The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) is experiencing a 20 per cent increase in visitor numbers despite the economic downturn as its developer pushes ahead with major expansion plans, which include a building that tilts more than the Tower of Pisa. The exhibition centre, the largest of its kind in the Gulf, is part of a broader Dh8 billion (US$2.17bn) "micro-city" development called Capital Centre, which ADNEC expects to attract 1.8 million visitors by the end of this year compared with 1.5 million last year.
"ADNEC is committed to expanding its economic impact on the local tourism industry," said Sanjay Tanna, the business development director at ADNEC. Capital Centre includes both residential and commercial elements including 23 hotels, a 2.4-kilometre marina and a 160-metre tower called Capital Gate, which will lean 18 degrees westward - 14 degrees more than the famous Italian structure. Capital Centre is expected to be completed in stages over the next three years, ADNEC said. Work has just been completed on the UAE's largest indoor auditorium at ADNEC, which will stage events such as concerts and is capable of seating 5,700 spectators.
The convention centre currently hosts exhibitions such as Cityscape Abu Dhabi and Gastech. More than 80 per cent of Abu Dhabi's tourists are business tourists, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). To that end, the ADTA hopes to expand its meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry as part of a wider plan to attract 2.3 million tourists by 2012. Such tourism currently accounts for just 10 per cent of the capital's total number of business travellers.
The ADTA launched an initiative called Advantage Abu Dhabi, which offers business event organisers funding and non-financial government support to bring their shows to the capital, earlier this year to attract business. "ADNEC has a very strong influence on Abu Dhabi's business tourism and therefore it influences the hotel market trends as well," Mr Tanna said. It will also have to battle concerns about costs in a global downturn. Abu Dhabi is the world's most expensive major destination, according to the Hotels.com hotel price index published last month.
ADNEC plans to open its first hotel, under Starwood Hotels' new Aloft brand, on October 25. The hotel is aimed at business travellers and includes a self-service check-in facility. The ADTA last week said that confidence in the capital's tourism industry had increased for the remainder of the year and for next year, driven largely by key events and exhibitions. In a survey of 120 local industry stakeholders, the authority found that the upcoming Formula One grand prix is playing a major part.
Aside from the events and exhibitions, positive influences included economic stability, reduced room prices, increased attractions and developments and better infrastructure and services. Participants in the survey expected the domestic UAE market to deliver strong business for the destination over the coming year, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia also identified as key markets. Meanwhile, the survey identified challenges such as increasing competition within Abu Dhabi's hotel markets, parking issues within the UAE capital, ongoing construction, a lack of visitor attractions within the destination and immigration and visa issues.