International media coverage of the opening of Khalifa Port a week ago has fuelled a dramatic increase in inquiries from companies around the world interested in setting up in Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad), according to the Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC) chief executive Tony Douglas.
"Industrialists don't make speculative investment decisions," Mr Douglas said. "They research carefully things for a long time.
"However, we have seen literally in the last week, the number of inquiries, requests for information about how they can engage with Kizad, have shot right up. That's something I don't think we were expecting."
Khalifa Port opened to great fanfare last Wednesday. Media outlets from across the world, including newspapers from London, New York, India and China, covered the event.
One of greatest attributes of Kizad, which over time is expected to grow into one of the biggest industrial zones in the world, is that it lies adjacent to the port.
ADPC on Tuesday signed a 30-year agreement with Abu Dhabi Terminals to operate the port. The three-decade deal is a departure from previous short-term agreements and signals a new maturity in the Abu Dhabi maritime industry.
"There wasn't a whole lot of strategy behind the development of the maritime sector," said Martijn Van de Linde, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT). But with the new terminal able to accommodate the most modern mega ships, the capital is changing its status to become a major port where ships go directly. Combined, the two projects are expected to contribute to 15 per cent of Abu Dhabi's non-oil GDP by 2030 and are a major part of the Government's plan for economic diversification.
The long-term nature of the ports concession means that ADT can now focus on improving speed and customer service.
"Between now and next year we still expect to improve [those by] between 20 and 30 per cent," Mr Van de Linde said.
The container terminal began commercial operations in September and was officially opened by Sheikh Khalifa on December 12.
Mr Douglas admitted the official opening ceremony was "the most anxious 30 minutes I can remember, to be honest.
"We've worked for a long time in delivering that moment and you only get one shot at it."
Khalifa Port operates six of the world's biggest ship-to-shore cranes and is the only semi-automated container terminal in the Middle East. Additional cranes will arrive at by the end of next year and these will give the port the capacity to handle 2.5 million containers annually. When a second terminal is finished, the port will be able to handle double that.
"Delivering the port was something truly amazing but there is a lot more for us to do because we have a massive industrial zone to develop," Mr Douglas said. "2013 is the year the port is going to grow more rapidly than it ever was able to do in the past because [capacity was] constrained at Mina Zayed. Now people can see all the variables are in place, Kizad will grow very rapidly during 2013 as well."