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Breaking Travel News interview: HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism

Breaking Travel News interview: HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan

One of the success stories of the previous decade, tourism in Abu Dhabi is set to go from strength-to-strength in 2013. Here we talk to HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan about the latest developments in the United Arab Emirates capital.

Breaking Travel News: Could you give us an outline as to how the year 2012 was for Abu Dhabi tourism?

HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan: In terms of hotel guest numbers, 2012 was a record year. Abu Dhabi received a total of 2,388,023 hotel guests in its 136 hotels and hotel apartments last year – a 13 per cent rise on its 2011 performance; more than achieving its set target of 2.3 million guests. There was also a 12 per cent year-on-year rise in guest nights – up to 6,996,724. Hotel revenues for the period were also up – this time by six per cent to AED4.6 billion.

During 2012 there was strong growth in the number of guests coming from Africa, which was up by a third on 2011 and was primarily influenced by arrivals from the Seychelles, which now has enhanced air access to the emirate, via Etihad and Air Seychelles, and also from South Africa. Improved GCC arrivals were mainly influenced by an upturn in guest numbers from Saudi Arabia, which rose 16 per cent year-on-year, from Oman, which turned in a 29 per cent increase and Qatar which delivered 24 per cent more guests. Greater uptake from China, the Philippines and India largely accounted for the enhanced performance from Asia, which rose 28 per cent year-on-year.

During 2012 the UK remained Abu Dhabi’s largest international source market, delivering 140,393 hotel guests – a slight one per cent rise on the previous year. India became the destination’s second largest international source market with 138,768 hotel guests – a rise of 28 per cent on 2011, with Germany taking third place with 96,802 guests representing a 42 per cent increase on the comparative period.

Of course, Abu Dhabi’s meeting industry credentials took a major leap forward in 2012 when we hosted the World Ophthalmology Congress at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. The congress attracted upwards of 10,000 delegates and was the largest convention staged in the destination to date.

Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

BTN: What are the hotel guest targets for 2013?

Al Nahyan: Our hotel guest target for 2013 is 2.5 million and we are very optimistic of achieving that due to a number of factors. We have additional Etihad air routes coming on line, for example. The airline has recently begun codeshare services to Hong Kong in partnership with Air Seychelles and will launch a daily service from Washington DC this month, from Amsterdam in May and from Sao Paolo in June.

We also have our latest new power draw open - Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi - the largest waterpark in the UAE. This futuristic waterpark spans an area of around 15 football pitches, with 43 rides, slides and attractions, five of which are one-of-a-kind. This significantly adds to the Yas Island proposition as our entertainment destination. We also have major new hospitality names and venues entering the market in 2013, with all the cross-marketing opportunities that entails, including the Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, and the Rosewood Abu Dhabi, both firsts for the brands here, as well as the St Regis Abu Dhabi.

We can also look forward this April to the staging in Abu Dhabi of the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit which will bring 1,000 of the most authoritative travel and tourism leaders in the world to our city.

BTN: What is the percentage of business and leisure tourists to Abu Dhabi?

Al Nahyan: Currently we stand at around 60/40 in favour of business tourism, but with our leisure proposition expanding all the time, we anticipate an eventual evening-out of the equation in a year or two.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

BTN: Abu Dhabi hosts an impressive line-up of events which have seen the emirate emerge as a major global events contender. Can you tell us your thoughts in this area?

Al Nahyan: This year Abu Dhabi has already hosted the annual PGA European-Tour-backed Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which was contested by some of the giants of the game (including Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods) at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. They headed an all-star cast which competed for the Falcon Trophy, and a share of the US $2.7 million prize purse.

This event will be followed later in the year by the headline F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which has become established as one of the most exciting weekends on the motorsport calendar. Later that month will see the return of the elite Coutts Polo at the Palace event, which debuted on a special polo field at the opulent Emirates Palace last year and of the Abu Dhabi Art Fair on Saadiyat Island.

Taking Abu Dhabi’s name abroad, we also have Abu Dhabi Racing’s newly announced three-year partnership with eight-time World Rally Championship winning manufacturers, Citroën Racing, which will see the team compete in all 13 rounds of this year’s WRC calendar. TCA Abu Dhabi will undertake as many as five on-the-ground destination promotions in key source markets to leverage the associated interest in Abu Dhabi that will emerge.

Using sport to promote Abu Dhabi will feature prominently in the positioning of the destination throughout 2013 and beyond. In addition to events within the emirate, partnership branding arrangements with high profile sporting teams and personalities is a priority. I have already mentioned Abu Dhabi Racing’s three-year partnership with Citroën Racing and TCA Abu Dhabi is also a destination partner of Manchester City Football Club in the English Premier League, providing pitch-side destination brand exposure to television audiences of the world’s most followed football league. 

Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi

BTN: Could you tell us something about the upcoming projects like the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim?

Al Nahyan: The Louvre Abu Dhabi is due to open in 2015. Abu Dhabi Tourism Development & Investment Company, master developer of major tourism, cultural and residential destinations in Abu Dhabi, recently awarded the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi to an Arabtec-led joint venture with Constructora San Jose and Oger Abu Dhabi following a competitive tendering process.

Arabtec and its partners will begin construction work immediately, with the museum’s concrete frame to be completed by the first quarter of 2014. Work on the geometric lace dome will be completed by the end of 2014 and result in an enchanting ‘rain of light’ – which Jean Nouvel designed to reflect the sunlight falling through the palm fronds of our oases. The final stage includes marine works and removal of temporary land platforms which will be completed in 2015.

The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as well as the other projects in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, will continue to bring Abu Dhabi international recognition and exposure as Arabia’s cultural hub. The Zayed National Museum will open a year after the Louvre Abu Dhabi with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi due to open in 2017.

More Information

There is more information on Abu Dhabi on the official tourism website.