Tourism from China is booming, and it’s making a huge impact on the Middle East’s F&B sector. Caterer surveys the scene
In 2001, the number of hotel guests received in Dubai from China and Hong Kong was 14,000; by 2010 it had risen to 172,000. That’s an increase of 1,128%, and it’s a fair reflection on what’s going on around the region, and the world: Chinese tourism is increasing exponentially.
While visitors to Dubai from North America outnumber this by far, the percentage has only increased by 376% from 115,715 to 551,198 over the last 10 years; and European visitors have grown only by 146% (from 953,064 to 2,342,698).
And whether trips are made for business or pleasure, there’s no doubt that it’s having a huge impact on the foodservice industries in the region.
While Dubai is a cosmopolitan city and already has a lot of outlets, other countries boast just a few, such as Jordan which has only 10 standalone Chinese restaurants.
But Eliana Janineh, general manager of Jordan’s Restaurant Association admits: “We are witnessing a growth according to increasing tourist demands. Just last week we classified a new Chinese restaurant in Petra”.
Onwards and upwards
This increased demand from Chinese visitors is something many chefs in the region have noticed too.
“There has been a dramatic growth in Chinese visitors to the country, particularly to Dubai,” says Glen Fernandes, executive chef at the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa, Dubai.
“Most of them are tourists but a sizeable number are visiting for business purposes also. We have noticed the influx because we have provided catering for lots of events for Chinese tour groups.
“Our menu at Silk Route restaurant includes native Chinese specialities, so it is mainly appreciated by Chinese guests, but Europeans like it too.”
Even though the signature dish on the menu is a sizzling black pepper lobster, Fernandes believes dishes don’t have to be strictly authentic to be good.
“When Marco Polo brought the noodle to Europe in the 12th Century [a belief among many, but not proven in any source], it gradually turned into spaghetti. Likewise here, where there are a lot of Southeast Asian people, many Chinese dishes are tampered with and Indian spices find their way into them and it turns into more of a fusion food.”
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