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DUBAI (Reuters) - The number of Chinese and Russian visitors to Dubai surged in the first three months of the year, boosted by the United Arab Emirates' recent decision to grant visas on arrival to citizens of the two countries.
Overnight Chinese visitors jumped 64 percent to 230,000 in the three months to March 31, making it Dubai's fourth largest source market during the period, Dubai's tourism department said on Monday. Overnight Russian visitors rose by 106 percent to 126,000.
"We knew that there is huge potential there for us to capitalize on," Dubai Tourism Chief Executive Issam Abdul Rahim Kazim told Reuters in an interview ahead of the release of the Q1 numbers.
Tourism is a key sector for the glitzy Middle East citystate which has spent billions of dollars trying to attract visitors with sites like the world's tallest tower.
The overall number of overnight foreign visitors increased by 11 percent to 4.57 million in the quarter compared to the same period a year ago with India and Saudi Arabia holding as the first and second largest source markets, respectively.
"We've been focusing a lot on family tourism being our priority," Kazim said.
Last September, the UAE announced it was granting visas on arrival to holders of Chinese passports and the same policy was introduced for Russians in January.
The increasing number of Chinese and Russian visitors is likely to be welcomed in Dubai where growth slowed last year due to low oil prices and sluggish global trade.
China is the world's largest outbound tourism market with Chinese travelers spending $261 billion in 2016, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
Russia used to be a major source market for Dubai until its economy slipped into a recession in 2015 under pressure from sanctions and low oil prices.
State-owned budget carrier flydubai is planning to add flights to Russia after the number of Russian passengers traveling to Dubai increased in the first quarter.
"It's a huge market for Dubai," flydubai chief executive Ghaith Al Ghatih told Reuters on Monday.
However, Dubai is set to lose some direct flights to the United States, a top 10 source market, following Emirates' decision this month to cancel some services from May.
Kazim said the tourism department would have to increase efforts in other markets to "compensate if there is any drop from the U.S."
Along with China and Russia, Dubai is targeting South Korea, Nordic countries, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet states as growth source markets.
Dubai has said it expects 20 million visitors by 2020, up from 14.9 million in 2016.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar