Tourists at Gold Market in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News Archive

Dubai: With the goal of 20 million visitors per year by 2020 in mind, Dubai welcomed a total of 15.79 million tourists last year, posting a robust 6.2 per cent annual increase in international overnight visitation.

According to Dubai’s tourism authority, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, this was a 1.2 per cent improvement on the 5 per cent growth it witnessed in 2016.

The 15.79 million visitors represents a new record for the emirate, which Dubai Tourism says underlines the “sustained strength and resilience of [the] travel and tourism sector,” and solidifies the emirate’s position as the fourth most visited city globally.

According to a statement from Dubai Tourism, the figures were buoyed by the newly minted visa-on-arrival status for both Russian and Chinese tourists, which “exponentially” elevated visitor numbers from both markets.

Meanwhile, India became the first country to top two million annual visitors to the UAE, retaining its place as the country’s top source market for another year running. The country’s performance represented a 15 per cent year-on-year increase.

Saudi Arabia maintained its second place contributing a total of 1.53 million tourists in 2017. Despite an overall 7 per cent year-on-year drop in visitation, it remained the highest driver of traffic volumes from within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Third-placed UK, meanwhile, delivered 1.27 million travellers, rising 2 per cent over 2016, despite currency fluctuations and a general lack of confidence triggered by Britain’s Brexit vote. The country has seen overall outbound tourism drop in the past year as a result.

In a statement on the annual performance, Helal Saeed Al Merri, director general of Dubai Tourism said: “…the emirate has continued to capture 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 per cent growth in 2017 has allowed us to ramp up the pace towards meeting our 2020 targets, and today Dubai’s travel and tourism sector is not only well positioned to offer a superlative destination experience across its eight core strategic propositions, but also geared to accelerate its appeal to the diverse and evolving needs of our global travellers.”

Al Merri added that Dubai continued to work towards becoming the world’s number one most visited city.