Abu Dhabi is opening overseas tourism offices in a move aimed at promoting the largest of the United Arab Emirates in Europe and beyond. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, a government-funded body created 15 months ago, has already been taking enquiries for over a month at its prestigious new London address, No. 1 Knightsbridge. With a second overseas office planned for Frankfurt, Germany, in April the tourism sector is taking on new significance for the sheikhdom.
The chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), Sheikh Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, officially opened the London office, saying “Britain has long been the largest source of European visitors to Abu Dhabi and our two countries enjoy the closest of bilateral links and friendship.”
London was chosen due to its strategic position on the global tourism map, its availability of top class expertise in the tourism sector and as a gateway to European markets. There are also over 90 flights operating between British and United Arab Emirates airports on a weekly basis.
“Abu Dhabi hotels received more than 100,000 guests last year from the UK market, an increase of 52 percent than 2004,” said Mubarak Hamad Al Muhairi, director-general of ADTA. “With the opening of the new office, the number is expected to rise as efforts get underway to promote the emirate.”
Al Muhairi said the presence of the private sector in Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry at overseas exhibitions is bolstering efforts aimed at showcasing tourism products and potential. This effort is also materialising as tourism business from international players.
British travel experts have been praising Abu Dhabi’s efforts to improve its tourism sector in line with its meteoric economic growth. Last year World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) president, Jean-Claude Baumgarten also said: “Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beirut are excellent examples of how government and industry leaders can use travel and tourism to diversify and develop a broader, healthier and more robust economy, which is less dependent on narrowly focused industries and commodities.
One area that is benefiting from this growth is the hotel industry. Abu Dhabi is expected to build between 80 and 100 hotels by 2015, leading to a capacity of 25,000 rooms from the present 8,000. This is equivalent to the opening of six to ten new hotels a year, mostly of these are either boutique or five-star properties.
The London office is planning orientation courses and field trips for the travel operators in London and Europe to acquaint them with the tourism attractions in Abu Dhabi.
The emirate is targeting business and leisure travellers, as well as discerning short-break holidaymakers. They are also stressing that they are not out to create another Dubai, but to complement it. Abu Dhabi is only an hour and a half away by car from Dubai. This could make it a twin-centre destination centre in the future.
Breaking Travel News caught up with Sheikh Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan at the grand opening and asked him about Abu Dhabi’s push into Europe.
BTN: What is the purpose of opening a London Office?
Al Nahyan: We believe the United Kingdom market is very important. We had 100,000 visitors from the UK last year and we want to increase that figure. Abu Dhabi has all the natural assets which appeals to the British tourist.
BTN: What sets Abu Dhabi apart from other destinations?
Abu Dhabi has many assets that appeal to tourists. There is the city of course, high-class hotels including the Emirates Palace, the desert with 200 islands, the oasis and also our heritage.
BTN: What is the importance of Etihad Airways to the process?
Of course Etihad Airways is our national carrier. It is a very ambitious company and we hope they will help to grow the tourism sector.
BTN: Against tough competition, has Etihad Airways made its mark?
The airline is doing great business. It is growing rapidly, making its mark in the industry and we are confident that traffic will continue to increase towards the critical mass we need for us as a tourism destination.
BTN: Etihad was voted World’s Leading New Airline at the World Travel Awards, how do you feel about this?
I would like to congratulate Etihad Airways for this achievement. They have set high standards from the beginning and now they are seeing the rewards.
BTN: Does tourism help to protect Arabic heritage?
Yes it does. Showing the assets of your country and culture to visitors from around the world is a way of indirectly preserving that culture.
BTN: How important is the Emirates Palace hotel?
This hotel is the first message to the industry and the world that Abu Dhabi is serious about tourism. It shows the quality that we have and what we are aiming for in the future.
BTN: What are the challenges for this year 2006?
The challenge is to continue to grow the tourism sector whilst preserving the natural environment.
BTN: And what do you envisage the future looking like for Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi is aiming to be a high-end tourism product and destination whilst maintaining our Arabic culture.
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