Interview: Saif Saeed Ghobash

How is Abu Dhabi strengthening its position as a leisure tourism destination?

SAIF SAEED GHOBASH: Abu Dhabi promotes itself as a leisure and family-friendly destination, and has all the necessary elements to attract this segment of the tourism market. We have shopping malls, beaches, theme parks and other relevant infrastructure to attract these visitors. Major projects have been finalised in 2018 that have greatly boosted the emirate’s profile on this front, in particular the opening of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, while the development of additional high-profile mega-projects such as SeaWorld are in the pipeline, adding significant capacity to our leisure and entertainment value proposition. Similarly, projects have been developed on a municipal level, such as Hudayriat Beach and private sector efforts like the expansion of Marina Mall, which enrich the experience of leisure tourists by enlarging their itinerary.

We also use our cultural offerings to support other tourism segments. On the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) front, for instance, hosting the Mubadala Business Forum at Louvre Abu Dhabi exemplifies the use of a leading cultural facility for those types of events. These structures are not only culturally or architecturally significant but can serve as venues for people to engage in educational workshops, tours and other activities. However, we are keenly aware that, despite our significant investment in the culture sector, we still need to offer the basics for any tourist, which is why it is important that the pure leisure offering is enriched. One way that this can be achieved is by developing the hotel segment in certain districts so that it meets the standards of guests seeking high-quality accommodation.

In addition to improving leisure destinations, one of the most effective ways of boosting tourist numbers has been to ease travel to the UAE. For example, our new federal visa processing system significantly streamlines this process; tour operators and hotels have now been given the opportunity to issue visas for tourists and we have deployed a stopover programme where travellers with Etihad Airways can obtain a free transit visa. Ultimately, more leisure products, better connectivity and improved regulations are expected to increase the number of tourists moving forward.

In what ways can private sector participation in the tourism sector be encouraged?

GHOBASH: Our objective is to work in innovative ways to incentivise private sector involvement in the tourism industry. On the events side, we are interested in collaborating with entities and intellectual property owners that will help enrich our events calendar by bringing new platforms to Abu Dhabi. Therefore, we have launched an incentive scheme through which seed investment is allocated to international applicants that hold the intellectual property to a certain event that they want to introduce to the emirate. Provided that the applicant can demonstrate the financial sustainability of the event and its ability to translate into growth within the MICE segment, we are willing to discuss financing opportunities.

We have also created a programme with tour operators and private companies to develop competitive products and experiences, which we can offer and market for travellers. For example, we work with manufacturers of oud, a traditional stringed instrument, and tour operators for tourists to see the instruments being made in the workshop, purchase any items and see a concert. Similarly, other partnerships are in place with companies that offer products unique to the UAE or the region, for instance, Al Foah, where tourists can learn about the date production value chain, or Al Khazna Tannery, where they can see a factory develop a vast portfolio of products using camel hide. This type of industrial tourism not only increases the range of activities for travellers but also nurtures the development of our native industries.