February 4, 2020

Tisch Center Research: Abu Dhabi and Dubai Perception Study

In this interview, Professor Karaburun tells us more about a research project he conducted with his undergraduate and graduate students, about the perceptions US passport holders have of Abu Dhabi and Dubai as tourism destinations.

What is the perception study about? 

The perception study was conducted as part of our J-term Destination Marketing field intensive, which took place in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The study gauged American travelers’ impressions of the Middle Eastern region, and compared it to the perceptions that Dubai and Abu Dhabi tourism officers hold about their destinations. In my destination marketing classes, we cover the concept of destination image, which consists of two parts: the organic image and the induced image. The organic image is the image that travelers have about the destination based upon their general impressions, the media and public opinion. The induced image is the image that tourism offices hope to convey to visitors. There is often a gap between these two and this is what we wanted to measure in this study. 

Why are you interested in this topic and why is this important to you? 

I am a marketing professor and one of my areas of expertise is destination marketing, which I have been teaching for over 5 years at NYU. I am originally from Turkey, which is often considered to be part of the Middle East. I have found that there is a huge cultural gap and lack of understanding between American travelers and Middle Eastern destinations. We created this J-term course in order to decrease the cultural gap between our students and the destinations. It’s important to note that we worked with two tourism officers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai who are former NYU Tisch Center students. 

What were your findings? 

422 U.S. passport holders took the survey. We found that respondents aged between 18 and 44 relied mostly on social media to retrieve information about destinations, while respondents aged between 45 and 74 relied mostly on friends and relatives. Respondents over the age of 75 rely most on travel agencies and advisors. There was also a gender difference in how respondents retrieve information about destinations. We found that women relied most on friends and relatives, while men relied most on travel media. In terms of content that inspires travel, we found that user-generated content inspires 25% of our sample. Additionally, movies and T.V. shows inspire 20%.

As part of the research, we also compared the respondents’ familiarity with Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. Almost 55% of respondents were “not so familiar” or “not at all familiar” with Dubai, while over 70% of respondents are “not so familiar” or “not at all familiar” with Abu Dhabi. We then asked people’s overall opinion of both places. About 70% have a “somewhat favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of Dubai, while about 53% have a “somewhat favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of Abu Dhabi.

As for women’s rights, we found that U.S. travelers have a strong negative perception of women’s rights in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For both emirates, numerous respondents listed “repressive,” “oppressive of women,” “bad track record with women’s rights,” etc. as the first words that came to mind when they thought about the destination.

What were your recommendations? 

We shared our findings with both offices and provided recommendations. Our first recommendation was a UAE (United Arab Emirates) nation brand. One of our students even came up with UAE (Ultimate Arabian Experience) Campaign. Since Americans are unfamiliar with Dubai and Abu Dhabi as emirates within the UAE, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi would benefit from a stronger UAE nation brand. Additionally, because of American’s perceptions that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are related to luxury, and therefore, excess, we suggested that they showcase more down-to-earth experiences rather than just big projects such as Expo 2020. As part of that, we recommended that they use the Sustainable Development Goals logos on websites, social media, and all marketing materials. Lastly, we suggested that they take the concept of #MyDubai further with the #realDubai: a series of unscripted mini-documentaries highlighting the lives of locals and immigrants in Dubai. That could mean bringing in numerous documentary producers to cover people of different nationalities and income groups living in Dubai. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

We gave our final presentations to both offices. Students in this class did a great job with the survey and their recommendations. I am currently working with two graduate students and we hope to publish our study. Stay tuned.  

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