Eastern exoticism and western dynamism, quality accommodation choice and sector innovation are putting Abu Dhabi ahead of the game in the Middle East and North Africa in attracting leisure and corporate visitors. Lucie Robson writes.
According to recently released statistics, the culture-infused capital of the UAE is the fastest growing tourism destination in the MENA region. The 2017 Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index described Abu Dhabi as the leading tourism market among MENA countries, with an 18.9 per cent growth in visitor numbers since 2009. It was also pin-pointed as the fourth fastest growing tourism market globally among 132 countries.
An overview of tourism trends and movements in this exciting destination show that stakeholders in the tourism sector deserve the position of a top growing market. Visitor requirements and trends, be they personalised services, cultural visits, family-friendly holidays or MICE, are being identified and addressed with an expertise that is to be expected from a city that is a cultural, political and commercial powerhouse in the UAE.
While well-known for its spotless, stunning beaches, an exceptional selection of top-class hotels and excellent services, one of Abu Dhabi’s most anticipated new features falls under a vibrantly-growing arena: culture. This month, the city will witness the much-anticipated opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a fascinating museum featuring 12 galleries that take visitors on a journey through humanity’s history, with a focus on what unites mankind. The 24,154m2 space is situated on Saadiyat Island, a developing cultural centre, which is also earmarked to be the location of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum, in addition to other arts venues.
The tourism sector has been anticipating the arrival of the Louvre Abu Dhabi with enthusiasm and excitement.
“With the historic opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, specialists foresee a change in the very cultural landscape of the nation,” said worldwide marketing director, Jannah Hotels and Resorts, Soraya Benbada.
Director of sales and marketing, Yas Viceroy Hotel, Paula Tannous agrees: “Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) is activating quite a lot of initiatives to develop tourism in the city. We are very excited about the announcement of The Louvre. This will support the culture element of tourism and attract new business to the city.”
INVESTING FOR RESULTS
An investment into MICE as well as cultural tourism is helping to develop the city as a year-round destination – a move that is having a positive impact on the hotelier business.
“Abu Dhabi hotels are receiving great support from TCA Abu Dhabi,” said group general manager, City Seasons Hotels, George Demitry.
“The tourism board is actively generating the demand to the city from new feeder market sources. We have seen an increase in events and exhibitions happening in Abu Dhabi, which is gradually supporting an increase in demand through different periods of the year for both leisure and corporate travellers.”
Elsewhere, new visitor trends have been identified and acted upon by tourism stakeholders. The swiftly-growing movement towards personalised tourism is one such trend identified by Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry stakeholders. Once again, hoteliers have the bird’s eye view on developments.
“There are two trends that seem to have taken the hospitality market by storm,” Benbada of Jannah Hotels and Resorts told TTG. “Firstly, the concept of personalised hospitality; since the inception of the first Jannah property, we have offered our signature Karim services that tend to satisfy every guest’s needs, 24/7. The Karim services are available to each and every guest that walks in through our doors.”
This service comprises of a personal ‘Karim genie,’ that welcomes travel-weary guests as soon as they enter the hotel with a personalised check-in via a tablet, doing away with the need to line up at reception. Check-in is conducted while showing guests to their room and, once settled in, guests are then invited to view a video detailing their room and hotel amenities. The ‘home-away-from-home’ Karim service continues throughout a stay.
This attention to detail is contributing to Abu Dhabi, becoming a growing destination of choice for families.
“We have seen a great increase in GCC families to Abu Dhabi, especially during the holidays,” said Demitry of City Seasons Hotels. “We believe that GCC families are prioritising Abu Dhabi as a destination for their holidays, mainly because the city is a family-friendly and family-oriented place.”
Notably, there has been an increase in families visiting from many other countries, especially from Germany, Russia and the CIS.
SPORTS AND EVENTS
Sports tourism is also making a significant mark in the sector, owing to a temperate winter climate ideal for team training.
“We’re seeing an increased number of sports groups staying with us,” general manager, Marriott Hotel Al Forsan, Richard Bleakley told TTG. “Abu Dhabi is becoming a sporting hub for the Middle East, with key events in the capital’s calendar, such as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, helping to bring fans of sports to the city.”
Meanwhile, the UAE capital is fast becoming a hub for corporate travel and is being constantly recognised for its high-quality services. In August, Abu Dhabi was named the Overseas Luxury MICE Destination of the Year at the China Travel and Meeting Industry Awards.
Commenting on the city’s MICE mastery was general manager, Southern Sun Abu Dhabi, Pierre Delfau: “These are the type of events we enjoy and need throughout the year as [MICE travellers] have a longer length-of-stay and [the events] are city wide, benefiting the entire industry in one way or another.”
Delfau explained that the events also shed light on the city to a worldwide market that could potentially return for a leisure stay, based on their experience during the said conference or event.
Demitry agreed, saying that new hotel openings have helped the destination to become what it is now, a big player not only in leisure tourism, but MICE as well. He has noticed a significant rise in the number of delegates seeking incentive group accommodation. “We see now incentive groups of 1,000 booking rooms. We did not see these numbers in the past,” he told TTG. “We look at it positively. Each hotel has its own charm and its own clientele. For us, being a UAE-owned and managed company, we are proud to deliver authentic Emirati hospitality to the world.”
And this rapid development in the Abu Dhabi tourism sector has brought forth a boom in competition among accommodation providers, and a rise in the number of top-star hotel openings in recent years. This healthy competition is having a positive impact on visitors. Supply has increased but demand has as well, creating positive competition.
With all of this exciting tourism activity, it looks like Abu Dhabi just might reach its target of 4.7 million visitors this year.
“The leadership of Abu Dhabi is executing an excellent vision to define and establish the capital as a leading tourist destination of the region,” concluded Benbada.