ABU DHABI // The capital's hotels have had more than 1 million guests in the first half of the year - a record and a major boost for the emirate's tourism ambitions.
Cheaper room rates, which attracted more holidaymakers, and increased awareness of the emirate helped to drive the increase in business, hoteliers said.
Tourism is a major part of the Government's strategy to diversify its economy away from a reliance on oil. It is striving for 7.9 million hotel guests a year by 2030.
"Abu Dhabi has always taken the right approach to tourism as they are expanding in different areas such as cultural, heritage, hotels, golf courses and attractions such as Yas Island, Saadiyat Island, the F1 circuit, and Ferrari World," said Selim El Zyr, the president and chief executive of Rotana Hotels, based in the capital.
"A decent average room rate for high-quality products has contributed to our appeal."
The number of hotel guests in the first six months of this year rose 11 per cent compared with the same period last year to slightly more than 1 million, figures released yesterday by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) showed.
Guest nights increased 26 per cent to more than 3 million, the data showed.
Occupancy increased by 10 per cent to 70 per cent over the period, while total revenue rose 6 per cent to Dh2.26 billion.
The average stay grew by 13 per cent to 2.97 nights.
"Results have been assisted by the destination's heightened competitiveness, with average room rates falling by 15 per cent in the first half compared to last year, making Abu Dhabi a more affordable upscale option than Sydney, Paris, New York or Tokyo," said Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the chairman of the ADTA.
This puts Abu Dhabi on track to achieve its target of attracting 2 million hotel guests this year.
Last year there was a more than 17 per cent rise from 2009 in the number of hotel guests to 1.81 million from 1.54 million.
Ferrari World and the golf courses on Saadiyat Island and Yas Island have helped to attract more leisure visitors, the authority says, as have major concerts on Yas.
Conferences, exhibitions and major infrastructure development have meant the number of business travellers has also increased.
Business travellers account for about three quarters of the capital's hotel guests.
"The average rate has dropped slightly but … Fairmont Bab Al Bahr has seen a significant increase in occupancy compared to 2010," said Arshad Hussain, the director of sales and marketing at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel.
"Abu Dhabi still needs to develop its leisure attractions further to match Dubai as an attractive destination."
Increased advertising campaigns in the GCC and Europe helped to boost guest numbers, Mr Hussain said. The hotel also doubled the number of room nights booked by holidaymakers compared with last year.
With 10 luxury resorts expected to open in the emirate by the end of the year, analysts say room rates are likely to fall even further.
But these high-profile properties will ultimately increase the emirate's appeal, the ADTA said.
The hotels due to open this year include the Jumeirah Etihad Towers hotel, expected in September, a Rocco Forte hotel, a Westin resort at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, and the Park Hyatt and St Regis resorts on Saadiyat Island.
"Many of these are major beachfront resorts, which will substantially boost our leisure proposition," said Sheikh Sultan. "And with all being managed by high-end chains, there will be significant additional weight added to the destination's international marketing."
Markets including China, India, and Russia have become increasingly important for Abu Dhabi's hotel industry.
The UK remained the emirate's biggest foreign source of hotel guests in the first half, accounting for 72,998 guests - a 20 per cent increase on the first half of last year, the ADTA data showed.
Guest numbers from India rose 22 per cent; Saudi Arabia 44 per cent; France 29 per cent; and Russia 40 per cent.
Regional unrest has also played a role in diverting tourists away from trouble spots to Abu Dhabi, hoteliers say.
The ADTA is working to attract more visitors through advertising campaigns and trade shows.