Business travellers using the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) help to bring more than Dh3 billion (US$817 million) into the capital every year even though the development is still far from complete, says the head of the company that runs the facility.
The figures highlight the growing importance of business travel and conferences in Abu Dhabi's tourism plans. Simon Horgan, the chief executive of ADNEC Group, said Abu Dhabi's old exhibition facilities held 14 events in 2005 compared with 119 events last year at the replacement centre, which opened three years ago. The number of hotel guests visiting the capital is expected to rise by more than 50 per cent by 2012 to 2.3 million.
Business travellers at international events are likely to spend three times more than leisure tourists, according to analysts. The exhibition centre is part of the Dh8bn Capital Centre development that will eventually house seven hotels, including the Hyatt in a leaning tower of glass and steel. ADNEC hosts exhibitions such as Cityscape Abu Dhabi and Gastech. Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) last year launched the Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative that offers cash to business event organisers to lure them to the capital.
The authority yesterday announced a number of discounts for Gulf businesses and meeting planners to stage their corporate meetings in Abu Dhabi. These included a free one-day meetings package, free flight upgrades and an Abu Dhabi city sightseeing tour or free dinner. "The meetings industry is potentially a significant growth driver for our tourism sector," said Dayne Lim, the product development director at ADTA.
He said this would help generate exposure and return visits to the capital, as well as immediate economic benefits for hotels, restaurants and airlines. "The timing of this new seeding initiative is in line with our aim of achieving a 10 per cent rise in hotel-guest occupancy throughout Abu Dhabi this year, a target of 1.65 million guests, for which the performance of the business tourism sector will be critical as it accounts for about 80 per cent of the emirate's hotel occupancy," Mr Lim said.
Last year, the proportion of hotel guests from the meetings, incentive, conventions and exhibitions sector increased to 10 per cent, from 8 per cent the previous year. The development of the conference sector played an important role in any major city's economy, said Frederic Bardin, the senior vice president at Congress Solutions International, the conference organiser which is part of Emirates Group.
"Cities do compete for business," said Mr Bardin, noting that Dubai had offered its own incentives for planners to stage their conferences there. "There are a number of cities that offer the same kind of incentives for people to come." Opening more budget hotel rooms in the UAE was critical to attracting a wider range of events and conferences, he said. Some mid-market hotels have opened recently in the capital, including the Aloft hotel, which is owned by ADNEC, and the nearby Holiday Inn.