Dubai plans $1.7 billion tourist project on new artificial islands

DUBAI, May 15 (Reuters) - Dubai plans to develop a 6.3 billion dirham ($1.7 billion) tourist resort on two man-made islands it will build either side of the Burj Al Arab, its luxury sail-shaped hotel.

It is the latest development planned by the emirate as it aims to attract 20 million visitors a year by 2020 when Dubai will host the World Expo 2020 exhibition.

Spanning 4 million square feet, Marsa Al Arab will be made up of two islands, one dedicated to entertainment and family tourism and the other featuring luxury villas and a private marina, state news agency WAM reported on Monday.

Dubai is already one of the world's most visited cities, although its hotels, shopping malls and state-owned airline, Emirates, have been buffeted by a strong U.S. dollar which has made the emirate pricier for many overseas visitors. The United Arab Emirates pegs its dirham to the dollar.

Around 4.6 million tourists visited Dubai during the first quarter, up by 11 percent compared to the same period of last year, according to Dubai Tourism data.

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Dubai has become the 'Manhattan of the Middle East'
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Dubai has become the 'Manhattan of the Middle East'
The skyscrapers of the Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers districts have been described as having "Manhattan-style" architecture and amenities.

(Naufal MQ via Getty Images)

Always advancing, the city is aiming for 25% of its cars to be driverless by 2030.

(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The 50-million-square-foot waterfront neighborhood has more than 150 high-rise buildings.

(CaoWei via Getty Images)

Many of the skyscrapers have been built by migrant workers from India.

(clearandtransparent via Getty Images)

According to the AP, foreigners far outnumber the locals in Dubai.

(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Temperatures rarely drop below 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

(Claire Plumridge via Getty Images)

Jet skis and motorboats are often seen off the coast.

(Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images for XCAT)

A general view of the luxury Burj al-Arab Hotel at Jumeirah area in Dubai, UAE December 9, 2015. Picture taken December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Karim Sahib/Pool
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Marsa Al Arab will feature 140 villas, a marine and water park and a theater with capacity for 1,700 people to host Cirque du Soleil, local media reported. Work on the project will break ground in June and be completed by late 2020, WAM said.

The agency did not mention how the project would be funded.

Dubai is working on several big projects due for completion in the next few years and being funded by debt.

It is building the World Expo 2020 exhibition site, an extension to Dubai's Metro system and Al Maktoum International Airport, a new airport being developed on the edge of Dubai, which will serve up to 146 million passengers by 2025.

Marsa Al Arab will add 2.2 km (1.4 miles) of beach to the emirate's coastline, WAM said.

Dubai's most famous artificial island, Palm Jumeriah, is home to several hotels, villas and apartments. But other islands it planned to develop were stalled or scaled back after the emirate's 2009 debt crisis.

Palm Jebel Ali, which began construction in 2002, has yet to be completed, while plans for Palm Deira have been reworked to create a scaled-down project called Deira Islands.

Another man-made archipelago, The World, a 300-island chain laid out in the shape of the world's continents, has only been partially developed.

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