Abu Dhabi on track for three million in 2015
In its recently released Policy Agenda for 2007-2008, the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi laid out ambitious plans to attract three million visitors per year by 2015.
According to the council, the capital of the UAE has all the means to achieve this goal; the financial resources, political will, location, climate, culture and pre-existing tourism infrastructure. The number of international tourist arrivals to the emirate grew from 1.21 million in 2005 to 1.34 million in 2006.
There has been a 26 per cent rise in passengers registered at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the first half of 2007, with 552,797 recorded.
The government-backed Etihad airways carried more than 1.9 million passengers in the first half of 2007, showing a 111 per cent increase over 2006. To accommodate the growth of Etihad, a third terminal is being constructed at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The new terminal is set to commence activities in 2008 and should have the capacity to handle five million passengers annually. The terminal is part of the Abu Dhabi Airports Company airport expansion scheme that will include another terminal, a second runway, a state-of-the-art air traffic control complex and more.
The government of Abu Dhabi predicts the number of tourists in the leisure category to reach 1.2 million by 2015. The number of business tourist arrivals and hotel guests for large exhibitions in the MICE segment are expected to reach 1.55 million and 240,000 visitors per year, respectively. There are plans for the construction of 60 new hotels and an increase in hotel receipts from Dh1 billion ($272 million) in 2005 to around Dh4 billion over the following eight years, with a cumulative investment in accommodation of Dh11 billion.
Outside the capital city, Al Ain, the fourth-largest city in the UAE, is looking to redefine itself as a tourist destination. Also known as the ‘Garden City of the Gulf’, it is considered the capital of Abu Dhabi’s mainland eastern region. It is also viewed as the historical and cultural capital of the emirate, with archaeological sites dating from the seventh century BC and historical 20th-century forts.
While renovation of the old handicraft market, old buildings and mosques are on the list of smaller scale development projects, Al Ain is in need of large investments yet to be made in order to foster the region as a tourism destination. Although some local residents may worry that the sleepy charms of Al Ain will be lost, careful development will likely see the city’s individual character enhanced.
(Jason J Nash is head of research at the Oxford Business Group)
By Jason J Nash