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Dubai surpasses global tourism growth, delivers an all-time high 16.73 million overnight visitors in 2019

India, KSA and the UK retain top three positions as the city’s largest tourist contributors.

China, Oman and Philippines drive high impact with double-digit growth, solidifying their top 10 status Nigeria continues to fuel Africa’s volumes with 33 per cent growth, the highest single market increase in 2019 Rapidly gaining traction on the ‘travel wish list’ for today’s global traveller, 2019 not only delivered record tourist arrivals and indicated strong desirability for future visits, but also reinforced tourism’s role as key economic growth driver

Dubai’s tourism industry closed a successful decade at the end of 2019, welcoming an all-time high 16.73 million international overnight visitors, an impressive 5.1 per cent increase in tourism volumes, definitively surpassing the global tourism growth forecast by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) by over one per cent. 

With momentum firmly tracking against Dubai’s Tourism Vision 2022-25, latest data released by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) reflects the sector’s exponential progress in a compressed time-frame relative to peers, culminating in Dubai being ranked the World’s Fourth Most Visited City for the fifth consecutive year by MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index 2019. 

Rapidly gaining  traction on the ‘travel wish list’ for today’s global traveller, 2019 not only delivered record tourist arrivals and indicated strong desirability for future visits, but also reinforced tourism’s role as key economic growth driver. Contributing an impressive 11.5% in GDP value, Dubai’s tourism sector was ranked one of ‘Top 10’ strongest economic share generators, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Cities Report 2019. The Report also ranked Dubai the third largest city in capturing direct international tourism spending with a total of $27.9 billion.

Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Dubai Tourism, said: “The strong performances across our diversified spectrum of traditional strongholds and fast-growing high value segments have continued to solidify the global competitiveness and sustained resilience of Dubai’s tourism sector.”

Impressive growth is evidenced by Dubai’s top six source markets – India, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), United Kingdom (UK), Oman, China and Russia – delivering over seven million visitors in 2019, with 9 of the top 10 countries crossing half a million visitors each for the first time, highlighting the robust diversity of Dubai’s base for tourist attraction.

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Results reveal India once again retains its No.1 market status, drawing the highest visitation with nearly two million visitors, thanks to high-impact delivery of timely, seasonal messaging, and segment specific campaigns. 

Coming in strong at No. 2, KSA consolidates its position as the GCC’s highest traffic generator with 1.6 million Saudis visiting Dubai – commendable in a year that saw a massive surge in availability of competitive domestic tourist products, from attractions and sporting events to entertainment and festivals, for the market. In a resounding affirmation of the Emirate’s unmatched attractiveness to leisure travellers and families in specific, Eid and KSA National Holiday periods in 2019 broke all prior records with the latter alone registering an astounding year-on-year growth of over 36%.

The UK, meanwhile, remains Dubai’s third largest source market, with an impressive 1.2 million British travellers visiting the city in 2019 even as they continued to be affected by economic instability and a weaker pound, impacting affordability.

As the second highest volume driver for the GCC, Oman secures fourth spot in 2019 with a sharp 24.3% spike to deliver over a million visitors, attributable in large part to Dubai Tourism’s innovative range of seasonal campaigns and a strong annual programme of custom activations for the market. 

Poised to break the one million barrier in 2020, fifth-placed China registers 989,000 visitors to Dubai in 2019 at 15.5% year-on-year growth, more than doubling its 450,000 volume from just four years ago before the impactful regulatory easing of accessibility with the introduction of the visa-on-arrival provision for this market. 

Despite airlift constraints and aggressive competitor pricing, Dubai retains attractiveness for Russia on the back of a strong fourth quarter rally to take the sixth spot with 728,000 visitors at a strong 7.4% growth. The USA follows right behind with a 2% increase to land at 667,000 visitors, while Germany takes eighth place with 560,000 visitors. Closing out the top 10 markets, Pakistan also crosses the half a million mark with a strong 501,000 visitors, while the Philippines impresses again with a dramatic 23.2% increase, cementing its status as a top 10 feeder delivering 477,000 visitors to Dubai. 

Some noteworthy highlights from the top 20 list include France with 382,000 visitors, Egypt with 314,000 visitors and Italy with 247,000 visitors – all demonstrating potential to positively impact the tourist traffic in 2020, followed closely by Nigeria at 246,000 tourist arrivals even as it retained its position as the fastest growing source market with an exceptional 33 per cent spike in travel to Dubai. Complementing its Russian counterpart, the CIS region makes a first-time appearance in this category with newcomer Kazakhstan leading the bloc with a 23 per cent growth to round off the top 20 with 147,000 visitors.

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‘Best in Travel’ for 2020

In a major boost for the city’s tourism sector, Dubai has been named one of the world’s top 10 cities for travellers to visit in 2020 by global travel authority Lonely Planet, which announced its ‘Best in Travel 2020’ list last October. Dubai’s attractiveness as a tourist hotspot was also acknowledged by major publications and news outlets such as CNN, Condé Nast Traveller, Travel & Leisure, Afar, Forbes and many others around the globe.

Strategic Partnerships

Dubai Tourism’s commitment to its source markets is further emphasised by the launch of strategic collaborations with the biggest names in the travel and technology ecosystem such as Travel Audience – an Amadeus company, Hotelbeds – a leading Spain-based travel distribution platform, Chinese conglomerate Tencent’s WeChat, new Gen Z platforms like TikTok, online travel agencies like Ctrip, region specific ones like Seera Group for the MENA, and airline partners like FTI to name just a few.

Global and Regional Outreach 

As Dubai continues to be a leading destination of choice for visitors from around the world, targeted 360 integrated and ‘Always On’ campaigns were developed for key source markets along with joint initiatives with the trade, stakeholders and media in-market to further highlight the city’s multi-faceted touristic appeal. 

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Two noteworthy examples include:

With India retaining its top source market status, new innovative campaigns and trade initiatives were adopted including a highly successful ‘Monsoon’ promotion across digital platforms that showcased Dubai as the perfect getaway from the rain. The campaign reached over 30 million frequent travellers in India. Further, trade roadshows in three key Indian cities – Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad – helped promote Dubai’s destination offerings to over 750 travel agents. 

The 2019 Greater China Roadshow of Dubai Tourism supported by 35 stakeholders including an Expo 2020 team helped initiate key trade opportunities in six leading cities in China, with over 350 buyers participating in a series of activities, which included networking dinner events with Expo 2020.

Multi-platform Social Engagement

2019 saw Dubai Tourism launching many technology-led pilot activations across social media and digital platforms, positioning Dubai as a major partner for global technology players. The activations sought to influence decision-making related to outbound travel through cutting-edge user-generated initiatives.

Proactive and future-focused regulatory reforms

New strategic, legislative and regulatory enablers including the proposed UAE-wide implementation of a five year multiple entry visa for tourists of all nationalities, and efforts to increase air capacity to Dubai, are set to further increase visitor arrivals. The emirate also announced a tourist visa fee waiver for children under 18 years of age, accompanied by their parents, from 15 July to 15 September, strengthening Dubai’s appeal as a family-friendly destination for the summer period.

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