Interview: Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan

How is product offering being developed when considering the preferences from key growth markets domestically, regionally and internationally?

SHEIKH SULTAN BUN TAHNOON AL NAHYAN: We adjust our approach to market specifics. For instance, Russians and Chinese like to shop, British and Germans want beach resorts and like to play golf, and the GCC wants family products. We are working on a zoning strategy that will divide areas of the emirate into tourism precincts, with each playing to its strengths. Product development is not solely the authority’s domain, though we develop products via our subsidiary, the Tourism Development and Investment Company. Product development is also the domain of other public and private sector stakeholders, and there are developments taking shape on Yas Island, Al Maryah Island, a new souk in the Khor Al Maqta, a beach club on the Corniche, and new developments are coming out of the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort.

We have undertaken research to better understand our visitors’ needs. Our 2011 “Global Leisure Segmentation Study” profiled our target market and our “Destination Visitor Survey” increases our understanding of the visitor experience. This information feeds into our marketing and our tourism eco-systems division, which supports viable propositions. Stakeholders are recognising the need for product tailoring. We now have hotels with Mandarin and Russian speakers, Chinese and Russian TV stations on in-room TVs, and specific products for key periods, such as Chinese New Year.

What would you say to hoteliers regarding what they would consider to be low levels of average length of stay and revenue per average room?

SHEIKH SULTAN: Expanding length-of-stay is a key 2014-18 strategy. We can achieve this, as there is now so much more to do and see here. Our task is making people aware of how much we offer. We acknowledge the visitor experience needs enhancement, hence the creation of our tourism eco systems division, which focuses on collaborating with small and medium-sized enterprises and investors to bring exciting products to market. While we accept that the influx of new hotel inventory over the past few years has put pressure on occupancy and room rates, this is a simple matter of demand and supply. The upside is that the destination is more competitive, which is a major business tourism selling point. In early 2013, we launched the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau to drive our business events ambitions. This is a dedicated entity which supports growth by forging closer industry links and providing support.

The bureau has overhauled its Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative for the corporate meetings and incentive segments, with the introduction of 13 structured offerings designed to enhance the emirate’s appeal amongst sector-specific bookers. These initiatives have paid dividends with meetings sealed from UK and Middle East corporates and additional enquiries being assessed from within the region and the US. We are targeting six major business wins in 2013, a further eight in 2014 and a total of 10 during 2015. Our advantages are competitive rates, intelligent pricing, added value and innovative products. Research by the authority and Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company suggests the economic impact from business events will grow by 7% per year until 2020. Ultimately, these initiatives, time, and the levelling out of supply and demand – as room supply slows – will remedy this challenge.

What strategies are being used to maximise the benefits from the Etihad Airways expansion?

SHEIKH SULTAN: Our overseas office network is closely aligned with Etihad’s routes. We work together to bid for conventions and have been quite successful. In 2013, we brought the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Global Summit to Abu Dhabi, with 1000 influential travel players, and we brought an additional 1600 travel agents from the UK and Europe in 2013 as well. Most of our overseas promotions are supported by Etihad, as we operate a joint trade engagement – Access Abu Dhabi – and Etihad sponsors many of our major events.