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Just when the world thought that tourism developments simply couldn't get any bigger, the UAE has rolled out a parade of new projects.

The venue for many of the announcements on these new developments was Dubai's 13th annual Arabian Travel Market (ATM). This industry meet focuses on global travel and tourism and featured over 1750 exhibitors from 59 countries this year.

Held in the massive multi-halled Dubai World Trade Centre, each country and region had it own venue for developers to hawk their newest tourism innovations.

"International awareness of the show is expanding year-on-year and with the Middle East's airlines opening up new routes and destinations, additional countries are looking to leverage their tourism potential among the region's much sought-after outbound travelling business and leisure public," said Tom Nutley, chairman of Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE), organisers of the ATM.

As expected, the Middle Eastern projects stole the show, as regional bigwigs like Nakheel, Emaar and Dubai Holding again displayed sprawling models outlining how they plan to re-shape Dubai's deserts and coastline. But it was a number of newer players that made the biggest ripples at the event.

The hype got going a few days before the ATM when on April 30, Abu Dhabi unveiled its largest tourist development to date, the staggering Dh100bn ($27.2bn) Saadiyat Island project to be developed on a 27-sq-km parcel of land 19 km off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

When completed in 2018, the development will be able to accommodate 150,000 people in 29 hotels, three marinas, 38,000 apartments and 8000 villas.

To be headed by the newly created Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), Saadiyat Island will be the first of several mega projects that will fall under the company's responsibility.

"This is an important chapter in Abu Dhabi's history," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi at the event. "The creation of TDIC ushers in a new era of economic transition for the emirate, while the development of Saadiyat, a unique natural resource, represents one of the most vibrant episodes in the capital's evolution."

Wasting no time in outlining its aggressive future plans, TDIC launched a second project this week - the Dh403m ($110m) Angsana Resorts and Spa and the Angsana Residences - part of an additional Dh20bn ($5.4bn) to be invested in the emirate's tourism industry in the next 10 years.

As if not to be out done by its southern sister, Dubai responded on the opening day of the ATM by unfurling one of the biggest projects ever attempted in the flamboyant emirate, the Dh100bn ($27.2bn) Bawadi project, scheduled to be the largest tourism centre in the world.

Developed under another newcomer, Tatweer, which was formed by Dubai Holding back in December 2005 to manage Dubai's leisure, tourism and entertainment portfolios, Bawadi makes a big splash in a market that already features the visible-from-space Palm Island series and a number of multi-billion-dollar tourist developments.

With the unmistakable flair of Las Vegas, Bawadi will be developed along a 10-km strip, featuring 35 themed hotels with a capacity of 29,200 rooms, and is expected alone to pull 3.3m tourists to Dubai by 2016.

"Tourism as an industry plays a major part in the economic development of this country and this project was instructed to be developed by Sheikh Mohammed about a year ago," Saeed al-Muntafiq, Tatweer's CEO, said at the presentation ceremony at the ATM this week.

In addition, Bawadi will be a destination for Dubai's population, which many anticipate to touch 5m by 2020, as it will boast 1500 restaurants and over 100 venues for plays and performances. The hotels and resorts will have three-, four- and five-star designations and be built in a wild array of replicas from around the world including Empire State Building, Big Ben and Red Square including Saint Basil's Cathedral.

The centrepiece development will be the 6500-room Asia-Asia Hotel complex, which will be a collection of Asia's superstructures, including the Taipei 101, the Petronas Towers, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and the under-construction Burj Dubai, the original tipped to be the largest building in the world.

Bawadi will be one of the many projects in Dubailand, a collection of 50-85 projects including theme parks, malls and leisure destinations in an area three times the size of Walt Disney World Resort, which hopes to meet the aspiration of Dubai to welcome 15m tourists by 2010.

Also catching attention at the ATM was the official launching of the Mina al-Arab, the largest tourism project ever attempted in the northern emirate of Ras al-Khaimah.

Developed by RAK Properties, created in 2005 by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qassimi, the crown prince of Ras al-Khaimah, the company has a charter to create tourism, residential, commercial and industrial mega projects in the emirate.

Although not quite on the scale of Saadiyat Island or Bawadi, Mina al-Arab still carries a hefty price tag of Dh10bn ($2.72bn) and will develop nine five-star hotels and 3500 residential units along a 2.78m-sq-metre coastal strip.

RAK Properties is intending to invest an additional Dh20bn ($5.4bn) in several projects around Ras al-Khaimah, including Mangrove Island, which will be developed between the city's two creeks and will be similar to Dubai Marina, the upscale residential cluster developed by Emaar. Also in the planning phase is a 36-hole golf course and a possible mountain resort in the emirate's towering peaks.

"Ras al-Khaimah's situation is very different [from the other emirates] and it has not developed in the same way others have been created," said Mohammed Sultan al-Qadi, CEO and managing director of RAK Properties. "We have shortages of hotels and leisure facilities."

From the first days at the ATM, it is clear that the "mega project" theme in the UAE - and even the Gulf - is alive and well. There continues to be no real concern about overcapacity, either. Until there is a major slowdown in the market, which perhaps would only happen in the unlikely case of a significant drop in the price of oil, the upper limit for tourism projects could only be capped by the cash or ambitions of developers.

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