Economic Update
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) released figures early this month indicating that the number of visitors to the capital emirate grew by 16% in 2007, one of the highest growth rates for the sector worldwide.

While this is already remarkable, Abu Dhabi has ambitious targets for the future. According to a study conducted by the tourism authority, the emirate has predicted 12% average annual growth for the sector for the next few years. This means the total number of tourists is expected to reach 3m by 2015. Currently the sector represents nearly 7% of total non-oil contribution to GDP and is well positioned to contribute a greater share.

Hotel occupancy and revenues give a real indication of growth. There are approximately 10,000 hotel rooms in the emirate and this number is expected to reach 24,400 by 2015, according to Mubarak Hamad Al Muhairi, director general of the ADTA. Hotel revenues for 2007 were $490.2m, up 19% over the previous year. The government and businesses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are investing more in the tourism sector than any other country in the region. Abu Dhabi alone plans on investing nearly $140bn in the sector to help realise the emirate’s 3m goal by 2015.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), the world’s largest hotel company by number of rooms, is expected to announce a new venture in Abu Dhabi as part of the company’s Middle East expansion plans. IHG and Abu Dhabi-based property developer Aldar Properties are working together on a number of hotel deals already, including the 430-room Crowne Plaza hotel and the 165-suite Staybridge Suites, which are expected to open next year as part of Aldar’s Yas Island development.

Abu Dhabi was recently selected as one of the world’s top-10 tourism destinations, according to a UK-based online travel agency. This achievement is a confirmation of the emirate’s growing stature in the global tourism industry, said Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, chairman of the ADTA. Visitors from the UK represent the largest portion of tourists to Abu Dhabi, accounting for 8.8%, followed by German citizens at 8%.

The sector received an additional boost this week after US President George Bush toured an exhibition focusing on the cultural district of Saadiyat Island as part of his visit to the UAE. The island lays 500 metres offshore from the city and will eventually house a number of world-class museums, performing arts centres and educational facilities in addition to luxury hotels, golf courses and villas. It has been deemed one of the leading up-and-coming tourist locations by a US financial newspaper and is at the epicentre of the emirate’s tourism and development plans.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is expected to be the cornerstone of Saadiyat Island, according to Sheikh Sultan. France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel came to Abu Dhabi earlier this month to sign a 30-year agreement, moving the opening of the museum a step closer to reality. Abu Dhabi will pay $1.5bn for the use of the museum’s brand name, visiting pieces of art and travelling exhibitions. Art works are expected to be loaned for periods of between six months and two years with the new museum planned to open in 2012.

Abu Dhabi is now drawing international attention in all areas of is economy and is proving to be attractive to visitors from around the world. As it moves forward with its plans to provide unique sites for tourists, its profile on the global stage is likely to increase.