Packed with ambitious tourism developments and unrivalled hotel designs to cater for the most demanding upmarket travellers, the tourism landscape in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Middle East is often met with wonder, admiration and even bewilderment.
With its distinctive Arabian hospitality, mystique and world-class infrastructure, the seven emirates that make up the UAE, which formed in 1971, combine to offer a choice of the most enchanting destinations for travellers from all over the world – with unrivalled opulence, architectural splendour and the warmest of hospitality.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the UAE has been a tourism hub in the making for centuries. It’s hard to believe that just twenty years ago, it was a vividly different picture.
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, but also Qatar, are among the destinations that have been committed to developing tourism as part of an overall economic diversification strategy.
This was partially driven by the aftermath of the Gulf War, which resulted in uncertain political conditions in the region.
Setting themselves apart from established global tourism destinations, these oil rich countries have successfully illustrated how dreams can become reality. Mega projects and record breaking designs for hotels and tourism attractions have sprung up across the emirates over the past two decades.
Modern Islamic architecture has been taken to new levels in skyscraper building design and technology.
Dubai is famous for its man-made islands and enormous skyscrapers. Abu Dhabi has become associated with cultural tourism as well as a major host destination for sporting events such as the F1 Grand Prix earlier this month.
Meanwhile Qatar too has moved into the spotlight when it won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
BTN looks into some of the most recent and awe inspiring developments that have come to fruition over the past few years.
Biggest and Best in Dubai
Dubai, which was the 8th most visited city in the world in 2007, recently announced plans to construct the largest passenger terminal on the planet, with five runways planned for the site which is located in the desert area of Jebel Ali.
Upon completion in the mid 2020s, Dubai World Central will ultimately be able to handle 160 million passengers a year and 12 million tonnes of cargo per annum. Costs for the entire DWC development have been estimated in excess of US$ 32 billion.
Having recently opened the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world –Dubai has gone the extra mile again, setting yet another record with the recent opening of the world’s highest restaurant - At.mosphere, which sits on the 122/123rd floor of Burj Khalifa.
This chic venue, open throughout the week and can seat 130. It serves light lunches and high tea, before turning into a vibrant spot in the evening.
Guests can enjoy a premium range of beverages, and unwind to lounge music, spun by the in-house DJ with panoramic views of Dubai.
Meanwhile the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made construction, offers observation deck “At The Top” on the 124th floor – best suited to those who don’t suffer from vertigo.
Other widely reported projects include the recent opening of The Urban Tails Dubai, the world’s first seven-star resort for pets - dubbed as an equivalent of Burj al Arab for cats and dogs.
And from animal lovers to fashion obsessives - the world’s first fashion hotel will open next year, if the joint initiative between Fashion TV and the Al Habtoor Group comes to fruition.
More than 200 rooms will be fitted with climate control, lighting and audio-video technologies. The hotel will feature first-class restaurants, lounges, nightclubs, spas and cinemas – all you’d expect from a fashion haven.
Abu Dhabi boasts world’s fastest growing airline and sets new cultural record
Abu Dhabi has in recent years emerged as a leading tourism hotspot, with a multitude of projects supporting its cultural and sporting focus.
The destination picked up four titles at the World Travel Award this year, including Middle East’s Leading Tourist Board.
The Emirates Palace – opened its opulent doors in 2005 following a £1.9 billion investment. The John Elliott designed hotel– which arguably helped place Abu Dhabi on the travel and tourism map - even has its own marina and helipad.
The UAE’s Leading Resort - is now the second most expensive hotel ever built, surpassed by Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
In December 2010, the Palace claimed to have the world’s most expensive Christmas tree, valued at over 11 million dollars.
Tall buildings planned for Abu Dhabi
The development of tall buildings has been encouraged in the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030, which will lead to the construction of many new skyscrapers over the next decade, the expansion of Abu Dhabi’s central business district which includes new developments on Al Sowwah Island and Al Reem Island.
As far as world records go, Capital Gate Building has been certified as the ‘World’s Farthest Leaning Manmade Tower’ by the Guinness Book of World Records due to its record-breaking lean of 18 degrees.
Yas Island was developed into a major tourist destination following a $40 billion investment by Abu Dhabi’s property development company Aldar Properties, in a bid to support Abu Dhabi’s economic diversification.
It already includes The Yas Marina Circuit, with two theme parks and a water park planned for Yas Island in 2013.
Ferrari World, which opened in 2010, is currently the largest indoor theme park in the world with over 19 rides and attractions, including – yes you’ve guessed it - the world’s fastest rollercoaster reaching speeds of more than 240km per hour.
The “G-Force Experience” ride, at the heart of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, inside is described as a tower of speed. It launches guests 62 metres into the sky, before plummeting back down to earth.
The Yas Viceroy (previously Yas Hotel) is the only five star hotel on Yas Island, offering guests 499 stylish and well-appointed rooms & suites, 12 contemporary restaurants & lounges and the magnificent ESPA.
With its distinctive design the property is elegantly balanced on both land and water at the heart of The Yas Marina Circuit.
This masterpiece, which is the first hotel in the world to be built directly over a world class Formula 1 race track, has a vibrant color-changing LED grid-shell, making it a distinguishable landmark in Abu Dhabi for miles around.
Yas Island was voted “Middle East’s Leading Tourism Development Project” at World Travel Awards 2011 Middle East Ceremony for its integral role in Abu Dhabi’s burgeoning reputation as the entertainment capital of the region.
Meanwhile Saadiyat Island, is set to become home to the world’s largest single concentration of premier cultural institutions, including the Zayed National Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi a performing arts centre and maritime museum.
Meanwhile in another world record, Abu Dhabi’s flag-carrier Etihad Airways is historically the fastest growing airline of all time. From zero to 70 routes in eight years, with an expanding fleet, Etihad was recognised by the World Travel Awards as the World’s Leading Airline in 2010 for the second consecutive year.
Qatar wins rights to host 2022 Olympics
As it gears up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, more than 140 major projects are currently underway in Qatar as the country focuses its investments on its transportation infrastructure. Billions have been spent upgrading the extensive road networks connecting the country to the rest of the Middle East. In addition, the $25 billion, 2,200 km Qatar National Rail Scheme will link to the six-state GCC Railway network, worth $30 billion, from 2017. Many of these exciting developments are taking place in Doha.
Construction is well advanced on the Lusail City, a development to the north of the capital Doha which will see the creation of a distinctive 21st century iconic city which celebrates the special cultural and geographical heritage of Qatar and the Gulf Region.
The city will eventually be home to around 250,000 people with amenities including marinas, shopping and leisure facilities, two golf courses and a special district dedicated to entertainment. The city’s 86,000 seat Lusail Iconic Stadium will host the opening and final matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Looking to the future
Designed by the Giancarlo Zema Design Group, and with semi-submerged, glass bottom suites, and futuristic design, the ambitious $500million Amphibious 1000 hotel project may resemble a billionaire James Bond villain’s lair, but looks set to become a honey pot for scuba divers and nature lovers.
According to reports, this ambitious four star resort hotel will be located in the middle of a marine reserve, enabling residents to look out over reef bed from the comfort of their room. And for those with slightly bigger budgets, the resort also has a fleet of hydrogen powered glass bottomed yacht available to rent.
Saudi Arabia reaches for the skies
Saudi Arabia is set to snatch the title of world’s tallest building title from Dubai with plans for a one kilometre high super-scraper.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s prophecy of a mile-high tower has taken one step closer to becoming reality with the unveiling of designs of the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia.
The tower, which will take $1.2 billion and five years to build, will include a Four Seasons hotel, apartments, offices, the world’s highest observatory, 59 lifts and, for a buyer with a head for heights, a penthouse with sky terrace on the 157th floor.
The superscraper is the first phase of the £20 billion Kingdom City development run by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, nephew of King Abdullah.
The project, based on the shores of Jeddah, is intended to diversify the Saudi economy away from crude oil, and represents how the nation is opening its borders to international investment.
The prince initially wanted to build the tower a mile high, but abandoned the proposals because he was worried the soil would not support its foundations.
The final height is being kept under wraps, although it is expected to be the world’s first building to pass the one kilometre mark (the world’s current tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, measures in at 827 metres).
The project teams includes key members behind the Burj Khalifa, including the developer Emaar Properties and architect Adrian Smith, now of AS + AG Architecture.
Sharjah creeps into the spotlights
Work has started on one of the largest heritage projects in the Arabian Gulf, the Heart of Sharjah.
This inspirational project is designed to reinvigorate the city of Sharjah and transform it into the cultural, entertainment and social focal point of the emirate, the third largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Heart of Sharjah development is the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority’s (Shurooq) first project and consists of 35,000 square meters in the heritage and historic area in the centre of the old city.
The multi-phase transformation aimed to increase tourism and trade to Sharjar, will provide residents and visitors with a city centre area rich in tradition where important historical sites and museums will retain their importance alongside stylish new hotels, restaurants, retail shops, art galleries, traditional and contemporary markets, a waterfront promenade together with landscaped gardens and play areas aimed to increase tourism and trade to Sharjah.
World Travel Awards Grand Final
After a rigorous selection procedure, Qatar was chosen as the host of the WTA Grand Final Gala Ceremony, reflecting the Arabian nation’s rapid emergence as a tourism hotspot.
Qatar is recognised as the Middle East’s Leading Business Destination by the prestigious World Travel Awards.
Graham Cooke, president and founder, World Travel Awards, highlights how his organisation selects host destinations that are driving the industry to new heights through innovation and experimentation.
He said: “We are delighted to host our Grand Final Gala Ceremony in Qatar as it is such an exciting place to be right now with incredible opportunities within the luxury sector.
“Our Grand Final will see the winners of our five regional heats, who represent the cream of the global travel and tourism industry, compete head to head for the ultimate travel accolade.”