Dubai plans to be world's most popular tourist destination by 2025

New strategy calls for 25 million visitors a year to unseat current hotspots like Bangkok, London and Paris

A picture taken on September 26, 2018 shows Burj Al Arab hotel in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai. / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE
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Look out Bangkok, London and Paris – Dubai wants to unseat you as the world's most popular tourist destination.

The three cities last week topped the annual MasterCard survey of the world's most-­visited cities. Dubai is certainly up there – in fourth place – but under a new strategy revealed on Wednesday by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, it is aiming for the top spot.

“Dubai will be the most-visited city in the world by adopting a set of ambitions, development plans and valuable projects that will form a strong foundation to establish Dubai’s leadership,” Sheikh Hamdan said on Twitter.

The objective is to attract between 23 million and 25 million visitors a year by 2025. The latest figures for tourism in the emirate show flat growth for the first six months of 2018, with 8.1 million arrivals, whereas last year visitor numbers increased by 6.2 per cent.

To hit 25 million, Dubai will need at least 50 per cent more visitors, probably even more.

But history teaches us that it is foolish to write off the ambitions of Dubai.

Few considered the emirate a tourist hot spot until the opening of the Burj Al Arab in December 1999, promoted as the world's most luxurious hotel with an entirely self-awarded seven stars.

It was a typically brilliant piece of Dubai marketing that, with the help of Emirates airline package holidays, rapidly established the city as the coolest new spot for a winter sun vacation.

The World Economic Forum also produces an annual Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report.

The 2017 report ranks the UAE 29th out of 136 and the country's strengths are listed as including "one of the best air transport infrastructures in the world … one of the most secure destinations and … a well-developed hospitality and entertainment infrastructure".


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It recommends that the country makes better use of what it calls natural, or eco tourism, while also expanding its health facilities.

More generally, travel and tourism, the forum says, are "significant drivers of economic growth, contributing over 10 per cent to global GDP and accounting for one in 10 jobs on the planet". For every 30 new tourists who arrive, one job is created, it estimates.

As the UAE seeks to develop an economy less dependent on fossil fuels, Dubai has a growing list of attractions to keep the tourists coming, from the new Dubai Frame to the Museum of the Future and the Eye of Dubai Ferris wheel.

It has also been successful at attracting new markets, in particular Russians and China's middle class. The challenge is to compete with what is offered by other, previously unexpected areas. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2026, the fastest-growing destination will be India, followed by Angola, Uganda and Brunei.

If nothing else, it means the future is an exciting prospect for travellers.