Dubai retailers beef up Chinese staff, expanding Chinese payment systems like UnionPay to capture lucrative market

May 20, 2020

China is the fourth biggest source market for travelers into Dubai, with visitors to the Emirate growing 12% annually, according to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and with that, retailers in Dubai have increasingly accommodating free-spending Chinese shoppers in several ways, beyond simply hiring Mandarin-speaking staff. Mandarin signs, new payment systems, and more bi-lingual shop staff in response to the increasing Chinese travelers into the UAE.


China is the fourth biggest source market for travellers into Dubai, with visitors to the Emirate growing 12% annually, according to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. The number of foreign overnight visitors to Dubai increased 5.1% to 16.7 million in 2019, helped by a rise in Chinese visitors even as tourists from top source market India fell, the government said on Tuesday.

Increasingly, accepting different forms of payment that are commonplace in China has become an imperative for retailers throughout the UAE. Credit card penetration in the country is relatively diminutive; roughly nine out of 10 customers prefer mobile payments over any other form of transaction. Nearly 83 percent of all smartphone users use WeChat app as a messaging service and information portal, and more than two-thirds of the Chinese population use it as a payment service.

Retailers in Dubai have increasingly accommodating free-spending Chinese shoppers in several ways, beyond simply hiring Mandarin-speaking staff. Mandarin signs, new payment systems, and more bi-lingual shop staff are all part of a multipronged approach that stores in Dubai have had to adopt in response to the influx of Chinese tourists.

Airport store operator Dubai Duty Free, one of the oldest retailers in the city, was a pioneer in employing Chinese store staff. “We recognised the importance of the Chinese traveller to our business very early on and began recruitment from China in 2006,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman and chief executive of Dubai Duty Free.

“What we are finding is that associations with Chinese institutions such as Union Pay have helped influence traffic to our stores from the high disposable income category,” said Greig Fowler, chief executive of AW Rostamani Lifestyle in a recent interview with Gulf News.

Dubai’s top six source markets for 2019 were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Oman, China and Russia which together accounted for more than 7 million visitors.

According to Reuters, Dubai is targeting more than 23 million visitors by 2025.

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