Abu Dhabi is looking to invest billions in culture as part of a $27bn development on Saadiyat (Happiness) Island, a 26 sq km outcrop lying just 500 metres off the coast.
The latest cultural coup pulled off by Abu Dhabi was the signing of an agreement in March with the French government that will see works from France's most famous museums exhibited in a new arts centre, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, scheduled to open in 2012.
Under the deal, which covers 30 years, artworks from museums such as the Louvre, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Musée d'Orsay and Versailles will be displayed in a futuristic new purpose built gallery, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.
However, the agreement with France comes at a price, with the cost of using the Louvre's name along being $525m, along with a $33m donation to renovate a wing of the Paris museum. Moreover, there is the $750m budgeted to bring French staff and 300 artworks to Abu Dhabi, to restore the theatre at the Chateau de Fontainebleau and to establish an art restoration centre in Paris.
The overall cost of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, has been put at somewhere near $2bn. However, that price, and the overall cost of the project is well worth paying, according to Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's crown prince.
"Saadiyat Island demonstrates the vision to further establish Abu Dhabi's position as a destination of international standing," he said. "The aim of Saadiyat Island must be to create a cultural asset for the world. Saadiyat will belong to the people of the UAE, the greater Middle East and the world at large."
By the time the agreement with France expires, Abu Dhabi will have built up its own collection of masterpieces to fill its galleries, though Mubarak Hamad Al Muhairi, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, was careful not to disclose how much the museum intended to invest in artworks.
"We'd rather not announce our collection budget," he said. "We don't want to create a disturbance in the market."
While the Louvre Abu Dhabi may be the centrepiece in the cultural revolution taking place on Saadiyat Island, it will not be a stand alone development.
Last July, Abu Dhabi signed a deal with New York's Guggenheim Museum to open a branch on Saadiyat Island. The $400m museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, will cover 30,000 sq metres, making it by far the largest of the five Guggenheim centres presently in existence. The new museum will be given over to displays of modern and contemporary art.
In announcing the tie-up in July last year, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi would not only help make Saadiyat Island an international cultural hub but would have broader implications.
"The signing also represents a significant development in the creation and nurturing of international cultural ties which we believe will do much to forge greater understanding between all nations," he said.
The complex will also include a national museum, a performing arts centre with four theatres and a state of the art concert hall with a combined seating for 6,300, a maritime museum and a conference centre, all of which are intended to attract international visitors.
It is not as if Abu Dhabi's tourism industry is struggling or short of investments. International arrivals were up 12% in 2006, with a record 1.34m foreign visitors. This increase was also reflected in hotel stays, with guests spending 3.9m nights in Abu Dhabi's resorts and hotels.
According to Al Muhairi, there is more than $54bn being pumped into tourism projects such as the Al Saadiyat Island development across the Emirate, much of it due to the government's pro-investment stance.
"The open-door policy adopted has reflected positively on the private sector's contribution to the tourist development projects, including the Al Saadiyat Island project, reckoned to be one of the largest tourist development projects region-wide," he said on March 28 when announcing the 2006 tourism figures.
Though the focus of the Saadiyat Island development will be its world-class arts centres, these will be complemented by 29 hotels, three marinas and luxury residential complexes. When all the facilities are completed in 2018, Abu Dhabi officials predict the galleries, museums and theatres will attract 3m visitors a year.