Grand Progress

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Abu Dhabi's tourism sector is buoyant following the inaugural Abu Dhabi Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix, which marked a milestone in the emirate's development, promoted the capital internationally and gave its hospitality sector a welcome fillip.

"Motorsport enthusiasts may have seen the race as simply the close to another season. To the emirate, however, the event was part of a wider economic strategy," Mahmood Ebraheem Al Mahmood, the CEO of Al Qudra Holding, told OBG.

According to its Economic Vision 2030, released early this year, the government of Abu Dhabi wants to use tourism as a means of economic diversification.

"A vibrant business, culture, leisure and sports segment is being developed in the emirate, which will be supported by a fast-growing hotels sector to cater to the growing number of high-end tourists and visitors," the report stated.

Key to this vision is Yas Island, which played host to the F1. Dubbed an entertainment zone, the island's centrepiece is the Yas Marina Circuit along with its signature Yas Hotel. Another clutch of international hotels, such as the Crowne Plaza, are five-minutes' walk from the track. Further development to the island, which is already under construction, will see theme parks, golf courses, shopping malls and residential units added in phases.

"Yas Island is a component of the 2030 Plan and the successful grand prix illustrates that the strategy is being delivered on time and on target," Al Mahmood said.

Many of the stakeholders who brought F1 to the capital, such as Aldar and Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM), believed the race could increase international exposure of the emirate.

Televised across 188 countries and attracting over 600m viewers, F1 also allowed the capital to position itself in the minds of an international audience as a business metropolis and holiday destination.

According to Al Mahmood, the publicity was very positive. He said the emirate showed itself as a "sustainable, moderate, open-minded city where business is still good".

Though difficult to measure, such a message can only be good for the emirate's long-term economic strategy, especially as other countries slash tourism promotion amid grim economic conditions.

Another advantage to hosting the race was the influx of visitors. F1 fans – known for being well heeled – flooded hotels and restaurants, buoying the local hospitality industry.

"Since we are so close to Yas Marina Circuit, our 428 rooms were booked to full occupancy well in advance of the race," Dieter Franke, the general manager of Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi Yas Island, told OBG. "Moreover, all of our six food and beverage outlets did great business over the weekend."

It was a similar story across the city as visitors booked up available rooms. A new Holiday Inn, which opened only two days before the race, was fully booked for the F1 weekend.

Meanwhile, international and local media praised the track and facilities, as well as the overall planning of the event. The Department of Transport (DoT) played an important role transferring fans to and around the island – providing a "park-and-ride" bus system, as well as courtesy vehicles manned by young Emiratis.

"Everybody was impressed by the delivery of the entire event," Khalid Hashim, the executive director of land transport at DoT, told OBG. "Feedback was positive and our services operated very smoothly," he said.

While attracting new tourists via F1 will assist in diversifying revenue streams, the further development of Yas Island with its slew of impressive tourist attractions will help to smooth out seasonality problems moving forward. In the meantime, F1 creates international awareness and, not least of all, a buzz about the emirate.

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