Cultural Tourism On The Wing

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On July 15, a proposal was unveiled for the development of a cultural village to be built in Abu Dhabi's hinterland that would showcase the heritage of both Bedouin life and of the age-old sport of falconry.

Initially proposed by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the heritage village is to be developed by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

Majid al-Mansouri, EAD's secretary general said the village will be where both locals and foreigners will be able to see first hand the culture and history of Abu Dhabi, learn about falconry and interact with nature.

"We are at the stage of designing the concept at the moment, so we do not know exactly how big it will be although we know it will be huge," said al-Mansouri.

Projected to be completed within four years, the centre will also feature a museum, residential areas and hotels, along with the more traditional heritage attractions such as zones depicting Bedouin lifestyles, an oasis and an old souk.

The announcement of the new culture centre was made on the sidelines of the International Falconry Festival in Berkshire, England, an event backed by the UAE to highlight and help preserve the sport of falconry and is part of Abu Dhabi's drive to have the sport recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

"Falconry is not a sport but a way of life, and our efforts of conservation also include registering it as an UNESCO world heritage," said Maysa al-Nowais, an EAD spokesperson, during the festival.

During the festival's closing ceremony on July 15, Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), presented a donation of $2m to the Falconry Heritage Trust.

The donation, made on behalf of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, is to be used to fund endowments and grants to support the preservation and understanding of Arab desert culture, in particular falconry.

The ADACH chairman said Abu Dhabi would host a similar event within two years, bringing together falconry experts from around the world.

"It is good to have a festival where we get the chance to meet other people with the same cultural background," he said. "Having the event is also good in promoting our cultural heritage."

Tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of Abu Dhabi's economy. According to figures released by the Abu Dhabi chamber of commerce and industry on July 12, the tourism sector brought in $2.5bn last year, representing 6.8% of the country's gross domestic product.

However, while seeking to boost tourism numbers and revenue, Abu Dhabi wants to maintain a healthy balance between cash and culture, according to Mubarak al-Muhairi, director of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

"We do not seek to attract big numbers of tourists," he said to local press on July 12. "We are targeting 3m people by 2015, and our focus is on the cultural tourist who comes, by definition, from the higher end of the market."

The culture centre is just the latest in a series of steps Abu Dhabi is taking to preserve its heritage, promote it as a tourism attraction and manage the country's cultural assets. In consultation with international experts, the ADACH is working to draft legislation that will both strengthen its own role in protecting the emirate's heritage and support greater efforts to widen the scope of cultural preservation.

Another arts centre is to be established in Al Ain, which will have workshops for artists, provide classes in teaching Arabic calligraphy and exhibition halls, while there are also plans to have a cultural compound at the Al Quatara Oasis as part of the drive to promote cultural tourism in the region and revive traditional handicrafts.

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