Food Tourism is Dubai’s Next Sector to Watch, Here’s Why

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Skift Take

Dubai is more than just big malls and shiny hotels, and its maturing restaurant sector proves that.

Earlier this month, the third edition of Dubai’s Michelin Guide was announced, a lavish, government-sponsored affair constructed to show the world Dubai means business when it comes to food. It was held at the One&Only One Za’abeel — a government-owned five-star hotel.

In fact, the entirety of Michelin in Dubai is effectively a government project. Dubai Tourism brought the Michelin Guide to the city in 2022 as the emirate sought to tap into gastronomic tourism for the first time.

For this year’s Guide, 106 restaurants made the list, with 15 having one-star distinctions and four restaurants given two stars. Dubai is yet to have its first three Michelin-star restaurant.

These 106 restaurants now serve as neat marketing tools for Dubai Tourism as it looks for new ways to pull travelers into the city.

In the UNWTO’s Second Global Report on Gastronomy Tourism, it suggested that food tourism should be placed “as a horizontal layer of … destination marketing and product development strategies instead of a vertical one.” Ideally, the report suggests that food experiences should be integrated within other experiences, and not “treat[ed] as a standalone product.”

Globally, Skift data In 2019 showed 98% of US respondents traveled for food, 42% of those did so for food as the main purpose of their trips.

Gastronomic tourism is one of Dubai’s newest branches of travel, and one the city is immensely focused on nailing. For years, luxury hotels and high-end shopping got all the attention of travelers. Dubai restaurants have recently been featured on Netflix as well.

Dubai boasts around 13,000 restaurants, and this year was declared by Time Out as the ninth-best city in the world for eating. Dubai Tourism’s own Gastronomy Report puts Dubai as the global capital of food (obviously) but the data set was 2,000 people already living in Dubai.

A Different Marketing Approach

Importantly, while Michelin itself tends to shine a light on high-end venues, Dubai’s focus on gastronomic tourism as a whole shows the city maturing and moving away from its reliance on promoting only luxury hotels and malls to tourists.

In the words of tourism CEO Issam Kazim, “Dubai is a victim of its own success.” The emirate pushed hard in the 2000s and early 2010s to build some of the most spectacular modern monuments in the world: The Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifa, and the Atlantis to name a few.

At Skift India Summit 2024, Kazim said: “We are a victim of our own success to a degree. The Burj Al Arab made us a sought-after destination, but people thought they couldn’t afford it. Yes, Dubai caters to high-end, but that doesn’t mean we don’t cater to all budgets.”

However, these locations led many to label Dubai as an unaffordable, overly-luxurious destination. In 2024, a wave of hip, new restaurants are changing the face of the city, showing tourists and locals the culture without breaking the bank.

Local restaurant company EATX is one such firm looking to showcase Dubai through its food spots. EATX Chief Operating Officer Nick Comaty told Skift: “I used to work in Miami, in New York and in Europe for a bit, but I think Dubai is the most competitive in terms of restaurants.”

“A lot of people who aren’t familiar with Dubai or moving here for the first time or visiting for the first time just have a surface-level idea but restaurants now are a lot more nuanced. Dubai itself is a multi-ethnic city. A few years ago, many people would just go to the malls in Dubai and think they’ve done everything. Now, restaurants are adding in so many new experiences into the city.”

A “Vegas Flair” in Dubai

According to Comaty, Dubai is a mixture of many major US cities when it comes to its food scene, including the “Vegas flair” you may find on the Strip.

He said: “Food is a driver for Dubai nowadays, people come here for the restaurants. It’s a mix of New York, Miami, and Vegas. Dubai has that fast pace, it has things happening all the time like New York; then it has the beaches of Miami; and then there’s that Vegas flair in terms of entertainment.”

A New Image

Comaty reflected: “In many ways, Dubai is already a gastronomic tourism destination. Dubai is in the top ten globally when it comes to dining. Hopefully one day it will be top three.”

“Dubai has multiple layers and that’s what people need to know. It’s not only the bling bling city. The rapid maturing of restaurants is helping change that image.”

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