Destination Abu Dhabi

A sense of determination fills the air in Abu Dhabi, as it works to offer those visiting its majestic lands a memorable experience. Tatiana Tsierkezou investigates the initiatives, trends and forecasts shaping the tourism industry.

As time passes, the culture-fuelled capital of the UAE ever-works on its appeal to the contemporary traveller. Indeed, this city, which stands out among its sister emirates with its unique identity, has faced various challenges throughout 2016. But with the tenacious will and determination of the tourism industry, Abu Dhabi always prevails and the year has proven fruitful.

Director of sales and marketing, Yas Viceroy, Paula Tannous exclusively told TTG: “This year is a year that has kept all of us on our toes. Markets are changing from a socioeconomic and political perspective and we have to adapt to that. We constantly have to push the limits of how we think and operate and try to reinvent the offering we give to our guests both locally and from abroad.”

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With that in mind, Tannous explained that the travel and tourism industry works together to entice other markets of interest, that could very well bring forth great results and high revenue.

“We value the strength of working consistently with our travel and airline partners to attract new business into Abu Dhabi, and our business relationships are more valued than ever before,” she added.

This very sentiment is echoed among the movers and shakers of the city’s incredibly eclectic industry, and this is why various initiatives are already being put in place for 2017 to guarantee business and raise awareness.

Outlining one such initiative was director of sales and marketing, Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel, Dulce Ortega: “We became a preferred partner of Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center and Cvent to ensure we go hand in hand with only trusted partners that have tested our facilities and that endorse us for our years of well-known expertise in hospitality, catering and events with top VIP functions and clientele in the region.”

Meanwhile, Park Rotana forecasts a happy ending to 2016. The hotel’s general manager, Marc De Beer exclusively shared: “[The year] 2016 promises to end well, with occupancy figures still continuing to remain high and profitability strong. There are a few factors that affect the overall performance outlook – particularly low oil prices and hotel supply market increase. However, we remain cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the year and expect things to pick up even more in 2017.”

De Beer shared that Park Rotana will continue working closely with its distribution partners. “These of course include OTAs but also different third party channels that focus on providing other services like events, F&B, weddings and more. We are also very keen to move large parts of our communication budgets online, both through advertising as well as social media, a medium we see as increasingly relevant,” he said, adding that the hotel is also working on a large-scale refurbishment project, with more to be revealed at a later stage.

As for the UAE capital’s stunning Anantara properties, area general manager, Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas – Abu Dhabi, Wael Soueid shared with TTG that although the hotels welcome clientele from all over the world, the majority of business comes from residents, local Emiratis, Saudis and the GCC in general.

“These are the markets we are focusing on. Apart from that, we also attract quite a few Europeans during the cooler months, with an emphasis on Germans, French, Italians and British. We continuously strive for growing awareness in these markets,” he declared.

“[Throughout 2017] we will continue to promote the diversity of our unique portfolio of properties to both domestic and international guests. We pride ourselves on creating signature experiences for each and every single guest to create memories to last a lifetime,” Soueid added.

TOURISM CRAZE

With ‘memories’ being fundamental to modern-day travellers, TTG was eager to uncover what is actually trending in terms of travel and tourism within the emirate. With this in mind, TTG discovered that one particular recurring word was, ‘experiential’.

“There is an increase in demand for experiential travel, with different groups looking for the perfect setting for a personal adventure, one they can participate in and leave with a memorable experience,” said Soueid, who also pin-pointed an ongoing increase in luxury travel, with families making up a large segment of these travellers.

“We are very fortunate with our diverse offering, as we are able to cater to all of these demands with our various resorts in the city, desert and island,” he added.

Also noticing an increase in experiential travel, Ortega of Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel said: “Nowadays travellers are searching for different destinations that can offer a unique experience. We are different from any other hotel and club in the world and we are the only officers club and five-star hotel that has been fully open to the public, sharing its rich culture and heritage as well as its awarded architectural structure simulating a falcon spreading its wings.”

Meanwhile, highlighting that Abu Dhabi’s luxury tourism industry in particular is showing consistent growth was area director of sales and marketing, Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Residences Emirates Pearl, Janet Abrahams: “Abu Dhabi has been seeing a growth in total visitor numbers year-on-year for the luxury hotel segment. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was ranked among the world’s favourite landmarks to visit in the GCC in a list compiled by TripAdvisor earlier this year, and development projects such as Yas Island and the Abu Dhabi Summer Festival have expanded the choice and range of activities for families and visitors of all ages.”

“Luxury tourism trends range from experiential travel, business travel including MICE, large and small family experiences, individual travel and must-see visits,” Abrahams added.

Expertly catering to all of these segments and types of travellers, Abu Dhabi offers a broad spread of safaris, cruises, retail options, beaches and an ever-growing calendar of festivals and events, she explained.

However, experiential travel is not the only trend shaping the emirate’s tourism industry. Chief operating officer of the home-grown Jannah Hotels & Resorts, Martin Persson noted that with the rise of Millennial travellers, the industry is evolving to cater to this group of people who are extremely tech-savvy, yearn for customised experiences and rely on social media.

“We see more hotel chains investing in providing these experiences – for example, Jannah Burj Al Sarab in Abu Dhabi offers the world’s fastest hotel Internet connection at 1.2GB per second – that is 10 times faster than the average connection speed offered by any hotel in the world,” he explained.

“Hotels are going smart by upgrading their technological offerings to provide a smooth experience for guests in addition to relevant content on social media channels as more and more people rely on recommendations from trusted sources on social media before making a purchase,” Persson added.

Reiterating this was general manager, Marriott Hotel Abu Dhabi and Marriott Executive Apartments Downtown Abu Dhabi, David Lance: “I see more guests looking for a combination of sophistication and innovation. Connectivity while travelling is key; about 75 per cent of people travel with one or more mobile device and this percentage is higher for younger travellers.”

WHAT’S NEW?

Gaining prominence and an impeccable reputation among global travellers with the help of the hard working Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Abu Dhabi has rapidly developed its portfolio, with more cultural options, including the soon-to-open Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim museum on Saadiyat Island, events, hotels and entertainment attractions.

Thrilled with these developments, general manager, Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, Eleni Tsolakou said: “The tourism and hospitality sectors in Abu Dhabi are vastly booming and advancing at a quick pace. [These projects facilitate the] positioning of the UAE capital as a world-class cultural destination as well as a beacon for cultural experience and exchange. In return, this supports the tourism and hospitality sectors and helps us stay on the map for guests and visitors coming from various world destinations.”

Other developments in particular, such as the expansion of Abu Dhabi Airport’s midfield terminal, will open new doors, allowing for a higher frequency of international flights and the handling of 30 million passengers a year.

Director of sales and marketing, Al Raha Beach Hotel, Rania Rahme touched upon another significant development: “The introduction of visa on arrival for Chinese nationals in the UAE is a major step, which will help gain volumes in terms of arrivals from China,” she told TTG.

Abrahams of Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Residences Emirates Pearl elaborated on this: “This has made travel easier for Chinese citizens and resulted in increasing visitors to Abu Dhabi. Growth in Etihad Airways routes expands our global direct reach and makes us a more accessible destination for short trips.”

Impressing the world with its focus, strategies and projects, the UAE capital will maintain its tourism integrity for decades to come.