Marisa Cannon investigates the attractions that are driving Abu Dhabi’s thriving events scene.

In 2016, the UAE capital welcomed 4.4 million visitors, up 8 per cent on the previous year. Events such as the Abu Dhabi Summer Season, Abu Dhabi Food Festival and Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which celebrates the emirate’s history and heritage, have helped to tempt tourists.Last year, Abu Dhabi was ranked one of the world’s fastest-growing destinations by Mastercard. It is gearing up for an eventful few years, with the long-awaited Louvre due to open by the end of the year, and other impressive new attractions under development.

Visitor numbers are likely to grow still further thanks to a new terminal building at Abu Dhabi airport, opening this year. Expected to increase annual capacity to 30 million passengers, it will have 28,000 sqm of retail and dining space, eight airline lounges and a 163-room transit hotel.

Still, the emirate is not only looking to pull in tourists – it also wants to attract meeting and event planners. The convention bureau has developed the Advantage Abu Dhabi programme to attract business gatherings aligned with the “Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030”, the city’s long-term growth strategy. Its central aim is to diversify the UAE’s economy beyond oil and gas, by investing in sectors such as aviation, tourism and financial services.

The programme offers financial incentives and marketing support to events that show their value within these industries. It seems to be working – a record 14 conferences were secured last year, and are expected to draw more than 35,000 delegates to the region.


The most anticipated of Abu Dhabi’s upcoming openings, and one that should be on any future event itinerary, is the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Originally due for 2012, the dome-shaped building on Saadiyat Island has finally taken shape. It was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel and has been built on a manmade island.

Two-thirds of the museum is covered by a white latticework disc, inspired by the interlacing of palm leaves, used traditionally as roofing material in the region. The US$650 million museum will contain 600 pieces of art across 23 halls, with works borrowed from the Louvre in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou and the Château de Versailles.

Also on Saadiyat Island, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is expected to be 12 times larger than its New York counterpart, although a contract has yet to be awarded for its construction. The Zayed National Museum is on track to open within the next few years – backed by the British Museum, it documents the history and unification of the UAE.


Alongside its growing cultural scene, Abu Dhabi also offers an impressive range of high-octane experiences. Chief among these is Yas Marina Formula One Circuit, which, as the final race of the season, is one of the tournament’s most expensive tickets. Corporate hospitality is well catered for with a variety of venues on offer, while groups can organise track hire, circuit tours and a number of driving experiences. Activities range from drag racing on a National Hot Rod Association-sanctioned strip to an escorted whizz around the track in an F1 car.

The world’s largest indoor theme park, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, has revealed plans for 19 new rides, the first of which was due to open as we went to press in March. Based on a Ferrari driver training facility, the Turbo Track is made up of a 180-metre circuit that reaches 62 metres above the park and speeds of 102km/h.

Next door, Warner Bros has announced plans for a new theme park offering immersive attractions, plus the world’s first Warner Bros-branded hotel.


For aviation buffs, the Etihad Airways Innovation Centre in the city’s Al Maqta district features a walk-through reconstruction of the airline’s A380 and B787 aircraft cabins, including mock-ups of the luxurious A380 Residence and first class Apartments. It is also set up for events, with two meeting rooms, an auditorium and ten classrooms, often used by cabin safety instructors from the airline’s training academy.

Organisers planning larger-scale gatherings could consider Etihad Towers. This multi-use development on the Corniche contains apartments, offices, a shopping mall and a convention centre with a ballroom that can host 2,200 delegates. Within the complex, the luxurious Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel has 382 rooms and 199 serviced apartments as well as 13 meeting rooms and the Mezzoon ballroom, which can host 1,400 guests.

A two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi, event planners looking for a day out of the city can opt to visit Al Ain Oasis, which opened last year. The 1,200-hectare site contains more than 147,000 date palm trees in 100 varieties plus an Eco-Centre visitor experience that shows what measures are being taken to conserve the environment.

Another highlight is Al Jahili Fort, the former headquarters of the Trucial Oman Scouts, who guarded the region’s mountain passes and maintained inter-tribal peace. Its north wing is now home to a captivating exhibition on British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, displaying photographs from his travels with Bedouin tribes and Sheikh Zayed, whom he befriended, alongside video footage and excerpts from his best-selling book, Arabian Sands.


A number of luxury properties have recently opened in the emirate, with several more on the horizon, each offering a variety of standout spaces for events, from intimate gatherings to gala dinners.

Four Seasons Abu Dhabi

The luxury hotel group opened its first Abu Dhabi property in May last year. Located next door to the Galleria shopping mall on Al Maryah Island, it has 162 guestrooms and 38 suites, an outdoor terrace, a pool and a 300 sqm garden overlooking Al Maryah’s waterfront promenade. The hotel has almost 2,000 sqm of meeting facilities, including five function rooms and two ballrooms. Services include video conferencing, webcasting and creative set design.

Bab Al Qasr

Opened in August, Bab Al Qasr is one of the emirate’s largest hotels, with 677 rooms. Set on a private beach on the Corniche, the hotel is 30 minutes from the airport and within easy reach of Marina Mall shopping centre and Heritage Village. Featuring Moroccan-themed interiors, the hotel’s event space spans 3,000 sqm, split into 15 meeting rooms, a ballroom and a number of outdoor venues. Leisure facilities include an outdoor pool, a gym, three restaurants and a spa spread over two floors.

Marriott Al Forsan

Ten minutes from Abu Dhabi International airport, this 400-room hotel opened last month in Khalifa City, adjacent to the Al Forsan International Sports Resort. Rooms feature flatscreen TVs, high-speed wifi and marble bathrooms. Facilities include a waterski and wakeboard lake, an equestrian centre, paddock and polo field, plus six dining venues and a spa with a hammam and 50-metre lap pool. It has nearly 500 sqm of event space, including a ballroom that can hold 350 guests.

Saadiyat Rotana Resort and Villas

Later this year, Rotana is set to open a five-storey resort with 327 rooms and suites, 13 villas and a private stretch of beach on Saadiyat Island. It will have eight dining outlets, conference facilities and a Bodylines gym and wellness centre. Another two Abu Dhabi openings are scheduled for the end of the year. The Beach Arjaan by Rotana will offer 326 guestrooms and apartments near the Corniche and central business district, as well as four restaurants, a pool, spa, gym and tennis courts. The 315-room Capital Centre Rotana will be situated near the National Exhibition Centre and have four dining venues, a pool and gym.

Fairmont Marina Resort and Residences

Opening this year, this will be the city’s second Fairmont hotel, housed in a 39-storey tower next to the Marina Mall. It will have 563 guestrooms and suites and 249 apartments. Situated on the waterfront, it will offer panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf, the Corniche and city skyline. Facilities include nine restaurants, tennis courts, a yoga lawn, an infinity pool and spa, a large ballroom and several outdoor spaces where events can be held.