A capital new approach to tourism

Muhairy: upbeat

Comfortable oil reserves means Abu Dhabi can take its tourism development at a more measured pace, rather than tearing away at breakneck speed like its sister emirate just down the road.

But that doesn’t mean its plans are any less impressive. Indeed, taking a more calculated approach has yielded a strategy powered by the twin engines of culture and sport.
Whether it’s the Gulf’s second Formula One (set for 2009) or the first-ever overseas Louvre, the emirate’s reported $200-billion approach to tourism actually seems to be making sense.
“We believe events are important for the growth of any tourism destination, whether cultural or sporting events. Sporting events are more important at this stage because of the number of viewers and the media attention they attract. Several have already been announced and more will be announced in the near future, some sport, some culture, some music,” Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) director general Mubarak Al Muhairi told TTN earlier in the year.
The plan, he added, is to place Abu Dhabi at the top end of the market.
The Abu Dhabi Executive Council has lately released its Policy Agenda for 2007-08, in which the council has set plans for the emirate to attract three million visitors by 2015. This will be measured in terms of hotel guests.
International tourist arrivals to Abu Dhabi grew 12 percent to 1.34 million visitors last year, compared with 1.21 million in 2005, according to the ADTA.
To achieve that number, whether visitors enter the UAE through Abu Dhabi itself or any of the other emirates, Muhairy said the emirate would need to double its business travellers, which were 25 per cent of all visitors in 2004.
To that end, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center is being promoted as the perfect venue for trade fairs and events, while the ADTA is encouraging DMCs and specialised operators to set up base there. Among the stakeholders who have expanded their operations to the emirate are Travco, Arabian Adventures and Planet Tours.
On the hotel development front, Abu Dhabi expects to add about 5000 rooms by 2010 – not just city hotels or conference hotels and resorts, but unique destination properties on its islands, among the mangroves, in the deserts.
Much of the development takes place around projects like the Dh11.5-billion ($3-billion) Desert Islands destination. Off the emirate’s western coastline, it will consist of eight islands and an onshore gate, and will offer experiences rivalling those of the Caribbean and the Maldives.
Some $27 billion is being invested in the development of the Saadiyat island, currently a mangrove-ringed island wasteland, into a cultural area with Louvre and Guggenheim museum as well as 29 hotels and two golf courses.
“Add to that the hundreds of archaeological sites and historical buildings in Abu Dhabi – once these are developed, I think we will have a very strong offering when it comes to archaeology, old forts and building, regeneration.
“So it’s heritage, culture and art, sport, MICE and sun and beach. The European market will discover a new destination in Abu Dhabi not available anywhere in the world,” Muhairy said to TTN.
By Clark Kelly