Destination Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

Gracefully dodging any obstacle in its path, reflecting the dexterity and precision of the mesmerising falcon, Abu Dhabi continues to build tourism momentum and intensify its international appeal. Tatiana Tsierkezou writes.

Paving the way for further tourism excellence, the UAE capital achieved record results in terms of hotel guests in 2016, having welcomed over 4.4 million visitors throughout the course of the year – representing an impressive eight per cent jump on 2015.

Despite various factors that understandably impacted travel in the region last year, including low oil prices, currency fluctuations and regional unrest, Abu Dhabi concluded the year on a strong note, having weaved its way around any potential hardships and challenges.

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Speaking of the results was general manager, Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, Eleni Tsolakou: “It was definitely a challenging year and many of these challenges faced in 2016 will continue into 2017 as the race for scale and gaining market share [continues]. Abu Dhabi’s business and leisure sectors are changing rapidly and we have to adapt constantly.”

However, regardless of the fact that Tsolakou’s property was confronted with various obstacles, including a decrease in the Russian market and increased competition within the city, occupancy levels stood at a healthy 80 per cent and key markets such as Saudi Arabia and Germany showed a heightened interest.

Also reflecting on the previous year was director of sales and marketing, Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Paula Tannous: “Despite a tough market, 2016 was successful for us and we managed to maintain our market position in challenging times. We have had to adapt to the market to remain competitive and we will continue with this strategy to ensure we remain ahead of our competitors until the market stabilises.”

Tannous explained that the property is facing an uncertain 2017, and is therefore working hard to offer something truly bespoke, relevant and niche to stand out among Abu Dhabi’s fierce competition.

“It’s all about being able to quickly adapt to market changes and delivering exceptional end-to-end experiences to the travellers,” she said.

As well as the remarkable increase in hotel guests in 2016, acting executive director – tourism sector, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), Sultan Al Dhaheri explained to TTG that statistics across guest nights, average length of stay and revenues also presented strong results, with more than 12 million guest nights recorded.

“These exceptional results demonstrate the emirate’s growing international appeal, as well as our ongoing successes in positioning Abu Dhabi as a distinctive global destination built on unique experiences, rich cultural heritage, as well as unlimited opportunities for family leisure and MICE events,” Al Dhaheri said.

“Our primary overseas markets continue to perform well. Moving into 2017, we remain committed to expanding our outstanding tourism and cultural assets to inspire growth in the tourism sector, leveraging support from key partners across the industry to create new opportunities for international visitors and secure the highest standards of hospitality, business and leisure facilities,” he added.

SENSE OF PLACE

But what is it exactly that entices international visitors to the emirate? And what makes it so unique among the UAE’s charming collection of cities?

Answering TTG’s question was head analyst of the home-grown Jannah Hotels & Resorts, Javier Jo: “Cultural, friendly and a sense of community are the first three things that come to mind. Abu Dhabi is a toned-down version of Dubai, where guests get to experience the sense of local culture in a tranquil environment.

“Abu Dhabi is continuously progressing its tourism development, apparent in its landmark attractions including Ferrari World, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Yas Waterworld, Yas Marina Circuit, championship golf courses, to name a few. Needless to say, the emirate has become an upmarket destination for discerning travellers looking for unique experiences only Abu Dhabi can offer.”

Jo additionally explained that the expansion of routes by Etihad Airways and other airlines into the capital city has fuelled more competitive rates, which has, in turn, attracted a wider market mix of travellers.

Meanwhile, TCA Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhaheri explained that the reasons for the UAE capital’s popularity are many.

“We are offering a destination of distinction with three diverse destinations for visitors in just one emirate – Abu Dhabi city, the UAE’s capital; Al Ain, the emirate’s heritage heartland; and Al Gharbia, the emirate’s Western Region, where the desert meets the sea, to offer visitors a chance to delve into Abu Dhabi’s rich history and culture.”

Al Ain, known as the ‘Oasis City’, is one of the world’s oldest, permanently inhabited settlements and is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, forts and palaces.

In contrast, Al Gharbia offers desert adventures among the sand dunes of the Empty Quarter and the wildlife attractions of Sir Bani Yas Island. The home of the Arabian Wildlife Park has more than 130,000 free-roaming animals including cheetahs, giraffes and highly endangered Arabian oryx, and offers visitors an experience like no other in the country.

Touching upon the emirate’s commitment to culture, Al Dhaheri said: “This is epitomised in the planned Saadiyat Island Cultural District. This will be home to the world’s largest single concentration of premier cultural assets – including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, so there is already much to see and do, and also, much to look forward to.”

He added that further enticing international and regional tourists is Abu Dhabi’s year-round schedule of high-profile sporting, cultural and family friendly events.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

So how are the city’s industry movers and shakers working together to further refine Abu Dhabi’s already flawless offering?

Tsolakou of Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana shared her opinion: “Abu Dhabi’s commitment to developing its entertainment offerings, as well as continued investment in airline infrastructure, is expected to stimulate visitor numbers. Among the anticipated major demand generators is the Warner Bros. theme park, scheduled to open in 2018. Other high-profile developments, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which should open in H2 of 2017, will also play a part in increasing the emirate’s visitor numbers.”

Also reflecting on the fast-paced development of the emirate’s tourism product was cluster general manager, Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson Abu Dhabi Yas Island Hotels, Guido Bayley, who expressed his anticipation for a game-changing transport development on Yas Island.

He told TTG: “With Yas Island signing a deal with SkyTran, promising its visitors to soon be transported around the island by levitating pods at speeds of up to 241 kilometres an hour, it is enough to say Abu Dhabi is really gearing up fast to be one of the world’s top destinations. Furthermore, with the extension of Abu Dhabi International Airport and the Dubai Expo 2020, the momentum only increases.”

Bayley additionally touched upon further exciting projects, including the Saadiyat Cultural District project, which will cater to the needs of culture junkies, and the CLYMB project, scheduled to launch in 2018 at Yas Island. CLYMB, a new and exciting extreme sports attraction, will be home to an impressive climbing wall and will feature adrenaline-fuelled indoor skydiving.

And finally, yet another ground-breaking tourism development, implemented by the incredibly proactive TCA Abu Dhabi, is the launch of the ‘Your Extraordinary Story’ campaign.

The worldwide promotional campaign aims to encourage visitors to experience Abu Dhabi’s ‘extraordinary stories’, promoting the city as an ideal option for experiential travellers.

“This campaign has already achieved incredible success, sharing the emirate’s unique appeal and identity to domestic audiences and in the Authority’s key overseas target markets of Saudi Arabia, the UK Germany, China, India and the USA,” Al Dhaheri concluded to TTG.

Like the native peregrine falcon, Abu Dhabi’s travel and tourism industry soars to ever-greater heights.