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Dubai flies high as a travel hub

By Nick Easen for CNN
One palm tree-shaped island will include 2,000 villas, as well as 40 luxury hotels and shopping complexes.
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(CNN) -- A number of city-states have fueled their economies by promoting themselves as business and travel hubs.

The formula was implemented by the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong a decade ago.

But now another destination is applying the same model with equal success -- Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates.

A recent online CNN poll showed that Hong Kong is still the most preferred city for business travel among the three, followed by Singapore. Around 20 percent said they favored Dubai. (View QuickVote)

An intimate connection between commerce and government, low taxes for corporations and expatriates, and concessions for businesses, mean Dubai is turning into one of the world's fastest-growing commercial centers.

Its travel and hospitality industries -- including Emirates Airlines -- are all riding on the back of the government's commitment to develop the emirates' infrastructure and promote the Gulf state as a travel destination.

The flagship carrier recently saw a 74 percent rise in full-year net profits and will launch its first flight to New York on June 1. It will also open a new route to Christchurch, New Zealand from June 10.

"Passenger rates are growing at 16 percent a year, (and) we are fairly successful in keeping costs down," Maurice Flanagan, Vice President of Emirates Air told CNN.

Emirates Airline carried 10.4 million passengers during its last financial year, an increase of almost two million fliers, or 23 percent more than the year before.

Increasingly competitive

Now the city is aggressively going after the same regional business conventions, exhibitions, and hub-to-hub executive travelers that Singapore and Hong Kong vie for.

There is also increasing competition from the energy-rich state of Qatar, which has unveiled an ambitious $15 billion plan to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. (Full Story)
An old wooden cargo boat contrasts with the gleaming towers on Dubai Creek.

Yet Dubai's transformation from a desert backwater is more advanced -- it already has a significant retail and leisure development on the Creek known as Festival City.

A new airport terminal is being built at a cost of more than $5 billion. Then there is Dubai Healthcare City, an International Financial Center and the twin Palm Islands -- an offshore real estate development.

The latest plan -- Dubailand -- is a multi billion dollar, two billion square feet (186 million square meters) public-private sector tourism city composing of entertainment districts, hotels, sports and leisure facilities.

There are also plans to build the Mall of the Emirates, a massive shopping center, which is set to be the largest mall in the world outside of North America.

On opening, the mall will have a 400-suite five-star hotel, more than 350 shops and the world's largest indoor ski resort.

The InterContinental hotel group has signed a contract to manage a new hotel in the city, and Hong Kong-based Shangri-La opened its second hotel in Dubai last month.

According to the Dubai-based Gulf News, business travel is estimated to be worth $1.2 billion this year, by 2014, this is estimated to almost double.

The same report said that Dubai's hotels hosted an all-time record, five million guests last year, up from 4.7 million in 2002.

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