In conversation with Abu Dhabi

by Laura Gelder | 18 January 2017

Abu Dhabi had a good year in 2016 – a two per cent increase in UK arrivals (its third biggest market) and the chance to showcase to the country’s top trade and media when it hosted the ABTA Travel Convention in November – the first time the event was held in the Middle East. Selling Travel meets Nabeel Al Zarouni, UK Country Manager of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, and asks: what next?

What will you be focusing on in 2017 and further ahead?
We will continue to develop Abu Dhabi as a cultural tourism destination. Visitors can explore Arabian traditions through the museums and World Heritage Sites of Al Ain, and through attractions like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – which came second this year in TripAdvisor’s list of the world’s top 25 landmarks, beating the likes of the Taj Mahal.

We also want to ensure that the regions of Al Ain and Al Gharbia are promoted alongside Abu Dhabi City. Both have a huge amount to offer. The ‘Oasis City’ of Al Ain is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, home to museums, forts and World Heritage Sites, not to mention a world-class kayaking and rafting facility in Wadi Adventure, and wildlife attractions like the Al Ain Zoo and Al Ain Camel Market.

Al Gharbia offers desert adventures among the giant, shifting dunes of the Empty Quarter, and the wildlife attractions of Sir Bani Yas Island, which is home to more than 13,000 free-roaming animals, including cheetahs, giraffes and endangered Arabian oryx.

And we’ll continue to develop our year-round line-up of world-class events. These range in scope from sporting occasions like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November to our classical concert season, Abu Dhabi Classics.

Are you planning any UK initiatives for the coming year?
We’ll most likely repeat our roadshow events in Manchester and Edinburgh, as they always prove popular with agents. We will continue our focus on agent training, touring the country to visit agents and tour operators, and continue to run fam trips with tour operators and consortiums. We plan to have joint marketing partnerships in place with between 15 and 25 tour operators.

Last November we launched a new global destination campaign aimed at encouraging travellers to experience Abu Dhabi’s ‘extraordinary stories’. Developed over an eight-month period and shot across 40 locations throughout the emirate, the campaign includes breathtaking imagery, promotional videos and TV commercials designed to run across networks, digital channels and in-flight entertainment systems. We sought to capture the cultural authenticity and great breadth of attractions that Abu Dhabi has to offer and have no doubt the campaign will inspire many more travellers to come to the emirate.

How do you plan to develop the cruise sector off the back of the new cruise terminal opening?
Cruise  is a rapidly growing and hugely important sector within our tourism industry. The development of Sir Bani Yas Island is a major step in the evolution of cruising in Abu Dhabi, allowing cruise lines to schedule two Abu Dhabi stops in their itineraries, and giving guests the opportunity to experience both the excitement of our capital city, and the beauty of our natural offshore islands. We are aiming to receive 500,000 cruise visitors by 2020.

What new product can agents look forward to in Abu Dhabi, in 2017 and beyond?

There is a lot to be excited about in the not-too-distant future. The hotly anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi will open next year on Saadiyat Island. Its permanent collection will comprise more than 600 pieces of art, displayed across 23 state-of-the-art galleries. Drawn from civilisations from all around the world, the works will tell the story of shared human experience from ancient times to the present day. The permanent collection will be complemented by approximately 300 masterpieces on loan from key French institutions, including works by da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse.

Further down the line, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is to open on Yas Island in 2018. Bringing together characters from both DC Comics and Warner Bros. cartoons, the park is expected to increase visitor numbers to Yas Island from 25 million in 2015 to 30 million in 2018.

We also have plans to open two new mega malls. Al Maryah Central will feature the first international Macy’s department store, and Abu Dhabi’s first Bloomingdale’s. The second shopping mall, on Reem Island, will boast the world’s largest indoor snow park. Both are scheduled to open in 2018.

Upcoming hotel openings include the 428-room Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Residences Emirates Pearl, which is under construction opposite Emirates Palace, and the towering open archway of the Fairmont Marina Resort & Residences, which will be a sight to behold when it opens on the Abu Dhabi breakwater next year.

Abu Dhabi Airport’s new Midfield Terminal Building is also due to open in 2017. Dedicated to Etihad Airways and its partner airlines, the terminal will be the largest in Abu Dhabi, housing 65 aircraft gates, 28,000 square metres of retail and dining space, eight airline lounges, and a three-star transit hotel with 163 rooms.

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