Breaking Travel News interview: Saif Saeed Ghobash, director general, Abu Dhabi Tourism

Breaking Travel News interview: Saif Saeed Ghobash, director general, Abu Dhabi Tourism

With a booming cruise sector and visitor numbers increasing from a variety of source markets, the future is bright for tourism in United Arab Emirates-capital Abu Dhabi.

Here Breaking Travel News chats with Saif Saeed Ghobash, director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, during Arabian Travel Market to discover more about the destination and what the future holds for the hospitality sector.

Breaking Travel News: Arabian Travel Market 2017 is the largest event of its kind in region. How important is this show for you to get your message out to consumers?

Saif Saeed Ghobash: TCA Abu Dhabi regularly visits major travel and trade shows around the world such as ITB Berlin and WTM in London along with our stakeholders and partners to raise awareness about the destination and show people what’s on offer here.

This year at ATM, TCA Abu Dhabi is leading our largest ever delegation including 61 stakeholders and 115 products, many of them are joining us for the first time, as we aim to surpass the record numbers of hotel guest arrivals last year and register 4.9 million hotel guest arrivals in 2017.

Along with our global destination campaign, ATM allows us to position Abu Dhabi as a distinctive global destination built on unique experiences and rich cultural heritage.

TCA Abu Dhabi’s message is for travellers to come and experience Abu Dhabi’s extraordinary stories.

As visitors have become more discerning about their choice of destination, so we have adapted and enhanced the emirate’s ability to meet and even exceed those expectations.


Tourism is the fastest growing sector of the Abu Dhabi economy

BTN: Is intra-GCC travel a significant source of revenue for Abu Dhabi?

Saif Saeed Ghobash: Domestic visitors, who comprise one-third of total hotel guests, achieved a six per cent growth rate with 1,462,015 hotel guest arrivals in 2016 and the sector continues to perform well this year.

Our GCC visitors are substantial and tend to spend well obviously adding a significant source of revenue for the emirate.

Saudi Arabia, our sixth largest international source market, sustained its momentum as the leading GCC nation, posting nine per cent growth in hotel guest arrivals, 13 per cent increase in guest nights and extension of the average length of stay by four per cent to 2.39 nights in 2016.

Oman is our eleventh largest international source market with 70,438 hotel guest arrivals in 2016 - an increase of 11 per cent over 2015.

Their guest nights also increased by a healthy seven per cent.

Qatar’s guest arrivals and guest nights both showed an increase of 12 per cent year on year while Kuwait’s guest arrivals dropped marginally by one per cent.

Abu Dhabi is already investing strongly in expanding and upgrading its tourism and cultural offering with significant projects such as the Saadiyat Island Cultural District with its cluster of world-renowned museums, cultural and educational institutions which will encourage even more visitors from within the GCC.

BTN: The cruise sector in Abu Dhabi has been a particular success story of later. How did the emirate take the decision to focus on this area?

Saif Saeed Ghobash: The cruise sector is now a primary niche product in the emirate’s tourism development strategy and is on course for exponential expansion.

An economic impact and forecasting report by Oxford Economics, commissioned by TCA Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Ports and Etihad Airways, signals that the Abu Dhabi cruise tourism segment achieved a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.7 per cent in the last five years, and forecasts further sustained growth at a 10.5 per cent CAGR to reach a total of 450,000 cruise passengers by 2020, rising to 808,428 in 2025.

This season, Abu Dhabi is set to welcome over 250,000 passengers from 137 calls by 26 ships – an increase of 21 per cent over last year – in a season which runs until early June 2017.

This positive sentiment follows the successful completion of two major projects - a permanent cruise terminal and a dedicated cruise beach stopover in the west of the Emirate at Sir Bani Yas Island.

Undoubtedly, these projects enrich the experience of cruise ship passengers through collaboration with airline, travel and hospitality partners.

It’s no surprise that as a result, Abu Dhabi has become home to ships for the winter season from Celebrity Cruises, MSC and AIDA, and continues to attract a roster of regular regional callers.


Abu Dhabi is home to a range of cultural tourism opportunities

BTN: Abu Dhabi saw record visitor numbers last year, partially driven by an upturn in holidaymakers from India. How do you expect the makeup of source markets to change in 2017?

Saif Saeed Ghobash: A majority of our top-tier markets posted guest arrival growth rates. India retained its top-spot status for guest arrivals into the emirate for the third consecutive year in 2016, with 323,388 guest arrivals, up from the previous 280,020 – a 15 per cent year-on-year increase.

Asian neighbours China also made great strides to record an unprecedented 231,916 guest arrivals and 337,252 guest nights, 31 per cent and 28 per cent year-on-year growth rates respectively - a market-leading performance.

Despite the challenge from China, the UK retained its second largest international market status and remained the largest European source market in 2016, rising by three per cent to 238,167 guest arrivals from a previous 231,337.

We are targeting growth in visitor arrivals to 4.9 million by the end of 2017.

Our strategic focus places greater emphasis on six specific markets which we believe offer growth potential: UK, Germany, India, China, US and the GCC region.

Business Tourism remains a vital cog in our tourism growth strategy.

The sector generates approximately half of our guest arrival figures, and we are actively targeting business events aligned with the pillars of economic diversification of the UAE economy.

BTN: Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority recently launched a new worldwide promotional campaign aimed at encouraging travellers to experience Abu Dhabi’s ‘extraordinary stories.’ The campaign highlights Abu Dhabi as the inspiring destination for those wanting to experience cultural authenticity. How has that been received?

Saif Saeed Ghobash: We have had a fantastic response and feedback to the campaign so far and believe we are already reaping the benefits with a healthy increase in guest arrivals of 5.5 per cent in January and February this year compared to 2016.

The campaign is being supported and driven by our network of 11 overseas offices to entice travellers to choose Abu Dhabi as their preferred destination.

This campaign, which comprises a two-series television commercial and five promotional videos, highlights Abu Dhabi as an ideal destination for those wanting to experience cultural authenticity and a rich cultural heritage.


New hotels are opening all the time in the capital of the United Arab Emirates

BTN: Some 2,400 new hotel rooms opened in Abu Dhabi throughout 2016, with many moving into the mid-sector. Do you expect similar figures for 2017?

Saif Saeed Ghobash: Abu Dhabi currently has 170 hotels and hotel apartments, boasting 30,000 hotel rooms, with a further 10,000 rooms expected over the course of the next five years.

This year we have the anticipated openings of the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi, Edition Abu Dhabi and Saadiyat Rotana Resort, joining the Marriott Downtown, Four Seasons Abu Dhabi and Millennium Bab Al Qasr hotels which opened in 2016 and the Marriott Al Forsan that opened earlier this year.

Just last month the Aloft Al Ain opened beside the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium while hospitality brands Shangri-La, Fairmont, Hilton and Jumeirah all have projects underway.

More Information

Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority conserves and promotes the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi emirate and leverages them in the development of a world-class, sustainable destination of distinction which enriches the lives of visitors and residents alike.

The authority manages the emirate’s tourism sector and markets the destination internationally through a wide range of activities aimed at attracting visitors and investment.

To find out more head over to the official website.