What cultural offerings are attracting tourists to Abu Dhabi?

 

The global Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the global tourism industry in 2020; however, with demand likely to be high after months of enforced isolation, the tourism sector is hopeful there will be a recovery in activity once international travel is able to resume. The substantial growth of the tourism segment in recent years demonstrates solid underlying fundamentals. Abu Dhabi has emerged as a destination for those seeking entertainment, culture and relaxation. The emirate has also become a magnet for weekenders from elsewhere in the UAE, with residents of the country’s other six emirates visiting Abu Dhabi’s many attractions.

Renowned Destination

Investment in culture has helped to secure the emirate as a tourism destination, as have global partnerships with leading cultural institutions. This has notably included Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is set to be joined by Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Al Ain Oasis, have added to Abu Dhabi’s appeal, along with a full programme of music, sport, performing arts and niche events, from chess festivals to Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Yet the sector continues to navigate challenges beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the growing level of regional competition. For example, the recent opening up of Saudi Arabia poses notable competition, with the kingdom now leveraging its historical and cultural sites to win leisure tourism market share. At the same time, given the good relations Abu Dhabi enjoys with its neighbours, such rising market ties could lift all regional boats. A good example of this is the joint visa arrangement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE that was under discussion as of late 2019.

At the same time, the emirate has embraced new technologies and methodologies to manage and monitor tourism metrics, using big data and real-time statistical reporting to give planners a bird’s eye view. These efforts demonstrate the importance that the Abu Dhabi government places on the development of its tourism and culture sector.

“We see that the leaders of Abu Dhabi have a clear vision,” Khaled Sharabassy, general manager of Anantara Eastern Mangroves Abu Dhabi Hotel, told OBG. “The leadership has a well-thought-through vision and is ensuring that all establishments in the capital work together towards its success, as we are, too.”

Structure & Oversight

Accounting for roughly 80% of the territory of the UAE, Abu Dhabi has city, coast and desert, with all three environments well connected by a system of new motorways. “Within 15 minutes’ drive of the airport you can visit a whole series of sights,” Ziad Ali Mohammed, business intelligence director for the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), the emirate’s lead agency for the tourism sector, told OBG.

Abu Dhabi’s sector is also a young one. “We are really only around 15 years old when it comes to tourism,” Ziad Ali Mohammed added. This gives Abu Dhabi a number of advantages, such as being able to learn from other models and to choose strategic areas for development. For example, in order to establish a distinct tourism profile within the UAE, Abu Dhabi’s authorities have focused not only on developing tourism for entertainment, but also culture and heritage sites (see analysis).

DCT Abu Dhabi has adopted a data-driven model, which is in line with the data-focused approach of the emirate, where the rollout of 5G is well advanced and numerous smart city initiatives are under way (see ICT chapter). It is making a concerted effort to gauge the socio-economic impact of tourism and culture, measuring participation and satisfaction in order to hone its approach. According to DCT Abu Dhabi, the emirate is working to establish a new system of economic modelling that takes into account the impact that museums have on socio-economic well-being. This can then be used to construct a more comprehensive account of the importance of the cultural sector beyond revenue.

As one of the UAE’s seven federated emirates, Abu Dhabi abides by federal laws and regulations for its tourism and culture sector, but direct supervision and oversight in the sector is exercised within the emirate itself. The government of Abu Dhabi is thus responsible for sector development and strategy, and is headed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi Executive Council is the ruling body of the emirate, headed by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nayhan. All the emirate’s government departments are represented within this council, including DCT Abu Dhabi.

DCT Abu Dhabi develops strategy; collates and records sector data; promotes Abu Dhabi as a tourism destination; issues licences and classifications for hotels, restaurants, tour operators and travel agents operating in the emirate; oversees Abu Dhabi’s heritage and cultural assets; runs training courses for travel agents; supports the arts; and operates the museums. It is also the body to which violations of sector regulations can be reported. In addition, DCT Abu Dhabi has responsibility for Abu Dhabi National Library services, which encompasses regional, community, children’s and mobile libraries, as well as acting as a publisher of Emirati literature and poetry. In short, it oversees and supports all tourism and cultural activities in the emirate.

Development Plans

The sector’s importance has been recognised in the emirate’s development plans, led by the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, which emphasises tourism as an engine of future growth. Through such plans, the authorities are working to expand the emirate’s tourism offering with new malls, resorts, museums and galleries, and other leisure facilities. The vision notes that many companies in the sector fall within the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) category, which is also identified as a priority, as SMEs are seen as crucial to furthering economic diversification efforts, boosting foreign exchange earnings, raising Abu Dhabi’s international profile and providing jobs.

Health tourism is another segment that ties into broader plans, while transport development is integrated with tourism under the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 via airport expansions and the establishment of better transport links to prospective resort areas. This dovetails with the goal of developing the emirate’s secondary regions, such as Al Ain and the large yet sparsely inhabited Western Region.

The Abu Dhabi Plan looks at development of Abu Dhabi City’s urban infrastructure, including its progression as a centre for tourism and culture. Zoning is an important feature of planning for Abu Dhabi City, both in terms of concentrating tourism infrastructure and ensuring urban mobility. Hotel and tourism districts are clearly defined – leisure facilities are focused primarily on the city’s islands, while hotels targeting business travellers are located in and around the central business district, the Corniche and the emirate’s international airports.

Abu Dhabi’s islands offer secondary tourism destinations. Saadiyat Island is the location of the city’s Cultural District, Yas Island has an entertainment and recreation district, while Lulu Island offers desert landscapes and heritage sites. The islands allow resort development to take place in areas beyond the more densely crowded downtown. The islands’ mangroves and national parks also have significant ecotourism potential (see Environment chapter). To develop these areas, the publicly owned Tourism Development & Investment Company was set up in 2006 by the Abu Dhabi government. The firm has led numerous projects, partly financing its activities through bond issuance on conventional and Islamic markets.

Strategy

Using the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the Abu Dhabi Plan as a starting point, DCT Abu Dhabi has developed its own five-year plan running from 2017 through to 2021. This breaks down into five tourism and three cultural objectives. The former involves promoting leisure and business tourism in priority source markets; cultivating reasons to visit and offering more places to stay; stimulating industry participation to drive growth and employment; focusing marketing efforts on areas with growth opportunities; and facilitating ease of entry and improving standards across the industry. Through this approach, DCT Abu Dhabi is aiming to have the tourism sector contribute 4% of non-oil GDP; attract 8.5m annual visitors; increase the average spend of visitors by 25-30%; and achieve average length of stay targets of 2.3 days and 3.3 days for domestic and international visitors, respectively. On the cultural side, DCT Abu Dhabi’s three strategies are preserving and protecting Emirati heritage by defining and developing cultural sites that help differentiate the emirate; strengthening national pride and cultural awareness by developing programmes and activities to attract investment and generate interest in the emirate’s cultural assets; and increasing public engagement with Abu Dhabi’s cultural scene.

In addition, the government of Abu Dhabi launched its Ghadan 21, or Tomorrow 21, initiative in 2019. This three-year, Dh50bn ($13.6bn) stimulus fund aims to motivate business and investment, mainly by supporting small start-ups and tech-enabled SMEs, of which the tourism and culture sector is an indirect beneficiary. A city-wide public art programme, parks and beautification schemes are all included in its remit. The scheme has direct benefits for the sector, such as support for ecotourism projects (see analysis), and changes to the tourism and municipality fees for hotels. Before March 2019, when the new measures were announced, hotels were charged a tourism fee of 6% and a municipality fee of 4% – which were passed on to guests – making a combined effective hotel stay tax of 10%. Under Ghadan 21, the tourism fee falls to 3.5% and the municipality fee to 2%, for a total of 5.5%. Long-term stays – that is, 30 or more consecutive nights – are exempted entirely from these fees. The hotel room fee charged by municipalities has also been cut, from Dh15 ($4.08) per night to Dh10 ($2.72) per night.

DCT Abu Dhabi estimated that these changes and other reduced fees would effectively increase available capital for hotels by Dh1bn ($272.2m) over the years to 2021 for renovations and upgrades, aided by fee collection moving from a monthly basis to semi-annually. In addition, DCT Abu Dhabi announced in March 2019 that it would be investing Dh500m ($136.1m) in the direct promotion of Abu Dhabi as a tourism destination to markets across the globe.

Performance & Size

The tourism season in Abu Dhabi largely takes place during the northern hemisphere’s winter months of December to March, when temperatures fall to 20-25°C. The summer can be extremely hot, with temperatures sometimes rising above 50°C, ruling out the majority of outdoor activities. Due to this, many residents tend to depart in the summer months, heading for cooler climates. For tourism and culture planners, spreading the tourism season out has therefore long been a key objective. Hosting events during the period in between the peak and off-peak seasons is an increasingly popular way of doing this, while permanent must-visit attractions, such as the emirate’s museums, also add to the longevity of the tourism season.

As of 2017, the start of the tourism sector’s fiveyear plan, the emirate had 162 hotels with 30,574 rooms that catered to 4.9m guests, according to Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi (SCAD). The average length of stay was 2.5 nights, while total revenue was Dh5.6bn ($1.5bn). That year Abu Dhabi’s total non-oil GDP was Dh407.7bn ($111bn), and while no distinct figures for tourism were available, arts, recreation and other service activities were valued at Dh1.9bn ($517.2m), and accommodation and food service were valued at Dh9.2bn ($2.5bn). This suggests that those areas contributed a combined 2.7% to non-oil GDP in 2017. The strategy aims to double the number of visitors and substantially increase revenue. Though these goals are achievable, they will face some headwinds in the short term due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since 2017 the tourism sector has indeed expanded greatly. SCAD reported that the number of hotels had risen to 168 by the end of 2018, with 32,971 rooms. The number of guests had also increased, to 5m, while the average length of stay rose to 2.6 nights. The number of hotels held steady in 2019, while the number of rooms fell by 0.5% to 32,818 and the number of guests increased by 2.1% to 5.1m. The average length of stay remained the same.

Ports of Entry

Meanwhile, the emirate’s international accessibility has been improving, thanks to the development of Abu Dhabi’s airports and seaports. The main global entryway, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), is run by Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), which also operates Al Ain International Airport (AAN) and Al Bateen Executive Airport (AZI). ADAC also operates two smaller airports on the resort destinations of Delma Island and Sir Bani Yas Island, off the western coast of the emirate.

The three-terminal AUH serves 30 airlines and 102 destinations in 52 countries, and acts as the base for the emirate’s flag carrier, Etihad Airways. The airport is undergoing a major expansion project with the addition of the Midfield Terminal Building (MTB), a $2.94bn, 742,000-sq-metre facility that is scheduled to open in the latter part of 2020 (see Transport chapter). It is estimated that the airport will be able to handle 45m passengers a year once the MTB comes on-line. It will have piers for some 65 aircraft, capacity to check-in 8500 passengers per hour and a baggage system that will be able to process 19,000 bags an hour. In keeping with the integrated, strategic approach of the emirate’s broader socio-economic development plans, the MTB will have a heritage and culture museum, and a hotel for transit passengers.

AAN is located approximately 18 km from the emirate’s second-largest city, Al Ain. It has a single terminal and a 4000-metre runway that is capable of receiving the largest jets. It is also of interest to the UAE’s nascent space industry. Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company within the Virgin Group, has been looking at the site as a potential future launch area for its space tourism offering (see Security, Aerospace & Defence chapter). AZI, meanwhile, is the MENA region’s only dedicated executive jet airport, with a stand capacity of up to 30 jets and a 2200-sq-metre VIP and VVIP facility.

The year 2019 saw two budget airlines announce that they would begin using AUH: these are Hungary’s Wizz Air, and a partnership between Etihad and Sharjah-based Air Arabia, which jointly created Air Arabia Abu Dhabi. These two low-cost carriers will widen the UAE’s access to a range of second- and third-tier destinations in Europe, India, Russia and other Middle East countries. Both carriers were initially planning to operate out of AUH in 2020, though this may be pushed back due to global and regional travel restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the maritime side, Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminals – a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Ports – operates facilities at Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi City and Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach, where cruise passengers can take advantage of the only dedicated cruise beach located on Sir Bani Yas Island. These facilities work alongside the points of entry for those coming across land.

Abu Dhabi shares borders with both Oman and Saudi Arabia. The main land crossings with Oman are by road at Mezyad and Khatam Al Shukla, near Al Ain. For the border with Saudi Arabia, there is a crossing at Ghuwaifat/Sila in the far west of the emirate, but until recently only GCC nationals were allowed to cross into Abu Dhabi from this point of entry. However, adjustments made in the Saudi visa regime may see this change in the months ahead. The UAE closed its land and air borders in late March 2020 to help stop the spread of Covid-19, although borders are expected to reopen for international tourism in Dubai on July 7, 2020. When air, sea and land arrivals are combined, 2019 was a record year for Abu Dhabi, with some 11.35m international visitors to the emirate, according to DCT Abu Dhabi, representing an increase of 10.5%. This included 2.8m overnight visitors and 8.5m same-day visitors. The cruise industry also had a banner year in 2019, which suggests growth may pick back up once it is safe to travel on cruise liners again. Some 518,000 visitors entered Abu Dhabi via cruise liners, up 46% on 2018 figures. The number of cruise calls similarly increased by 43% to 193.

International Visitors

In terms of countries of origin, international visitor numbers were led by India, China, the UK and the US in 2019 on the basis of hotel stays. Figures for the fourth quarter of 2019 illustrate this pattern. Visitors from India accounted for around 10% of all hotel guests during that quarter, at 129,000, followed by those from China, at 7%; the UK (6%); and the US (4%). India was another fast-growing market; arrivals from India in the last quarter of 2019 were up 12.7% year-on-year. Russia was the fastest-growing source market, with its market share increasing by 36.2% over the same period, though it represented just 2% of the total.

This momentum will ease in 2020, as the Covid-19 crisis prompted the emirate and the UAE as a whole to implement travel restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. In late March 2020 all passenger flights to, from and through Abu Dhabi – aside from some outbound flights to help foreign citizens return home – were suspended for an initial period of 14 days. As of June 2020, transit flights had restarted, although a ban was still in place for tourists visiting Abu Dhabi. Moreover, the emirate’s ports were closed to cruise liners and the authorities had instructed all tour operators to suspend services for activities such as sea cruises and desert camps.

As part of efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the national economy, in March 2020 the Central Bank of the UAE announced an economic stimulus package with 16 initiatives. Some of these are directly applicable to the tourism sector, such as a 20% rental rebate for tourism and hospitality services, and tourism and municipality fees have been waived for the year for tourism and entertainment enterprises. Water and electricity subsidies are also given for citizens and businesses.

MICE

While recent years have seen an increased emphasis on leisure and cultural tourism in Abu Dhabi, both the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the Abu Dhabi Plan identify the business tourism segment as a major contributor in the drive to accelerate nonoil GDP growth. As the centre of the UAE and Abu Dhabi governments, and one of the country’s major economic powerhouses, Abu Dhabi City has long been a venue for high-level meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE). Indeed, Abu Dhabi was named the Middle East’s Leading Business Travel Destination at the 2019 World Travel Awards, where a number of establishments within Abu Dhabi won awards, such as Emirates Palace, which was named the Leading MICE Hotel; Beach Rotana (Leading Corporate Resort); and Nirvana Travel & Tourism (Leading Business Travel Agency). Abu Dhabi was also designated the Leading Overseas Luxury MICE Destination at the China Travel and Meeting Industry Awards two years prior.

While the suspension of large gatherings due to Covid-19 will understandably impact MICE organisers in 2020, the segment has strong underlying fundamentals. The two central bodies behind the city’s MICE segment are the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) and the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau (ADCB), which is part of DCT Abu Dhabi. ADNEC owns and operates the Middle East’s largest MICE venue, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre; the Al Ain Convention Centre; and prominent MICE venues overseas, including ExCeL London. The group also owns hotels and other properties located within Abu Dhabi City’s exhibitions district, such as the hotel Aloft Abu Dhabi and the skyscraper Capital Gate, which has storeys of office space. In 2018 ADNEC hosted more than 2m visitors and 500 events at its Abu Dhabi and Al Ain venues, with the company delivering Dh32bn ($8.7bn) to the emirate’s economic output and creating 20,000 job opportunities.

Many MICE events now benefit from a value-added tax waiver that was negotiated by ADNEC in June 2019. ADNEC obtained a free trade agreement licence to grant this privilege to all international companies and organisations participating in or holding shows and conferences at its venues across the UAE, for a period of up to seven days.

Event Venues

The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre spans approximately 133,000 sq metres and has two large conference halls, 12 smaller halls, 21 meetings rooms and a purpose-built banquet facility capable of seating up to 700 guests. There is a 7920-sq-metre multifunctional conference centre facility that is also available at the centre, which has the capacity to seat 6000 people.

The Al Ain Convention Centre covers a total of 20,000 sq metres, indoor and outdoor. According to ADNEC officials, the centre contributed Dh2.6bn ($707.7m) to the local economy between 2014 and 2018, hosting 78 different events and exhibitions, which collectively had 121,573 guests.

The ADCB, meanwhile, was set up in 2013 with the task of promoting Abu Dhabi globally as a MICE destination. The bureau leverages offices around the world to assist in the promotion of events, helps organise events themselves via government and business liaison, and provides licensing and permissions within Abu Dhabi. It runs the Al Nukhba, or Business Elite, programme, which brings together experts who are influential in their field to promote Abu Dhabi as a destination for international conventions. The ADCB’s Advantage Abu Dhabi is an incentive scheme for international organisers of business events, which provides bespoke support.

The ADCB has been actively pursuing more MICE events sourced from China, with December 2019 seeing the bureau establish its first MICE advisory committee in the country. At the same time, the ADCB has established strategic partnerships with the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). Regarding the former, Abu Dhabi is scheduled to host the SITE Executive Summit in 2021. The partnership enables travel partners and suppliers to take advantage of SITE’s educational and certification programmes, such as its Certified Incentive Specialist certification. The bureau’s partnership with PCMA – which has some 7000 members in 37 countries – was announced at the January PCMA Convening Leaders 2020 conference. This will see the association support the ADCB’s activities by providing convention services and manager training, and introducing other educational programmes and memberships.

Abu Dhabi is a major venue for defence exhibitions, with a record number of international and local defence industry companies participating in the 2019 International Defence Exhibition and Naval Defence and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX). Held at ADNEC, the events, which were run concurrently, saw the participation of four countries – China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Thailand – for the first time. NAVDEX plans to return to Abu Dhabi in 2021.

Sport

Abu Dhabi has been the venue for the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix motor racing tournament for some years now, but it has also been developing a wide portfolio of other international sporting events, all of which have helped boost the tourism sector. In 2019 these events included the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, the FIA World Rallycross Championship and the AFC Asian Cup. These were held at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, Al Jazira Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and Al Nahyan Stadium, which have the capacity to seat 45,000, 42,056 and 15,000, respectively.

In September 2019 The Arena, a purpose-built indoor venue on Yas Island that can seat 13,000, hosted Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, which saw the UFC 242, a mixed martial arts pay-per-view event produced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which sold out. “With this, Abu Dhabi secured a spot as a top destination worldwide for this popular sport,” Stefan Soennichsen, general manager of the new Edition Hotel at the Al Bateen Marina in Abu Dhabi, told OBG. “It is part of an effective strategy to attract people to the emirate year-round.”

The Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continues to attract visitors, with the 2020 race still due to go ahead in November, as of June 2020. The 2019 Abu Dhabi renewal of the race, held at the Yas Marina Circuit, was expected to see up to 135,000 visitors attend, a figure similar to 2018, with DCT Abu Dhabi stating that some 1.4m had visited the emirate for the race over the 11 years to 2019.

Theme Parks

Promoters of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix are able to leverage the race’s location on Yas Island, which is home to the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park, as well as the Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi amusement park, Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi and – from 2020 – CLYMB, an indoor adventure park home to the world’s tallest climbing wall, at 43 metres, and the world’s biggest indoor skydiving chamber. Yas Island’s development is managed by Miral Asset Management, which announced in February 2020 that its attractions would be joined in 2022 by SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, a marine life theme park. The Yas Island entertainment district, which was 55% developed as of early 2020, has two new hotels in the pipeline – the 550-room Hilton and the 250-room Warner Bros Hotel – which are scheduled to open in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Events

The year 2019 saw a number of highly attended one-off events, such as the visit of Pope Francis in February. A crowd of some 135,000 worshippers attended the first ever papal mass held in the Gulf region, at the Zayed Sports City Stadium. The emirate is growing as a venue for music festivals and concerts as well; both Eminem and Red Hot Chili Peppers performed in Abu Dhabi in 2019. These events are particularly valuable for attracting both international and domestic audiences to Abu Dhabi City, with many people from other emirates travelling for an event in the city and then staying for a few days.

“There have been many more concerts in recent times,” Adib Moukheiber, general manager of hotel Zaya Nurai Island Abu Dhabi, told OBG. “We saw a techno music festival for the first time in 2019, with many people from abroad and up the road in Dubai coming to attend concerts and festivals.”

Medical Tourism

With its advanced medical infrastructure and high-quality health care, Abu Dhabi has been making a major drive to bring more medical tourists to the emirate since 2018. That year, the value of medical tourism in the UAE overall grew by 5.5%, reaching Dh12.1bn ($3.3bn), according to analysis by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. A similar pattern was seen in total health expenditure in the UAE, which amounted to an estimated Dh50.3bn ($13.7bn), a 5.4% increase over 2017. Together, these figures demonstrate the growing size and value of the UAE’s health sector (see Health chapter).

This growth has been supported by several government-led initiatives. The emirate’s main public health authority, the Department of Health (DoH), is rolling out a standards-implementation programme for primary health care providers that will put them in line with international best practices. On the private sector side, recent investments have come in the form of new health facilities, such as those at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre at Abu Dhabi City and Al Ain.

The creation of a digital platform for medical tourists has made it easier to track and coordinate activity in the segment. DoH established the Shafafiya e-portal, which is used to record all medical tourism patients’ health information – including diagnosis, clinical signs, year of initial diagnosis and presence on admission – regardless of their insurance coverage. In terms of patient-facing tools, DoH and DCT Abu Dhabi launched the Abu Dhabi Medical Tourism e-portal in December 2018, which provides information on medical tourism insurance packages, contact with health care providers, visas, appointments, hotels, transportation and recreational activities. This integrated approach to medical tourism is in keeping with the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the five-year plan for the tourism sector.

Outlook

As in virtually every part of the globe in the first half of 2020, Abu Dhabi continues to navigate the disruptions and uncertainty caused by Covid-19, and in particular its effect on tourism and travel. The impact will be both direct – with closed hotels and tourism sites, cancelled flights and quiet airport terminals – and indirect, as the global economy enters a downturn. The latter will be exacerbated in the Gulf by a renewed period of low oil prices, although the UAE’s ample financial buffers will help cushion the impact for some time. In order to support the local economy, stimulus packages have already been announced (see Economy chapter).

In the longer term, however, the underlying fundamentals of the sector could allow it to target pent-up demand for travel – both leisure and business – when international movement becomes safer and less restrictive. Indeed, many missed and cancelled holidays, events, trips and conferences will likely be rebooked. Tourism operators and hospitality stakeholders will thus have to walk a fine line, balancing the imperative of leaner operations in the short term, and preparing for an eventual resumption of activity.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2020

Tourism & Culture chapter from The Report: Abu Dhabi 2020

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