The capital of UAE wishes to continue growing its business tourism sector by offering unparallelled event spaces, upgraded leisure facilities and exceptional hotel spaces. By Feizal Samath
Abu Dhabi is rolling out efforts to entice more business travellers to the region with a host of events lined up in the next few years.
Ranked among the top 100 busiest global meetings destinations in the ICCA global city rankings, efforts are underway for Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to leapfrog into the top 50 within five years.
According to a spokesperson for Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), authorities are adding more diverse products, driving more effective stakeholder coordination, and expanding local, regional and global marketing initiatives. However, no further details were offered when asked.
Last year, the city surpassed its 3.1 million guest target with significant growth recorded in occupancy and revenues. The exceptional 2014 performance reflects the heightened awareness of the cityâ€™s world-class tourism offering, industry officials said.
Wealthy, with deep pockets and oil reserves assured to run even after 2100, the city has witnessed a sizeable growth in business events over the last five to 10 years.
â€śAs the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is (the) centre for many businesses and governmental authorities. With its convention and conference facilities, and wide range of cultural and trade opportunities, the emirate is an attractive destination for MICE business,â€ť says Stefan Fuchs, general manager, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers.
Official data shows that the number of events taking place in the emirate has grown steadily from a mere four in 2005, to 24 in 2013. Last year, the figure dropped slightly to 22.
â€śWithin these events we find huge diversity, with the UAE capital hosting everything from intimate events for between 50 and 150 people to (large) gatherings,â€ť said the TCA Abu Dhabi official.
Business tourism has been identified as a key economic driver for Abu Dhabi.
Studies commissioned by TCA Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) show that the economic impact from business events in Abu Dhabi is set to rise by approximately seven per cent per annum on average up until 2020. These reports indicate that the direct economic impact is expected to reach Dhs5.1 billion (US$1.38 billion) by 2020.
The ADNEC is Abu Dhabiâ€™s premier events venue with 133,000m2 of event space, and is located within easy reach of the international airport. The centre is also surrounded by superb hotels, including two on the ADNEC site.
Meanwhile, the Al Ain Convention Center, sited 90 minutes from Abu Dhabi, offers 20,000m2 of exhibition space and capacity for more than 7,000 delegates.
As of mid-2015, Abu Dhabi has 160 hotels and hotel apartments, making up 28,374 rooms, compared to 150 hotels and 26,001 rooms during the same period last year. Luxury hotels like Emirates Palace and Jumeirah at Etihad Towers â€“ to name just two of many â€“ offer world-class event venues in addition to accommodation.
Also on offer are leisure facilities like Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld and the Yas Marina Circuit â€“ home to the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In 2014, Abu Dhabi hosted its largest incentive from China, where 14,500 resellers of Nu Skin cosmetics were in the UAE capital as part of the companyâ€™s Top Achievers programme. It was the largest incentive trip in the companyâ€™s history, and the longest and largest outbound incentive travel group in Chinaâ€™s direct selling industry, according to officials.
Top upcoming conferences include the World Halal Travel Summit & Exhibition â€“ the largest-ever Halal travel event â€“ in October 2015 with over 1,000 delegates; the Arab worldâ€™s largest international gastroenterology meeting in 2016; and the World Road Congress and the World Energy Congress in 2019.
Apart from MICE events, the UAE capital is also a draw for film production crews across the world. Authorities recently closed deals to facilitate the production of a new blockbuster Bollywood film Dishoom scheduled to film this year. Major productions filmed in Abu Dhabi in recent years include Furious 7, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and global television programmes like BBCâ€™s Top Gear, and The Bold and the Beautiful
Dubai: city of superlatives
This vibrant global hub and business epicentre is determined to attract more business travellers with a plethora of activities, entertainment options and world-class exhibitions. By Feizal Samath
Apart from hosting a multitude of international events, Dubai is paying a lot of attention to growing home-spun events in order to attract more business travellers from around the region.
The city is focusing on three key objectives: maintaining market share in existing source markets, increasing market share in markets which it has identified as having high growth potential, and increasing the number of repeat visitors by planning to allow visas with multiple entries.
Authorities say they are aiming to grow in-house exhibition and fairs like Arab Pharma and Arab Health, increase the number of visitors and make them truly international events.
With 200 nationalities among its 2.2 million population, Dubai is one of the most attractive and multicultural destinations enhanced by a wide range of facilities and entertainment options.
However not lost â€“ in the plethora of facilities â€“ is support for international visitors seeking active, teambuilding programmes. Since September 2014, Dubai has stepped up promotional activities such as organising regular fam tours for MICE buyers.
According to Steen Jakobsen, director, Dubai Business Events – The Official Convention Bureau: â€śDubai is an ideal destination for incentive groups thanks to its robust leisure offer, year-round sunshine and fantastic vibrant calendar of concerts and sporting events.â€ť
He said its world-class infrastructure, superb service level and professional DMCs offer excellent value for money for groups looking to reap the benefits of exciting and well-executed incentive programmes.
The many options to engage teambuilding visitors range from snow skiing at Ski Dubai â€“ the worldâ€™s largest indoor snow park â€“ to playing team-based camel polo at the Dubai Polo Equestrian Club.
For a more adrenaline-fuelled experience, incentive groups can do laps in supercars around the Dubai Autodrome or learn how to skydive at Skydive Dubai. Other options include treasure hunts around Downtown Dubai, home to Burj Khalifa â€“ the worldâ€™s tallest building, and Dubai Mall, the worldâ€™s largest shopping and leisure complex.
Other activities include dolphin experiences at Atlantis The Palm Dubai or various desert-based activities such as falconry, dune bashing and desert rallying in 4WD vehicles.
Also opening soon is the IMG Worlds of Adventure, touted the worldâ€™s largest indoor theme park.Other entertainment parks slated for a late 2016 opening date are Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Motiongate Dubai.
As for hotel options, many in the three- to four-star category that are ideal for small groups will be added over the next year. Hotel room capacity in Dubai currently stands at 93,000 rooms, where some 8,000 were added to the current stock last year.
The top source markets for DubaiÂ today are Saudi Arabia, India, the UK and China (in that order of priority). While Dubai is the most popular tourist destination in the UAE, its main competitors for international events in the Asia-Pacific and African regions are Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing, Johannesburg and Istanbul.
Often, Dubai works with other emirates. Last year, Dubai, together with Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, jointly hosted 14,500 resellers from Nu Skin Cosmetics China, and the event generated an economic impact worth US$80 million.
Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be jointly hosting EXPO 2020, which is expected to attract 25 million visitors, where 70 per cent are from outside the UAE. Another upcoming event Dubai is preparing for is the gigantic influx of 16,000 guests who are attending the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in September 2016.
Justin Jacob, managing director of Connect World Tours, highlights two interesting experiences that must be had in Abu Dhabi
Visit the cityâ€™s iconic landmarks
Traditional attractions that characterise Abu Dhabiâ€™s past as well as its present include the working heritage village out on the breakwater, the dhow wharves at Mina Zayed port and the colourful local souks. The visually-stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on the outskirts of the city is a must-visit.
Test-drive a Ferrari California
Launched in May, this test-drive experience at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is a worldâ€™s-first for the brand.
It offers everyday folks the chance to tootle around Yas Islandâ€™s roads in a supercharged convertible that is capable of reaching speeds of 100kmh in less than four seconds. Drive the car thatâ€™s been dubbed â€śMost Stylish Car of the Yearâ€ť and â€śConvertible of the Yearâ€ť. Enjoy a one-on-one experience with an expert Ferrari co-pilot, or ride with a couple of friends or colleagues in the car of your dreams.