourism in 2000 made up 20% of GDP and since 1997 revenues have been rising by an estimated 11% and the number of visitors to the emirate by 5% annually.