Abu Dhabi is giving tourism destinations worldwide a run for their money, amidst a wave of game-changing developments and cutting-edge innovations to its sophisticated tourism offering. Aleksandra Wood discovers.
Abu Dhabi – the UAE’s major cultural and commercial hub, and the epicentre of the nation’s political and industrial activities – has undergone expeditious development and urbanisation in recent years, to transform into an advanced metropolis.
The emirate has proven itself to be a strong contributor to the UAE’s global acclaim, with its tourism portfolio outshining other regional players with an ever-growing list of advancements. General manager, Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, Eleni Tsolakou told TTG: “The tourism industry in Abu Dhabi has seen an amazing growth period of over 40 years. Its strategic location as a cultural and economic bridge between East and West has been a driver for growth. There has never been a better time to discover this authentic Arabian destination.”
Abu Dhabi has invested heavily in infrastructure, new events, technology and innovation, in a bid to create a fully immersive traveller experience.
“By working with partners across the public and private sectors, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi has been spearheading various initiatives focused on unlocking opportunities in the travel sector across the emirate,” executive director tourism sector, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), HE Sultan Al Mutawa Al Dhaheri disclosed. “These initiatives contribute to cementing tourism’s role as a key pillar in the UAE’s diversification plan.”
From January to August 2018, the emirate recorded a healthy 5.8 per cent year-on-year increase in the total number of hotel guests, reaching 3.3 million. Meanwhile, Chinese and Indian markets noticeably increased during this period, contributing a dramatic rise of new or repeat hotel guests. Visitors from China climbed by 13 per cent, making it the largest overseas market for inbound guests, whilst India arrivals rose by 18 per cent year-on-year, and so cemented the market’s position as the second largest provider of inbound guests for the emirate’s 162 hotels and hotel apartments.
HE Al Dhaheri of DCT Abu Dhabi elucidated: “Both China and India are tier one markets that make up substantial shares of our total number of annual guests, and as such, we will continue to target our marketing campaigns there, along with other major markets, and maintain traction in increasing already impressive visitor numbers.”
Testament to this are DCT Abu Dhabi’s recently concluded initiatives – ‘Abu Dhabi Week in China’ and ‘Abu Dhabi Week in India’, which aimed to capitalise on the outstanding growth from the two key markets.
However, the wavelength of efforts is not limited to any market, as HE Al Dhaheri explained: “We are continuing to prioritise driving tourism to Abu Dhabi from the region, specifically Saudi Arabia, as well as other key markets, including Germany, the UK and the US, for which the emirate continues to be a destination of choice, given our diverse offerings.”
‘To change the majority, one must start from oneself’ is the known saying, and DCT Abu Dhabi has taken this fully into perspective. The Authority has launched a brand-new global destination marketing campaign, building on the success of the previous ‘Your Extraordinary Story’ campaign. A new app has also been introduced – the Culture App – representing a comprehensive new digital initiative, which will act as a ‘one-stop’ reference for all cultural information on Abu Dhabi.
And the reign of technology does not stop there; HE Al Dhaheri revealed: “We are constantly working to enhance visitor experiences more directly, by introducing a series of cutting-edge Virtual Reality experiences, available online and at our 4D experiential installations, which we take to all our overseas exhibitions.”
Adding to this, Abu Dhabi has invested in Augmented Reality technology, which is to be implemented at Qasr Al Hosn – the UAE’s oldest historical building – upon its reopening this year, in order to provide users with unique experiences and additional information derived from the available historic assets.
Bolstering the list of quality accommodation is also high on this resilient emirate’s agenda. The city is gearing up for the new EDITION – Abu Dhabi and recently welcomed the brand-new Royal M hotel, situated in the trendy Al Bateen Marina.
Further to this, Abu Dhabi is set to witness the debut of the premier all-inclusive, all-exclusive resort – Rixos Saadiyat – part of the award-winning Turkish hospitality brand, Rixos Hotels, while Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort is slated for a November 2019 opening.
Setting Abu Dhabi apart from its neighbouring emirates is its incredibly profuse portfolio of leisure and entertainment attractions that have firmly placed the city on global tourists’ bucket lists. One such attraction is its multi-purpose leisure, shopping and entertainment destination, Yas Island, which is home to tremendous theme parks and unique attractions to thrill travellers of all types.
The destination just recently introduced its latest spectacle, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the first of its kind in the Middle East, which is set to catapult the emirate among the world’s top entertainment contenders.
“Another new cultural phenomenon in the pipeline for Abu Dhabi is the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect, Frank Gehry,” Tsolakou shared with TTG. “The building will have spectacular views of the Saadiyat Cultural District and Arabian Gulf in its prominent location, surrounded almost entirely by water.”
For the remainder of the year, Abu Dhabi has robust plans for its tourism industry, involving an explorative move into an up-and-coming trend: medical tourism.
“Medical tourism is another aspect that we see great potential for growth. In partnership with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, this year, the capital will launch a medical tourism portal, with the aim to grow the number of medical tourists visiting the UAE to benefit from world-class healthcare services, as well as enjoy a relaxing recovery period,” shared HE Al Dhaheri.
Similarly, the emirate has diverted its attention to adventure tourism, one of the fastest growing segments globally, which has steadily increased since its massive $236 billion worldwide spurt in 2013.
According to HE Al Dhaheri, the Authority is partnering with Adventure Travel Trade Association to focus on various categories of activities within the adventure tourism space, including ‘Emirati Culture Experiences’ – an initiative which offers visitors to the emirate a selection of 20 different tours and experiences designed and led by Emirati nationals; an Airbnb tie-up – whereby all 20 Emirati Experiences are now included on Airbnb’s popular global platform for the first time; and an off-road driving hub and set routes – with beginner, intermediate and advanced levels available.
“The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi constantly strives to cater to travellers’ rapidly changing needs, stay abreast of new tourism trends and find opportunities for Abu Dhabi to leverage its resources and natural landmarks to offer unique experiences,” he concluded.
Echoing HE Al Dhaheri’s positive sentiments was Tsolakou, who said: “Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana is expecting to close the fourth quarter with an average occupancy rate of over 80 per cent – a significant number in measuring popularity of a hotel destination. Overall, we anticipate the level of growth in tourism to remain strong, with total overnight stays expected to increase.”
A wealth of developments and innovations, enticing new trends to be uncovered and a bright forecast for the future all make up the recipe for a thriving touristic destination indeed, as Abu Dhabi continues to expand its outreach across the globe.