The Dubai Pavilion at the Arabian Travel Market 2016. Dubai is adding more events and theme parks as part of efforts to bring in more visitors and encourage repeat visits. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The number of overnight visitors in Dubai is expected to touch 15 million in 2016, a top tourism official said.

According to the latest figures from Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism), 4.1 million overnight visitors arrived in Dubai in the first quarter of this year, up 5.1 per cent year-on-year, driven by strong growth from India and the Gulf countries.

“We’re targeting 7-9 per cent growth for this year [compared to 2015],” Essam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told reporters at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Wednesday.

Visitor numbers will need to grow by 7-9 per cent annually for Dubai to reach its target of attracting 20 million visitors per year by 2020. More events, theme parks and shopping areas are being added in Dubai, which will help bring in more visitors and encourage repeat visits.

Overnight visitors from Saudi Arabia increased 14 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter to 476,000, while those from India rose 17 per cent to 467,000.

Dubai will also need to double the number of hotel rooms to have 140,000-160,000 rooms by 2020 to cater to the anticipated growth in visitors.

The rise in supply of hotel rooms in the market and a strong US dollar have contributed to the decline in average room rates in the city. According to a report by research firm STR Global, average room rates in Dubai decreased 10.1 per cent year-on year to $234.88 (Dh862.70) in the first quarter of 2016.

Kazim is not concerned about the drop in room rates, adding that they are still high compared to other markets globally.

“If you look at the way we’re looking at supply and demand, we want to make sure that investors are still getting a healthy return on their investments but at the same time we want to make sure the prices in Dubai are at a level that even the consumers are actually seeing the advantage of having a wide variety of options available to them... it’s still a very healthy level when it comes to the returns that [investors] get out of the hotels,” he said.

Asked if he expects room rates in Dubai to continue to drop this year, Kazim said: “ We can still achieve a continual balance between supply and demand... I can see a natural balance occurring, not necessarily declining, but matching the demand that we have.”

Kazim also said that the Dh35 passenger service fee announced by Dubai Airports last month will not be “a hindering factor” to tourism to Dubai. The fee will be added to all airfares for departing flights, including transfer passengers at Dubai’s airports after June 30, booked after March 1.

“A lot of the big tourism destinations in the world have fees that they have also allocated to travel... our aim is to always make sure that whatever fees are implemented... it is done in a way where we all are speaking the same language so that at least we understand that it will not hinder any opportunities that we may have of bringing more people to Dubai,” he said.