The Volvo Ocean Race, one of the world's toughest around-the-globe yachting competitions, is forecast to bring hefty benefits to Abu Dhabi. The capital, which is investing billions of dirhams in its marinas and other leisure boating operations, will be the first Middle East port to host the racers. The teams will stop in Abu Dhabi during the next edition of the race, which was formerly called the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Abu Dhabi will host the event in January 2012, as the yachts arrive from Cape Town on the second leg of the event. It starts in Alicante, Spain, next autumn. "This is a great day in our campaign to firmly establish Abu Dhabi's credentials as a marine leisure destination," said Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. The last race was watched by 1.3 billion viewers, while the race villages at host ports around the world attracted vast numbers of fans.
Singapore, which was a host port in the last race, experienced a total economic impact of 33 million (Dh166.1m), with a direct impact of 20m, according to a report by the consultancy Deloitte. There were 1,400 corporate hospitality visitors and 74,000 visitor hotel nights. In Stockholm, meanwhile, which was also a host port, the average expenditure per person for international visitors was 1,000. Stockholm attracted a total of 737,000 spectators for the event, drawing 160,000 visitors on its peak day.
Almost two thirds of the 1,256 spectators that were interviewed by Deloitte said they had no previous active interest in sailing. "This means the Volvo Ocean Race has successfully attracted a large proportion of spectators not previously associated with the sport," Deloitte said. "The Volvo Ocean Race brings a tremendous opportunity for Abu Dhabi's branding and marketing," Mr al Muhairi said. "We think the benefits we will get out of participation will really offset any investments we are putting in."
Host ports normally received between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors during the event, he said, adding that he expected the capital to attract a comparable number of fans. The "race village", the focal point of the event, is set to be the marina being built at Emirates Palace. The event would be an opportunity for Abu Dhabi to showcase to the world its "tremendous coastline, superb marinas and marine infrastructure, and its long maritime traditions".
More than 80 cities have taken part in the bidding process to become a host port, said Knut Frostad, the chief executive of Volvo Ocean Race. He said Abu Dhabi's "willingness to meet our requirements" and its "long maritime history" had helped the capital to secure the event. Abu Dhabi is also entering a team into the event in a newly designed boat which will be built in the capital by Abu Dhabi Mar Group.
"The locally constructed boat will also signal our potential as a new build and repair port," said Mr al Muhairi. He added that through the Formula One Grand Prix last year Abu Dhabi had proved its ability to deliver and host a major international sporting event. The Volvo race could provide a major opportunity for the development of the region's boating industry, which is considered underdeveloped by many in the business given the vast stretches of coastline.
"I very much hope that the organisers embrace the cultural and long-term opportunities rather than focusing purely in the commercialism of it," said Toby Haws, the business development manager for the yacht company Hatteras Collection in the UAE. "Hopefully it will up the profile for sailing." Mr Haws said it had been a boon for the industry that "two of the biggest sailing events in the world" had been announced in the UAE within a few months of each other, with the Louis Vuitton Trophy to be held in Dubai in November.