FILE PHOTO: People are seen at the Cove beach Caesars Palace, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 31, 2021. REUTERS/Rula Rouhana
DUBAI (Reuters) - Dubai expects to attract over 5.5 million overseas visitors this year, hopeful that new markets can help make up for the loss of visitors from key places where travel is restricted.
Dubai had 5.5 million overseas visitors last year, when the tourism sector was pummelled by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, 16.7 million tourists visited.
Visitors from India, traditionally Dubai's top source market, are largely banned from the United Arab Emirates due to the latest outbreak in the South Asian nation.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Dubai's third biggest source market in 2019, has barred direct flights and requires travellers from the UAE to hotel quarantine.
But Dubai Tourism Chief Executive Issam Kazim said visitor numbers from newer markets in Europe, Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were performing well.
"All of these markets will start to add up and hopefully fill the gaps and give us a much stronger foundation to build a confident rebound going forward," he told Reuters at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai
The Middle East city reopened its borders to international visitors last July and was a popular holiday spot over the New Year with many other global destinations shut off due to the pandemic.
But the influx of foreign tourists coincided with a second wave of coronavirus infections across the UAE and led Dubai to tighten capacity restrictions on hotels and restaurants.
Many of those restrictions were eased this week.
Kazim cited a high rate of testing in UAE as the reason behind the rise in case numbers, arguing that the more people are tested the more infections will be uncovered.
The number of infections in the country have now fallen from a daily peak of 3,977 in February to roughly 1,300. Figures for each emirate are not disclosed by authorities.
Dubai is also expecting Expo 2020, which runs from October to March after being delayed by the pandemic last year, to be a draw for many tourists who have never visited before.
Expo organisers said before the coronavirus outbreak the event could attract 11 million foreign visitors, though Kazim said on Tuesday that the pandemic now made it difficult to predict numbers.
In the UAE's north, the smaller Ras Al Khaimah emirate expects 915,000 visitors this year, a 14% increase on 2020 but still down from 1.1 million in 2019.
"I am cautiously optimistic that we will probably do better than that the way things are travelling but there is so much uncertainty," Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority CEO Raki Phillips told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, editing by Ed Osmond)