By December 2017, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) will have a new development — Midfield Terminal Building (MTB) with a handling capacity of 30 million passengers per year or 8,500 passengers per hour. Gradually, once it is completed, AUH says it will become “the primary gateway” to the emirate and “the future home of Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the UAE”.
Currently, Terminal 3 of AUH is dedicated to Etihad Airways’ departures and arrivals, with a handling capacity of “over 12 million passengers per year”. Terminals 1 and 2 serve the 33 other passenger airlines that use the airport, including Etihad’s partner airline, Jet Airways.
Together, all three terminals received 5,84,255 international passengers in June 2016. (The number doesn’t include transit and transfer passengers.) Of these, Abu Dhabi Airports Statistics System computed that the highest number of arrivals were from India — 1,29,047 passengers.
Despite facing challenges of a stronger dollar and lower oil prices, India has unfailingly made up a sizeable chunk of Abu Dhabi’s inbound tourism. This stirs little surprise as AUH has direct flights to 15 Indian airports to keep up with the demand.
Bejan Dinshaw, country manager — India of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ABTCA) says, “With an option of more than 250 flights per week by Jet Airways and Etihad Airways, and being only four hours away, Abu Dhabi is all the more approachable to Indians.”
This is also why Abu Dhabi has opened up as an option to India’s wedding parties in the recent past, thus generating big revenue for its hospitality industry. Dinshaw says, “Abu Dhabi as a wedding destination is still growing. It is emerging as a promising market with many options of luxurious hotels available to wedding parties. Imagine getting ready within the golden walls of Emirates Palace or walking under Swarovski chandeliers on your big day. There are many other wedding venues available here. If you think of a real royal wedding, Abu Dhabi is definitely the best option.”
Emirates Palace has been hosting about three to four weddings annually, on an average. It says that 2017 promises to be a record year for the hotel “as it seems we may do a year’s worth of Indian weddings (by 2016 standards) in just one month, which is fantastic as they are both, a great source of revenue and lovely events to host.” So far, weddings earn the property “approximately AED 3 million (about `5,56,25,865) in rooms, and conference and banqueting, annually”.
An average wedding party books 200 rooms for three nights — all of which is a grand affair for guests. When invitees aren’t busy at functions, wedding planners arrange sightseeing tours to keep them entertained.
Abu Dhabi has a host of attractions, some historic, others amusing, and a few upcoming (Louvre Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum). However, topping the list is Ferrari World (ferrariworldabudhabi.com) on Yas Island, a visit to which is deemed sacrosanct for most tourists.
F1 junkies can test their driving skills through a simulator where you “drive” around the Yas Marina Circuit as a racer would. The real races on the circuit take place in late November, which garners crowds in multitudes.
This year Ferrari World added the Flying Aces rollercoaster to its bouquet of thrilling rides. At a 51-degree incline, it takes you to a 63-metre height, from where it drops, reaching speeds of 120 kmph. The journey to the end is through several loops such that at certain points you’re hanging with your feet in the air. It’s a symbolic ride that takes inspiration from Italy’s celebrated fighter ace, Count Francesco Baracca. It is his emblem of the prancing horse that is the official Ferrari logo today.
Another attraction for thrill-seekers is flowboarding at Yas Waterworld (yaswaterworld.com), known for aqua adventures. This is where you can try your balancing skills on man-made waves that rise up to three metres and rush towards you at speeds of up to 45 kmph, pumping 7,000 litres of water per second. There are 45 more exhilarating rides, slides and attractions in the park that guarantee an adrenaline rush. However, queues are longer at Dawwama, “the world’s first hydro-magnetic tornado waterslide”, and Bandit Bomber, “the globe’s first interactive water and laser rollercoaster”.
These are just a few of the myriad activities on Yas Island. Golf courses, music concerts, a day of sailing, and shopping are others that captivate leisure and business travellers. Development of this once barren land began in July 2006. An investment of over US$40 billion and a decade later it is hard to imagine Yas Island without the vivacity it exudes today. Next on the horizon is the US$1 billion Warner Bros theme park that will open in 2018. Each attraction on the island is merely a seven-minute drive from each other, a convenient layout for the 25 million visitors it receives annually.
Drawing from visitor trend, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ABTCA) judges India as a promising source market for the island. In October, the tourism body hosted the 63rd Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) convention at Emirates Palace. A day was reserved to show delegates around Yas Island so they could sell their experiences more convincingly, back home.
Dinshaw adds, “Just days after the convention, stakeholders started receiving calls from tour operators across India, inquiring about the packages. The travel fraternity also got clarity on the destination in order to sell the packages back in India. At the convention, Indian travel agents met local stakeholders too, which furthermore strengthened their personal relationships for long- term associations.”
At the TAAI convention, His Excellency Saif Saeed Ghobash asserted India’s paramount importance to the Emirate by emphasising on the 20 per cent year-on-year increase in check-ins by Indians who account for seven per cent of Abu Dhabi’s overall hotel occupancy. As per ABTCA, their average length of stay is 3.4 nights per visit.
Agreeing with His Excellency, Emirates Palace says, “Between 2014-2016, we received many Indian guests, and we are always keen to grow this market share. There has been an increase of 41 per cent in Indian guests staying with us between those three years. Of these guests 46 per cent stayed with us leisure, 51 per cent were attending weddings and three per cent were here on business.”
Dinshaw insists that MICE groups too find it worth their while to visit Abu Dhabi. He draws attention to Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau that was launched only two years ago. “There will be continued investment in the Convention Bureau to position the emirate as a leading destination for business events. Indians already see it as an opportunity to host major conferences and meetings. It works in a coordinated joined-up approach bringing government, government-related entities, public and private sectors together under “one Abu Dhabi”. It enables bidding developments to target with ease, conferences, congress and association meetings from sectors identified as pillars of Vision 2030 – education, medical, transport, environmental, sustainable energy, etc.”
In short, the vision is to push Abu Dhabi as a leading destination for dynamic global events. The Convention Bureau’s Advantage Abu Dhabi programme aides international event organisers operate smoothly and catalyses their growth within the emirate. ABTCA describes it as a “one-stop shop for all business event planning requirements”.
It is highly probable that the upcoming Al Maryah island will further boost overall inbound tourism to Abu Dhabi by a wide margin. This one is more popular amongst business travellers as it juxtaposes work and leisure. Cleveland Clinic of US-origin opened here in 2015. From the hospital, a bridge connects to The Galleria, a luxury mall that is also home to Four Seasons and Rosewood — both luxury business hotels. Al Maryah Central, the second mall that will open on the island in 2018 promises to be the “next generation mall”. Its 2,14,000 sqm space will house 501 retail stores, over 100 cafes and restaurants, 21 cinema screens and five urban parks.
As is evident, Yas Island and Al Maryah Island cater to different groups. One focuses on those visiting purely for leisure, and the other focuses on time-strapped visitors seeking retail and food therapy within proximity to the business hub.
Needless to say, the hospitality industry identifies Abu Dhabi as a promising market, which means new and upcoming hotel launches are in the offing.
To name a few:
- Four Seasons opened in 2016
- Marriott Downtown opened in 2016
- Beach Arjaan by Rotana will open in 2017
- Capital Centre Rotana will open in 2017
- InterContinental Grand Marina will open in 2017
- Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas will open in 2017
- Hilton Saadiyat Island resort will open in 2018
- W Abu Dhabi will open in 2018
- DoubleTree by Hilton will open in 2020
- Nobu Luxury Hotel & Residences hasn’t announced its launch date.
SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
The architectural wonder, built on the waterfront of Abu Dhabi is one of the largest mosques in the world. It has a capacity to hold 40,000 visitors at a time under its 82 majestic domes. Beguiling floral ornamentation is embossed on 1,000 white columns. The shrine exudes an enchanting aura with golden etchings on the wall plates and ceiling, completed with 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers — the largest chandelier is 10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighs 12 tonnes. Reflective pools surrounding the mosque not only amplify its allurement, but emanate a sense of serenity too. It is most beautiful at sunset. (Open Saturday- Thursday 9am-10pm, 4:30pm-10pm on Friday; tel: +971 2 4191919; visit szgmc.ae/en for free guided tour timings.)
Abu Dhabi’s thick mangrove forests on its saline waters are home to hundreds of bird and marine species. The 70 square kilometres of lush, dense mangrove trees are protected by the government such that they’re picturesque spots through which one can enjoy hours of kayaking. Islands dot the waters, some of which can be approached for a rest, while others are tiny land masses, enough to hold just one water bottle. Suggested tour: Noukhada Adventure Company (noukhada.ae). The high-tide tour has “access through the trees but little shore life”, the low-tide tour let’s you “paddle through the bigger channels with little access through the trees but more shore life.” Each tour lasts from 90 minutes to 120 minutes and requires a minimum of four people; price: AED 160/`2,966 per person; operational timings 8am and 3pm in winter, 7am and 4pm in summer.
Manoeuvring a four-wheel drive over 300 metres of sand dunes and through wide and narrow sand valleys is an adrenaline thrill induced only in this part of the world. It is also possible to ski on the sand dunes, a skill very different to skiing down snow mountains. A day of adventure can end with camping in cosy tents and a barbecue feast under the stars. The area is populated with Bedouin (ancient tribes) villages, which means, a slight detour can take you to an Arabian market from where one can source typical Emirati spices and curios. Visit visitabudhabi.ae for a list of desert activities.