LONDON // The hotel on Sir Bani Yas island should be booked through most of December, despite fears that the worldwide financial crisis might hurt the tourism industry, its operator said. Most visitors to the nature reserve and resort are from the UK, which is one of the countries most affected by the global downturn. But the Desert Islands Resort and Spa's sales director is optimistic that the 64-room hotel will continue to attract press, visitors and attention from abroad because of its unique locale.
"Between Dec 1 and 13 we're booked because of Eid and National Day," Ali al Jazzazi said. The hotel is also expected to be booked when the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge makes a stop on the island after beginning in the capital mid-month, and through the Christmas and New Year holidays - traditionally busy times in the European market. The outlook is optimistic enough for the Tourism Development and Investment Company to move ahead with the release of a master plan detailing the resort's expansion in January.
This week, officials from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said growth in the number of visitors to the capital was likely to slow because of the financial crisis, although it was too soon to say by how much. Neither Abu Dhabi nor Dubai have revised their tourism forecasts. The capital still hopes to attract 2.7 million visitors by 2012, while Dubai has set a target of 15m tourists by 2015. Sir Bani Yas made its international debut this week during a press conference at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, the travel and tourism show.
"There has been a lot of interest expressed during the WTM," said Andre Erasmus, the general manager of the hotel. "Definitely something like this goes a long way." The WTM was attended by an international group of tourism authorities and hoteliers, all trying to attract attention to their exotic locales as the next trendy holiday destination. During the show the TDIC, which runs the island, held a conference to introduce Sir Bani Yas to the wider global market.
"Tour operators have been asking specifically for us," Mr Erasmus said. "They're saying, 'What is this island off the coast of Abu Dhabi?'" Mr Erasmus said he was not surprised by the attention. "We've received a lot of local coverage and now with the WTM," he said. "It's been a confluence of events that has increased the profile of the hotel." So far bookings have been dominated by small groups and families. But at the travel market, Sir Bani Yas had also attracted the attention of corporate planners who want to schedule incentive trips and team-building exercises on the island, Mr Jazzazi said.
Most travel into the capital is business-related, and with the expansion of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and business-class hotels, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is looking for that trend to continue. The hotel on Sir Bani Yas was fully booked when it opened in September. Most early bookings were made through its website, attracted by word of mouth. Sir Bani Yas was a nature reserve created by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the late founder of the nation, and holds more than 4,000 Arabian oryx, dozens of giraffe and a protected marina with endangered dugongs. Two cheetahs are expected to be imported, to control the animal population on the island.
In recent years, the island was used sporadically as a hunting ground until being granted to the TDIC. Plans for a new lodge, golf course and tented resorts were presented to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, when he visited at the beginning of the month. The master plan will reveal more details, but the ADTA said most of the island would be remain undeveloped, to preserve wildlife and habitat.