Etihad Airways is aiming to lure more tourists to Abu Dhabi and encourage business travellers to extend their trips by launching a company to organise tours, desert safaris, hotel stays and other services. The company, Hala Abu Dhabi, will be based in the capital but its services will be offered nationwide. More than half of the tourism professionals working for the company are Emiratis, Etihad said. "This appears to be a smart move on the part of Etihad for a number of reasons," said Rohit Talwar, the chief executive of the consultancy Fast Future, based in London.
"Etihad is developing a growing global reputation as an award-winning airline and this is attracting people to it who may not even know that it is Abu Dhabi-based. "Having an inhouse destination management company offers the potential to pass customers through for a full service travel offering. "As Abu Dhabi gains more visibility and develops a wider range of leisure attractions, so the interest in visiting it will increase. A growing number of visitors will want to do multi-stop trips, taking in different emirates and other Gulf states. Having a destination management company that can service such demand makes a lot of sense."
Abu Dhabi is aiming to attract 2.3 million hotel guests a year by 2012, up from about 1.5 million last year. This year it expects to host more than 1.6 million guests. The capital is investing heavily in the expansion of its tourism infrastructure and attractions, with multibillion-dirham developments such as Yas Island, the location of the Yas Marina Circuit, and Saadiyat Island, where the Guggenheim and Louvre museums will be located.
A destination management company promotes a city or country, working with tour operators, conference organisers and cruise companies. It also organises tourism-related activities in the destination, including hotels, transport, tours, events and conference venues. The number of hotel rooms in Abu Dhabi increased to 17,500 by the end of last year from 12,800 at the start of the year. Another 5,000 rooms are planned to open in the capital by the end of this year, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority says.
"It is only a good thing," said Frederic Bardin, the senior vice president of Arabian Adventures. "The more promotion of Abu Dhabi the better. They are going to be promoting Abu Dhabi as a hub. "Of course it is competition, but on the other hand maybe they are going to attract some people that would not have come to Abu Dhabi at all. Abu Dhabi has a lot of potential to become a major destination." Mr Bardin said he was more concerned about the enormous number of tour operators registered in Dubai, many of which lacked the experience and qualifications to act as destination management companies.
Arabian Adventures, a destination management company that is part of the Emirates Group in Dubai, was set up 1987. It has more than 160 tours and excursions on average each week. More than 3 million customers have taken part in events or excursions with Arabian Adventures, the company said, adding that this was growing by about 200,000 a year. @Email:email@example.com