Dubai: The number of international tourists visiting Dubai reached 8.1 million in the first half of 2018, nearly flat year on year, according to figures from the emirate’s tourism body.

The figure is in comparison to the 8.06 million that visited Dubai in the first half of 2017, with the year-on-year growth rate at the time at 10.6 per cent compared to 0.49 per cent in the first half of this year.

In its statement, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) said Dubai is “on track for projected growth into the second half of 2018.”

“Attracting 8.1 million visitors during the first half of 2018 stands us in good stead as we accelerate momentum towards our visionary aspiration of becoming the most visited city in the world,” said Hilal Saeed Al Marri, director general of Dubai Tourism.

He pointed that Dubai’s tourism offerings have evolved in response to market demand, increasing the emirate’s attractiveness among target visitor segments across key guest markets.

Dubai’s top source markets in the first half remained India, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. More than one million Indian guests visited Dubai, up 3 per cent year-on-year.

“Looking ahead to the second half of 2018 and additional areas of growth for the tourism sector, the recent move to implement a value-added tax refund mechanism for tourists will ensure the industry’s competitiveness globally and further growth in its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) contribution to Dubai,” Al Marri said.

In terms of source markets, China came in at fourth place, with the number of visitors from the country rising 9 per cent to 453,000 tourists.

Meanwhile, Russia registered the largest year-on-year increase at 74 per cent, with 405,000 visitors to Dubai from the country.

Both China and Russia benefited from the easing of travel access to their citizens, after the UAE announced it will provide visas on arrival for citizens of China and citizens of Russia in late 2016 and early 2017 respectively.

Commenting on the figures, Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director for the Middle East and Africa at Marriott International, said in a statement he remained “very optimistic” about Dubai, which he described as a leading destination for global travel.

“Dubai Tourism has done an incredible job of fuelling the growth of tourism through its visa initiatives, which [have] not only eased access into the city, but also introduced this amazing destination to new source markets across the globe,” Kyriakidis said.