Dubai has set out plans to overtake London and become the world’s most visited city, attracting 20 million tourists by 2020.
The plans would require the Gulf emirate attempt to attract three million more visitors per year than London, which this week announced its best international visitor numbers since 1961, of 16.8 million in 2013.
The London figures, from the Office for National Statistics’s latest Travel Trends survey, suggest that the capital is the world’s most visited city, with arrivals increasing nine per cent on 2012 and tourism spending doubling in the past 10 years, to £11 (A$19.87) million.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: “These record-breaking figures are a tribute to the outstanding mix of culture, art, music and sport to be found here and more is planned.”
However, the “world’s most visited city” crown is a difficult one to hold, given that statistics gathering methods vary between countries. At the beginning of the year, a disagreement broke out between tourism officials in Paris and London, as both claimed to hold the title.
After the release of record quarterly visitor arrivals figures for London for 2013, Le Figaro, the right-wing French newspaper published an article titled “London dethrones Paris.”
The then-candidate for the Mayor of Paris (subsequently elected), Anne Hidalgo, weighed in, saying: “London aggressively sells itself, often in a way that goes beyond the truth."
Paris attracted 15.7 million tourists in 2012, an increase of 0.2 per cent from 2011, according to official figures from the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The measure of greatest visitor arrival numbers depends on the statistical methods used to gather data, meaning that definite like-for-like comparisons between cities in different countries cannot be made.
The ONS figures for London are, however, supported by other surveys, including the latest MasterCard Global Destination Index.
Dubai welcomed 11 million visitors in 2013, including 758,657 from the UK, who may have been attracted by the increasing strength of the pound against the Emirati dirham.
Dubai hopes to increase the overall figure to 20 million by the end of the decade, to coincide with the Expo 2020, an international architecture and technology trade fair that is expected to bring £$23 (A$41.56) billion into the emirate.
After feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, in which its construction sector suffered badly, Dubai is going full steam ahead with its ambitious growth plans, with tourist attractions and infrastructure a particular focus.
Mohammad Bin Rashid City, a multi-billion dollar tourism, retail and arts centre, will include a park ready to accommodate 35 million visitors, the largest area for arts galleries in the Middle East and North Africa, and the “Mall of the World”, the world’s largest shopping mall. Accommodation capacity is also on the rise.
In the next two years, another 141 hotels and serviced apartments will open. Bluewaters Island, a £963 million (A$1.74 billion) reclaimed land development, will be home to "The Dubai Eye", the world’s largest Ferris wheel, while the Dubai Water Canal, adding six kilometres to the waterfront, will see the arrival 450 new restaurants and a wide array of luxurious marinas for yachts. MBR District One will contain a 350,000 sq m water park and Dubai Adventure Studios, expected for completion this year, will have five theme parks.
Dubai’s outlandish building projects have not always run smoothly however. Construction of The World, an artificial archipelago of 300 islands, began in 2003 but was put on hold when the 2008 financial crisis hit. As of late last year, only two of the islands had been developed.
The Telegraph, London