Major push under way
Abu Dhabi has been making waves within the tourism industry recently with major moves to muscle in as a tourism heavyweight.
First came the announcement that it had established a dedicated body to propel tourism called the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
Then came the news that a multi-billion-dollar city was being built to woo tourists.
And most recently came the announcement that the UAE capital was voted as one of the top destinations for 2005, with the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper listing it among its ‘Hot Stuff 2005’.
The new authority – dedicated to identifying and promoting tourism within the capital emirate – will be an independent legal entity with Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan as its chairman.
It will oversee tourism development in harmony with the cultural traditions of the country, and lay down a comprehensive plan.
As part of its mandate, it will propose new tourism projects and review existing public ones, or those included in the government plan and pending implementation.
The authority will issue licences for tourist activities, identify places suitable for tourism investment, make the studies necessary and submit these to the Abu Dhabi Executive Council for approval. As part of the reorganistion, the Al Ain Economic Development and Tourism Promotion Authority has been dissolved and its chairman, Mubarak Hamad Al Meheiri, made the new authority’s director-general.
The new city that Abu Dhabi plans to build, will cost and estimated Dh54 billion ($14.7 billion) and act as the gateway to the capital of the UAE.
The project is being developed by Aldar Properties, an Abu Dhabi-based real estate development, management and investment company jointly owned by the government of Abu Dhabi and private shareholders.
Maximising the water frontage at Al Raha beach, the city will provide a lifestyle destination embracing residential, commercial, cultural, entertainment and public amenities. The city district will be built on an area of 6.8 million sq m along the Abu Dhabi to Dubai highway.
Meanwhile, the general manager of the city’s newest five-star hotel has said that the UAE capital is set for a boom in 2005.
‘‘Abu Dhabi can offer value for money, a relaxed atmosphere and real getaway environment, from golf and deep-sea fishing to spas, desert sands and every ‘shop-until-you-drop’ opportunity,’’ says Claude Kaiser, the general manager of the Al Raha Beach Hotel. ‘‘While the capital’s hospitality sector has traditionally focused on government and corporate bookings, new and planned resorts are bringing an additional element of leisure in to the business mix, one that has coincided with the demand for new destinations from overseas travel operators.’’
He continues: ‘‘Abu Dhabi has been one of Arabia’s secrets, certainly in terms of tourism, but now we will begin to see the emirate catching up with its neighbours as the travel trade learns of its capabilities ... and already the reaction of tourists has been very positive.’’
The first deluxe boutique resort in the region, Al Raha Beach has 110 oversized rooms plus 24 beachside chalets and enjoys a prime location on the Al Raha corniche, close by the Abu Dhabi Golf Club and the international airport.
Facilities include a health club and spa, indoor and outdoor pools, gym, squash and tennis courts, water sports, kids club and restaurant, plus a marina and adjacent shopping mall.
Al Raha Beach Hotel is operated by Danat Hotels & Resorts, the umbrella brand for the hotel division of National Corporation for Tourism & Hotels (NCT&H).
Other industry experts are also in agreement.
‘‘Known for its large gardens and parks, boulevard-lined streets and roads and glass-covered highrises, Abu Dhabi has got all the trappings of a prosperous, modern city, and its tourist potential is huge,’’ says an analyst.
The largest and most populated of the UAE’s seven emirates, Abu Dhabi stretches south to the oases of Liwa where some of the world’s largest sand dunes can be found and east to the ancient oasis of Al Ain. What’s more, it also boasts a long coastline – the shallow waters of the Southern Gulf, extends from the base of the Qatar Peninsula in the west to the border of the emirate of Dubai on the north east – which was once the world’s best waters for pearling.
Besides its sheer size, the fact that it holds more than 80 per cent of UAE’s oil reserves and 11 per cent of the world’s reserves has contributed in no small measure in also making it the richest and most politically important of the emirates.
As the nerve centre of government and business life in the UAE, it houses the parliamentary buildings, most of the federal ministries and institutions, foreign embassies and many oil companies.
But there’s more to Abu Dhabi than its oil resources. With state-of-the-art transport, the presence of all the international luxury hotel chains, rich shopping malls and cultural centres, it is proving to be a major tourist attraction. The Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival, which is held every year in March, offers fantastic bargains, sales and extravagant prizes and The Abu Dhabi Duty Free, which is one of the finest duty free shopping centres, is known the world over for its fabulous prize draws. In addition, the Abu Dhabi Cultural Centre, which holds cultural events and workshops throughout the year, has become a landmark in the UAE.
Sports is another major attraction in Abu Dhabi. Football remains the most popular sport and is promoted at schools and colleges as well as at local, regional and national levels and there are several clubs, each with around 100 players, currently affiliated to the UAE Football Association. Camel racing, a traditional Bedouin sport, is also extremely popular in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Originally staged in an informal setting, camel racetracks have been built throughout Abu Dhabi, where race meetings are held in the winter months from October to April.
The capital also boasts the first all-grass 18 hole professional golf course and a smaller nine-hole course at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club. What’s more, the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club has embarked on a major expansion plan to construct purpose-built facilities on the Abu Dhabi Breakwater to host the finals of the Formula 1 Powerboat Racing World Championships in December every year.
Even though the transformation of this fishing and pearling village into a sprawling modern city in less than five decades tells its own success story, the best thing is that Abu Dhabi still retains some of its ancient past and souks and mosques continue maintain an Arabian charm in a city dominated by magnificent highrises.
Among the many surviving monuments are the Diwan Amiri (White Fort), which was built in 1793, and the Al Hosn Palace, built in the late 19th century.