Shopping, conferences boosted Dubai visitors by 8 percent in 2014

The emirate should achieve similar growth this year, and expects to hit its target of 20 million visitors a year by 2020

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The number of visitors to Dubai rose 8.2 percent to 13.2 million in 2014, helped by easier entry rules, more business conferences and an expanding entertainment and retail sector, its tourism chief said on Monday.

The emirate should achieve similar growth this year, and expects to hit its target of 20 million visitors a year by 2020, Helal Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said.

Dubai, one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, has built a thriving, mostly high-end tourism sector over the past two decades, helped by government-owned airline Emirates, which has created a hub between Europe and Asia.

Western Europe and other Gulf countries each accounted for 22 percent of visitors to Dubai last year, according to a government report on Monday. South Asia provided 14 percent and the remaining Middle East and North Africa 11 percent.

“Expectations for this year are strong,” Almarri told a news conference. “We expect a similar sort of growth. Our target is to grow 7 to 9 percent annually and expect this trend to continue. All indications for the first quarter are positive.”

The UAE also eased its entry rules to allow 13 more European, mostly former communist, countries to obtain a visa on arrival, prompting a surge in the number of visitors to Dubai from these states, the report said.

Tourism accounts for about a fifth of Dubai’s gross domestic product, Almarri estimated, adding that “we expect that percentage to remain stable, but grow in line with GDP.”

Hotel capacity at the end of 2014 was 92,300 rooms, up 9 percent from a year earlier, with about 29,500 in the emirates 84 five-star hotels, 18,600 at four-star hotels and 25,000 in hotel apartments.

“We’re trying to ensure we remain in high single-digit, low double-digit growth because as well as visitor numbers increasing the length of stay is increasing. It results in more room nights,” said Almarri.

Three-quarters of visitors stayed in hotels and 22 percent with friends and relatives. Each stayed an average of 7.8 days last year.

Almarri said Dubai was on track to meet its target of attracting 20 million visitors annually by 2020.

“I wouldn’t say there’s no pressure - there are difficulties in some of the economies of our source markets,” said Almarri.

“There are swings in currencies. Every year we face new challenges, but we have a robust tourism industry and diverse source markets.”