Thinking of starting a travel business in the UAE?

Starting a travel business in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) just got easier. That’s if a recent article in The National is to be believed.

Of course, for budding entrepreneurs and business people wanting to launch a travel business in the UAE, this is great news. But there are several things to consider. Having assisted many international travel businesses to open in UAE (mainly Dubai), here are seven things you should be aware of before taking the leap:

1. Which Emirate?

Most travel companies are interested in opening in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but it may be a wise move to headquarter your travel business in one of the other (5) Emirates where running costs can be significantly lower.

 2. Business practices and cultural differences

Culturally, the Middle East as a region has differences to other parts of the world so you should familiarise yourself with local practices and business etiquette.  It is important to understand the difference with BSP, IATA, working days/hours, banking, the speed of doing business, management styles, etc.

3. Company structure

Typically, most travel companies in the UAE are incorporated either in partnership with a local Emirati or in one of the numerous free-zones.  This is a rather complicated area, but Progressive Travel Recruitment can supply a spreadsheet that clearly outlines the difference is in start-up and running costs for a travel business in Dubai. Costs of running travel companies in one of the other Emirates will vary.  Please email or call me at Progressive Travel Recruitment’s Dubai office on 0097143116659 for details.

4. Travel talent in the UAE

From experience, most travel people are based in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. It is quite limited in terms of quality which is often a surprise to many.  Very few local Emiratis work in the travel industry and most of the junior- to mid-management workforce comprises expats from the Indian Sub-Continent and SE Asia.  A smaller minority from Western Europe, South Africa, Australasia and North America hold most of the senior management roles in the UAE travel industry.

5. Attracting travel talent in the UAE (mainly Dubai)

This is the tricky part.  You can look for talent within the UAE as they are used to the culture of the country and don’t require a relocation.  However, junior travel candidates often move purely for a minimal increase in basic salary, so they are ultimately moving for the wrong reasons. Most of the international travel companies for whom we have sought travel candidates look to recruit in the UAE and wider GCC region, only to realise they will need to relocate candidates from outside. It is important you position yourself as a fair employer, remunerate adequately, position yourself as an international travel business, offer training and an opportunity for progression.  It should be noted, however, that travel salaries in Dubai are low when you take in to account the cost of living.  Relocating staff to the country will be more expensive (relocation, visas and salaries) but it could be a very wise move.

6. Labour laws

The labour laws in the UAE are forever changing.  It is essential that you familiarise yourself with these on the UAE government’s website and keep yourself up-to-date with the changes on a regular basis.

7. Know your market

The UAE, and specifically Dubai, positions itself as a luxury travel destination/market through brilliant PR and marketing.  What might surprise many is that it is in fact an incredibly price sensitive market.  You therefore need to decide whether you are looking for low-margin volume or quality traffic with customers that are happy to pay more for service.  This applies to corporate and leisure travel in the UAE.

These are just a few quick pointers before you start the process. For additional free advice on setting up a travel agency or tour operator in Dubai, or the UAE, please email or comment below.