Taking Tourism on the Road

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Abu Dhabi has embarked on a hard sell promotion campaign to showcase its tourism attractions, seeking to reinforce its presence in existing markets and open up new ones.

The government has identified tourism as a growth industry that it hopes will shore up the economy when the emirate's energy resources run dry.

In its policy agenda for 2007-08, a blueprint for the immediate future that also sets the emirate's direction into the next decade, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council said tourism was a critical element in the country's overall development.

According to the document, released on August 1, the sector "will stimulate and diversify the economy, generate new private sector opportunities and elevate the emirate's international standing".

At the forefront of the campaign is the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), tasked with overseeing much of the development of the sector and selling the country's image overseas as a leisure and business destination.

The ADTA has increased the number of travel fairs and trade events it is attending, and is looking to expand its promotional activities beyond Europe into Asia and Latin America.

On August 14, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, ADTA's chairman, held talks in Abu Dhabi with a delegation of Mexican tourism officials, including Miguel Angel Gomez Mont, the director general of Mexico's National Trust Fund for Tourism Development. The sheikh said Latin America is becoming an important market for the emirate.

One outcome is a proposal for the two countries to work together to develop an integrated approach to tourism promotion, as Gomez Mont said the similarities in the tourism components of the two countries make it possible for them to work together and share expertise and best practices.

Earlier in August, the ADTA was busy raising the emirate's profile in London, with images of Abu Dhabi put on 100 of the city's trademark taxis. Having first given the campaign a trial run last November on a few cabs, the ADTA wheeled out the full-scale promotion in early August, with the taxis not only carrying pictures of Abu Dhabi touristic and cultural attractions on the outside, but information brochures on the inside as well.

Ali Ahmed Al Hosani, ADTA's marketing manager, said the UK was one of the most significant tourism markets in Europe and one that already provided a strong flow of visitors to the emirate.

"In 2006, visitors from the UK accounted for 8.8% of total visitor arrivals to Abu Dhabi," Al Hosani said. "This promotional campaign is specifically aimed at familiarising Abu Dhabi's potential visitors with the emirate's distinctive tourist offerings."

The campaign has a wider penetration than among Britons alone, with London being one of the world's most popular tourist destinations for international visitors.

The authority also sponsored a fun run in London on August 8, part of the activities of the Society of Incentive Travel Executives' Young Leaders Academy, all part of ADTA's push to attract more meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism, one of the target niches identified in the policy strategy.

In late June, the authority launched a road show to tout Abu Dhabi's tourism wares closer to home, with the exhibition travelling to fellow Gulf Co-operation Council countries. The series of exhibitions, staged in Jeddah, Riyadh, Doha and Kuwait, aimed to raise Abu Dhabi's profile as a holiday destination and as a MICE centre.

Such has been the success of the ADTA that it won the World Travel Award prize for best promotion board, with Abu Dhabi also taking the top award as best new tourism destination in a ballot of among more than 11,000 industry professionals.

Apart from this recognition, Abu Dhabi's tourism industry has been racking up some impressive statistics. Foreign arrivals were up 12% in 2006, with 1.34m overseas visitors passing through Customs.

However, this is well short of the 3m targeted in the executive council's policy statement, a goal to be reached by 2015. Significantly, the largest segment of this projected figure will come from business travellers and participants in MICE activities, with the combined figure set at 1.79m. Along with the estimated 1.2m leisure tourists Abu Dhabi hopes to attract by 2015, the emirate hopes to generate earnings of $7bn annually from the industry.

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