CULTURAL tourism is the new policy behind the growth of Al Ain, as the city seeks to position itself as separate from – but complementary – to the tourism offerings of the other cities in the UAE.
According to Mubarak Al Muhairi, director general of Al Ain’s Economic Development & Tourism Promotion Authority, the development of the city as a tourism destination has been a matter of steady progression over the last three years, which should start to have marked results this year.
“In order to appeal internationally, Al Ain also has to market itself in the UAE and regionally,” he said. “There is no point trying to attract large numbers of tourists if you aren’t equipped to handle them. So the government has been developing the infrastructure, extending the international airport, and paving the way over the next 12 months, which we believe will be a time of considerable tourism growth.”
Al Muhairi added, “The city comes into its own in summer, where the climate is significantly cooler and drier than the sweltering humidity of the coastal cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In many countries around the world, the residents move out of the city and into the mountains when the summer heat gets too much. And with fewer and fewer people taking extended summer breaks to go to Europe, we really see Al Ain as offering an alternative for weekend breaks for UAE residents.”
The city looks like no other in the Emirates: unlike the high-rise metropolises of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, most of the buildings are three storeys high or lower, allowing for an uninterrupted view of the landscape. Apart from the roads that are lush with trees, bushes and flowers, the city has more than 70 public parks and gardens.
The afforestation programme is thanks to HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who grew up there, and has invested heavily in the protection of the culture as well as the development of the city. More than 150 million trees have been planted in the desert of Al Ain, with more trees being planted every day.
In fact, this ever-growing forest is changing the climate, increasing the humidity, which can be seen as clouds rising above the new trees. With the offerings of the other emirates kept in mind, the government has supported the development of Al Ain in four very distinct areas – agriculture, education, science and tourism – to help the city that is built on water, figuratively at least, attract increasing numbers of visitors in the 21st century.
Al Muhairi accepts the fact that landscape alone will not provide enough for many visitors, and acknowledges that the government is embarking on an ambitious programme of cultural and tourist events to add to established dates such as the International Flower Show.
The tourism programme is still under wraps, but Al Muhairi is clear to point out that the events will be complementary to the rest of the UAE’s activities.
He said: “The best way to attract increased numbers of regional and international guests to Al Ain is to offer something different to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. We have to look at Al Ain’s appeal for visitors looking for a twin-centre trip, not least as Dubai has achieved a surge in repeat visitors who are an excellent target market for us. While we don’t have the beaches and bustling city life of Dubai, we do have thousands of years worth of heritage, and some of the most beautiful scenery in this part of the world. And we are just 90 minutes from either Dubai or Abu Dhabi – perfect for a day trip or short stay.”