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Dubai Moves to Become World’s First Most Visited City

**Records 15.8m Int’l Overnight Visitors in 2017

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

Last year, Dubai recorded a strong 6.2 percent year-on-year increase in international overnight visitation, accelerating the 5 percent growth witnessed in the previous year and propelling the emirate’s momentum towards its 2020 goal of welcoming 20 million visitors per year by the start of the next decade.

According to the latest data published by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism), a total of 15.79 million tourists visited Dubai last year, setting a new record for the emirate and underlining the sustained strength and resilience of its travel and tourism sector.

Commenting on the development, His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Dubai Tourism, said: “Under the visionary leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the emirate has continued to capture the share of the global outbound travel market, complemented by a significant increase in tourism-driven economic contribution to the country’s GDP.

“Our strong 6.2 percent growth in 2017 has allowed us to ramp up the pace towards meeting our 2020 targets, and we remain confident that our performance, backed by the continued strength of our partnerships across government and private sector stakeholders, will enable us to successfully attain our goals of becoming the number one most visited city as well as being the most recommended with the highest number of repeat Dubai loyalists.”

India retained top spot in 2017, contributing 2.1 million visitors, becoming the first country to cross the 2 million mark in a single year.

The country’s performance represented a 15 percent year-on-year increase and validated, among other factors, the success of Dubai Tourism’s ongoing collaboration with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan in the multi award-winning #BeMyGuest campaign.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) maintained its second rank, contributing a total of 1.53 million tourists last year, maintaining its position as the highest driver of traffic volumes from within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Third-placed UK, meanwhile, delivered 1.27 million travellers, rising 2 percent over 2016, underscoring Dubai’s enduring popularity among British travellers.

Impressive results from some of Dubai’s remaining top 10 source markets for inbound tourism included fifth-placed China with 764,000 tourists, up 41 percent while eighth-placed Russia with 530,000 visitors, recording a stellar 121 percent increase over the previous year.

Both markets benefited from easier access following the introduction of visa-on-arrival facilities to Chinese and Russian citizens in late 2016 and early 2017, respectively.

With increased contributions also from the USA, Germany and Iran, at 633,000, 506,000 and 503,000 visitors respectively, collective gains across all of these markets helped mitigate the decline in visitation observed from some of the regional markets like Oman and Pakistan.

Western Europe replaced the GCC as Dubai’s main regional source market with a 21 percent share, contributing more than 3.2 million travellers, up 5.5 percent.

Although last year’s top performer ended 2017 in second place, the GCC region still maintained a high share of volume at 19 percent, delivering an overall 3.02 million travellers to Dubai. This 4 percentage point decline in GCC share was, however, effectively countered by year-on-year increases in tourist volumes from all other regional source markets except Australasia.

The South Asia region, in third place, contributed an 18 percent share of over 2.8 million visitors, up a strong 10.6 percent, followed by the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and North and South-East Asia regions in joint fourth position, each contributing close to 1.7 million visitors and independently commanding 11 percent share, the former recording a 3.2 percent increase and the latter, an impressive 23.6 percent over 2016 visitation figures.

Underscoring the successful delivery of its diversified market strategy, Dubai’s regional mix saw the biggest year-on-year gain of 51.8 percent from the Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe block, contributing more than 1.1 million visitors and representing a share of 7 percent; the Americas with a 6 percent share made up of just under 1 million visitors, up 7.7 percent; the Africa region with a 5 percent share made up of more than 780,000 travellers, up 6.7 percent; and finally Australasia countries with a 2 percent share of overall volumes, with a total of just under 340,000 visitors.

Supporting the city’s priority agenda to always offer something new, unique and world-class to every global traveller, 2017 saw further strides made in broadening Dubai’s appeal to a wide spectrum of visitors.

The city’s newest beachfront district, La Mer, opened to provide families with a new hotspot for dining, playing and unwinding, while Etihad Museum was inaugurated to give the culturally curious an enriching overview of the birth of the United Arab Emirates and the fathers of the nation.

Meanwhile, Dubai’s new era of live entertainment saw yet another boost with the inauguration of La Perle, the region’s first resident theatrical show, performed in a state-of-the-art aqua theatre in Habtoor City.

Dubai’s major theme parks – IMG Worlds of Adventures and Dubai Parks and Resorts (DPR) had their first full year of operations in 2017. And continuing to enhance Dubai’s attractiveness as a global shopping destination following its launch in December 2016, Dubai’s Retail Calendar saw both traffic and engagement across the 12 months of shopping-related festivals, promotions and seasonal offer periods, mega-sales and clearance events, exclusive retail experiences and activations.

Among the openings towards the end of the year were Dubai Frame and Dubai Safari. New destination offerings coming online in 2018 include sections of the Dubai Historic District, giving visitors an immersion into the rich history of the emirate, glimpses of how people used to live and work, and traditions and customs that remain to this day. To add to the mix is UAE’s first national park, Al Marmoum, which launched at the beginning of 2018, providing an opportunity for tourists to interact, learn and appreciate the wildlife flora and fauna of the emirate. With more options for visitors, combined with key fundamentals and the UAE’s status as the second ranked country globally for safety and security, according to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, a firm path has been set for further growth in visitation numbers.

Modupe Gbadeyanka is a fast-rising journalist with Business Post Nigeria. Her passion for journalism is amazing. She is willing to learn more with a view to becoming one of the best pen-pushers in Nigeria. Her role models are the duo of CNN's Richard Quest and Christiane Amanpour.

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