Abu Dhabi is in a position to become a prime destination for large yachts travelling from the Mediterranean as they seek alternatives to the Caribbean, the organiser of the Monaco and Abu Dhabi yacht shows says.
As the Middle East and South East Asia develop their marine leisure industries, sailors are more likely to undertake voyages east to new playgrounds, said Andy Treadwell, the managing director of Informa Yacht Group.
"Abu Dhabi is a perfect mid-way point for yachts travelling from the Mediterranean, where something like 70 per cent of the world's current fleet of active superyachts are based, to the new cruising grounds of South East Asia, which are developing in terms of infrastructure and accessibility … because everybody understands the economic benefits they bring."
He said when combined with the cruising destinations in Oman, the Gulf would be an attractive destination for large yachts, and added that the Caribbean had become overcrowded.
Editor's Pick - Egypt looks towards stimulus package
Abu Dhabi is investing heavily in its marine infrastructure as part of its broader tourism development plans and will eventually have 45 marinas of various sizes. Marinas play a particularly important part in the multibillion-dollar Yas Island and Saadiyat Island developments. Informa said it was working alongside the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to establish the emirate as the hub for the large yacht market in the Middle East.
"One of the deterrents was always the distance because there was no first-class stopover for refit and repair if anything went wrong and that is precisely what Abu Dhabi is blessed with," said Mr Treadwell.
There are factors holding back growth of the industry in the region, however, industry experts said. These include the lack of clarity over where boats can sail, and bureaucratic procedures that limit the length of stay of foreign vessels to two weeks, and the red tape involved in moving between ports in the UAE.
Some have pointed out that the threat of piracy is also a concern. Last year, a 60-metre German-built yacht, Linda Lou, narrowly avoided an attack by suspected Somali pirates as it passed through the Gulf of Aden on its way to the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show.
Other destinations in the region are also trying to attract more marine tourists.
"The UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, and Qatar have been spending billions of dollars to vie for the title of the 'yacht capital' of the region," said Alessandro Borgogna, a principal at Booz & Company, in a recent report.
He said the demand for marina moorings in the region was expected to more than double by 2015 to about 82,000 berths.
Follow our Business tweets - twitter.com/biznationaluae
"Further, if Mena governments take the right steps to develop the sector, this number could approximately quadruple by 2025. In order to meet this frenzied growth in marina demand, developers will have to make capital investments of US$200 billion (Dh734.58bn) to $300bn in the next 15 years," according to the report.
Mr Treadwell said Abu Dhabi was well-positioned to capture the superyacht market.
"Dubai is very advanced in terms of the marine leisure industry, but it's primarily focused on small boats. Abu Dhabi is building facilities for the larger end of the market."
The annual Abu Dhabi Yacht Show focuses on superyachts, with the vessels typically ranging in price from $5 million to $100m. These prices, however, are down substantially from their pre-crisis peaks, as the industry was hit hard by the global economic downturn.
"Because of the downturn in the market, the price of boats in America and Europe had just skyrocketed and the market there has had a correction," said Mr Treadwell. "The prices were going sky high because there was a finite capacity worldwide to build enough boats to cope with all the orders that all these exploding economies were demanding."
"It brings in an audience that fits perfectly with the demographic that we want at the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show," Mr Treadwell said.