Business or Pleasure?


Abu Dhabi is taking a dynamic approach to broadening its tourism offering, with particular niches beginning to define the capital's brand.

The burgeoning hotel sector is catering to international and local customers attracted by the expansion of the business, culture, leisure, and sports segments in a broad strategy to transform the Emirate into a hub for tourism. This robust infrastructure complements the uniquely accessible nature of Abu Dhabi, as the increasingly important Etihad Airlines expands its reach around the world.


A key indicator of the growth of tourism is the rise in visitor numbers in the Emirate. According to the Statistics Centre — Abu Dhabi (SCAD) hotel guest figures were above expectations at 2.8 million in 2013, and by the end of 2013, the approximately 8.79 million guest nights achieved represented growth of 25.6% YoY. In 2013 tourism revenues reached AED5.49 billion, an increase of 18.5% on 2012. The average length of stay was at 3.1 days by the end of the year, an approximate 6.9% rise in YoY terms. The average revenue per average room was AED447.6.

Currently, Abu Dhabi offers a total of 150 hospitality establishments, with 26,001 rooms spread unevenly across the different classes of hotel. The majority of the offering falls into the five-star category, and visitors to this class of hotelmade up 34.3% of total guests for the year. Four-star hotels received 29% of the total, while guests who stayed at three-star hotels or less made up 23% of the overall figure. In addition, luxury hotel apartments, designed for discerning, high-income clients, were busy in 2013 also, with 13.4% of guests to Abu Dhabi. Occupancy rates were at 70.8% over the course of 2013.

As with 2012, the largest number of guests in 2013 were Emirati nationals, with 960,476 making use of the country’s hospitality offering. Other significant source regions were Europe, with 529,082, Asia at 530,016, the GCC with 191,937, and other Arab countries with 336,486. Major source countries include Germany, Egypt, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, US, Jordan, and Syria.


Aside from Yas and Saadiyat islands, among the capital’s primary attractions is the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, built in 2007. With its distinctive blend of Mughal and Moorish Islamic architecture, the structure leaves a lasting impression. It is currently one of the largest mosques in the world, and can accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers; 10,000 inside and 30,000 in the outer sections. It features four large minarets and an impressive 82 domes. Other notable attractions include the tranquil corniche, an extensive waterfront walkway that comes alive in the evenings.

The TCA has ramped up the Emirate’s international profile since it was established as the amalgamation of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage (ADACH) and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). From the UK to Germany and France, the authority has opened a number of international offices and aims to continue doing so in the coming years. A major roadshow was organized in December 2013 for the Indian cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Bangalore to capitalize on new Etihad routes and the increasingly important national market. Of course, Abu Dhabi’s natural selling points are emphasized, including its abundant beaches, wealth of tranquil islands, and its hot, desert climate. The future lies in niche segments, however, such as sports and MICE services.


The resort of Al Forsan is an effective example of the potential for sports tourism developments in the Emirate. “We wanted Abu Dhabi to complement Dubai, and vice versa,” explains Atef Nagib, Managing Director of Al Forsan International Sport Resort. “We work alongside those developments and attractions so that people can go sightseeing and enjoy the rest of their day by having fun elsewhere. Abu Dhabi has its own attractions.” The city’s unparalleled catalog of major sports events, from the Red Bull Air Race and Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to the FIFA Club World Cup, plainly showcases its solid sports infrastructure, and it is hoped that these prominent events will encourage the development of sports tourism.

As this brand begins to become readily associated with the city, it is opening up opportunities for local auxiliary industries to grow. Tamreen Sports offers a range of equipment and accessories for outdoor adventure sports, but is also focusing on a range of traditional yet functional knives. Activities such as “real, traditional hunting [where] you are not allowed to use a phone, GPS, or any electronics” are being introduced thanks to this renewed interest in sports, comments Mohammed Al Amiri, General Manager of Tamreen. Another example of attractions arising from the country’s sporting heritage is the Abu Dhabi FalconHospital,a veterinary facility that has developed into a tourist attraction on account of the insight itaffords the Gulf’s unique relationship with falcons. “We are seeing a 20% annual increase in visitor numbers, and rank just after the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace Hotel among must-see tourist attractions,” notes Dr. Margit Gabriele Muller, Director of the Hospital.


Abu Dhabi is also set to become a regional MICE tourism center, with authorities focusing on fostering conferences related to segments of the economy that have been identified as strategic pillars of the economy. The assets that have established the Emirate as a prime business tourism destination are obvious: its accessibility and global connections; its central location that offers almost equidistant travel to the emerging markets of Asia and Africa as well as established ones such as Europe; and a wealth of new attractions, such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and everything else that Saadiyat Island will have to offer. Al Ain is located approximately one hour away, and transfers are efficient and comfortable.

From a leisure point-of-view, new resorts and shopping malls will be making anappearance soon. Heavy investment in cultural assets, such as the world-class museum complex in the Saadiyat Island Cultural district, is expected to pay dividends and help cement the capital’s position internationally. Banu Taş, General Manager of Deerfields Townsquare, explains that “retail tourism is recognized as one of the main means of increasing the number of visitors to the city in the government’s Vision 2030. A key part of this strategy is to develop retail malls with more entertainment offerings.”

In addition, a busy calendar of events is keeping Etihad in business with the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, the UAE Jet Ski Race, and the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship standing out as important sporting dates. Aside from these, the International Jewelry and Watch Show Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and similar cultural and trade events will round out the year. Abu Dhabi’s vibrant and diverse tourism and leisure offering suggests that this sector could prove key to diversifying the local economy, and give the Emirate a reputation as a hub for pleasure as well as business.