Abu Dhabi: Tourism gearing up

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The recent Abu Dhabi Formula One (F1) Grand Prix helped the emirate’s policymakers achieve objectives both on a strategic and touristic level, but the government is eager to achieve even loftier tourism goals in 2011.

"The economic returns of a sold out 2009 Grand Prix significantly benefited the tourism sector and wider economy. Now we are expecting a greater impact from this year's event," Lawrence Franklin, director of strategy and policy at Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), told local press in the lead up to the 2010 F1 race.

Indeed, this year’s event lived up to expectations - giving the local economy a welcome fillip. Hotels enjoyed bumper occupancy levels, while retail and food and beverage outlets benefited from an influx of well-healed visitors to the emirate.

“Our hotels are fully booked - as are the rest of the hotels on Yas Island. And with a slew of high profile activities and events taking place throughout the emirate during the F1 period the race can only benefit the local economy,” Dieter Franke, the general manager of Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi Yas Island, told OBG.

Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) reported that 100% of the 50,000 seats for the final race of the Grand Prix season were sold in advance of the event.

Yas Island, which played host to the sell out F1 crowd, was alive with business activity and many of its hotels managed to entice guests from last year’s race back to their hotels again for the 2010 event.

“We are welcoming back a lot of F1 fans and enthusiasts who stayed with us for last year’s race,” Franke told OBG. “They were obviously impressed by Yas Island first time round and it can only be better now as there are more activities, such as the Yas Links golf course and the Ferrari World theme park.”

Return visitors, of course, augur well for the industry. But from the government’s point of view the success of hosting F1 will not be viewed only in terms of ticket sales or hotel occupancy, but also through the prism of international exposure.

By this measure, the event was seen as a triumph thanks to the pull of F1, which is televised across 188 countries and attracts over 600m viewers. Indeed, the event is a strategic fit with the government’s efforts to position the capital in the minds of an international audience as an attractive destination.

During the race, moreover, a series of different corporate hospitality, networking and media events also allowed the emirate to promote itself as a business, investment and tourism destination.

Meanwhile, ADTA is looking to build not only on the success of the F1 but also on the momentum of a strong year. In the first nine months of 2010 hotel guest arrivals jumped 16% on the previous year to 1.3m. Prior to the F1, ADTA laid out its tourism agenda for 2011, which aims at delivering 1.9m hotel guests staying in around 22,000 hotel rooms and contributing 11.1% to the emirate’s overall non-oil GDP.

The targets will mean a 15% rise on the 2010 hotel guest target, an increase of over 5,000 hotels rooms and a 0.4% increase in overall non-oil GDP contribution.

A key pillar in this strategy is to attract more leisure tourists. “We are confident we can achieve this because our leisure proposition has, and will, continue to grow,” Mubarak Al Muhairi, the director-general of the ADTA said. “We have taken a major leap forward on the leisure scene with the recent opening of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – the world’s biggest indoor theme park. More intense focus on the leisure segment is in line with our strategy of increasing overall length of stay.”

Next year Abu Dhabi will also be looking to reap the benefits of entry into new territories with the opening of ADTA offices in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

Going forward, the success of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix augurs well for the growth of the broader sector, as well as acting as an important show-piece component of the emirate’s growing tourism offering. This will, in turn, widen the appeal of Abu Dhabi to new client markets.

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