A Place for Tourists

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The announcement last week that Abu Dhabi will be home to the first Ferrari World is another clear signal of the emirate's intent to become a leading tourism destination. It also adds another string to the capital's bow and suggests that the tourism strategy of Abu Dhabi goes beyond sun, sea and sand.

Ferrari has signed an exclusive agreement with the local developer, Aldar Properties, which will see the development of a Ferrari theme park on Yas Island, one of the largest natural islands in the emirate, located close to the main island of Abu Dhabi. The agreement could also lead to the opening of Ferrari outlets throughout the UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, according to Ahmed al-Sayegh, the chairman of Aldar Properties.

As well as the Ferrari theme park, the project will include a museum and an 18-screen theatre complex. There will also be a motor racing track with a Ferrari driving school as well as go-karts and dune buggies. Ferrari World, as it has been named, will have 24 themed attractions in total, including rides such as a 70m high G-force tower and a twin track rollercoaster.

However, 'Ferrari World' is simply the centrepiece of the wider development of Yas Island. This location, which is approximately a third of the size of the main island of Abu Dhabi and covers 2500 hectares, will be the site for a mix-used development catering for residential, hotel, sporting, entertainment and leisure facilities. The development is estimated to be costing $40bn with a projected completion date for the first part of 2008 and total completion by 2014.

Al Sayegh, told the local press that the company has requested free zone status for the island from the government so that non-UAE nationals will be allowed to invest in property on the site. The UAE property law of 2005 allows for foreign ownership of land on a 99-year lease in designated areas. Currently, however, this is restricted to a handful of projects including Aldar's development at Al Raha Beach in the emirate. Al Sayegh said that strategic partnerships would be fostered with local and international companies to develop various projects for the island as part of the master plan.

The island will include a retail centre comprising 300,000 square metres of land, a water park, golf courses, an equestrian centre with 4 polo fields, hotels and residential units. The island also has 32km of beach and as al-Sayegh said when describing his vision for the development, Aldar is keen to conserve areas of natural beauty, "Yas Island will combine the world's most popular leisure activities with many natural attractions of an island such as mangroves, marine life and bird sanctuary. The island's developments revolve around man's passion for sea, racing cars, shopping, golfing and luxurious living."

The announcement of the development comes four months after Abu Dhabi made the travel industry sit up and take notice by announcing that the award-winning architect Frank Gehry would design a new Guggenheim museum in the emirate. This new headline-grabbing project illustrates that the tourism strategy of the emirate goes beyond a mixture of beaches and culture and suggests that many different types of tourists are being targeted.

It would appear that this new development is catering for family orientated tourism. According to the CEO of Aldar Properties, Ronald Barrott, "We have been working to create a unique destination that will present Abu Dhabi to the global tourist market. Our intention is to bring together families, friends and individuals seeking options of entertainment, excitement, nature and peace in one location." This seems to be a subtle departure from how many analysts viewed tourism development in Abu Dhabi. It was widely believed that the emirate was primarily focused on high-end tourism, a fact born out by attempts to position Abu Dhabi as a cultural destination.

This new development will undoubtedly help to diversify the range of tourists visiting the emirate. It also would appear to mark Abu Dhabi out as a complete holiday destination and may well impact upon the average number of guest nights for visitors to the area. Indeed, the company said that the development is designed for longer stay visitors with an expectation that the minimum stay will be at least seven days. Currently within the city of Abu Dhabi, the average length of stay is approximately two to three nights.

The new development on Yas Island therefore signals Abu Dhabi's intent to broaden its tourism base and use the natural advantages it holds to attract a diverse range of visitors from the business traveller to long stay family holiday makers. It also illustrates, however, that the emirate is not simply relying on its natural assets but is constructing man made attractions that will position the emirate as a unique destination in the global tourism market.

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