Set almost within pouncing distance of the UAE's only free-roaming cheetahs, Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development & Investment Company (Tdic) and the Thai hotel chain Anantara set out to hunt different quarry yesterday - Mice.
The two companies unveiled a multimillion-dirham conference centre on Sir Baniyas Island as the pair bid to take advantage of the UAE's growing meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions, or Mice, industry.
"With Abu Dhabi developing the Mice business in the capital as part of its 2030 vision, the new conference centre is perfectly placed to play a leading role in the industry's growth," said Stephen Phillips, the general manager for Desert Island Resort & Spa by Anantara.
The sparkling new centre, set on the private Royal island and close by the Royal wildlife park, was originally built by Tdic to host meetings for Abu Dhabi's Ministry of Finance. The convention centre can seat up to 552 guests at the 64 room five-star Desert Islands hotel resort.
The fact that, even with a relatively small Royal conference centre located on a desert island, Anantara is looking to the Mice market to push up low mid-week occupancy rates at the remote hotel located 250km south-west of Abu Dhabi shows the importance of the market to the nation's hoteliers.
Anantara said conference trade represented 12 per cent of its business at present and it predicted that over next year the new centre will increase revenues by 50 per cent. It plans to open two villa developments comprising about 60 rooms each next year to cater to the anticipated increase in guest numbers.
Already the hotel has enticed teams from the food and beverage industry, banking industry and petrochemicals industry to watch the island's 15,000 free-roaming gazelles, giraffes and hyenas cavort as company heads and their staff munch on petit fours and discuss strategy. And that is despite the fact that it takes 30 minutes to fly there or two and a half hours to drive there from the capital.
"The small-conference market, where perhaps a company board will come here for a meeting and then spend half the time relaxing in the resort, that market never really went away during the global financial downturn and we're definitely seeing a demand for it," said David Garner, the regional director of sales and marketing at Anantara Hotels Resorts and Spas in the Middle East.
And Anantara is far from alone is hoping to cut itself a slice of this particularly lucrative pie.
In March the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority announced it was making a play to increase its share of the US$300 billion (Dh1.1 trillion) global events industry, focusing on a new Dh8bn Capital Centre exhibition district in the emirate.
It said it expected the economic impact of events such as meetings and conferences in the capital to increase by 7 per cent annually over the next eight years as the industry grows in the Middle East.
It predicts by 2020 business events in the capital will have a direct economic impact of Dh5.1bn a year.
According to a study by the conference venue and destination specialist The Right Solution and the online event-planning company meetme, the average budget of organisers for each business event in the Middle East last year was $46,117.
The report also showed that many organisers were looking at increasing the number of events and their budgets for the region.
While the cheetahs may not be interested, an invasion of Mice would be most welcome in Abu Dhabi.