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Abu Dhabi could use Irish city as template for Volvo Ocean Race success

Abu Dhabi can look to Galway for stopover tips. The Irish city had such success in 2008-2009 it was chosen for the final port stop in this year's race.

ABU DHABI // In 100 days, thousands of spectators are expected to welcome seven of the world's most hardened sailing teams to Abu Dhabi.

It will be the first time in the 37-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race that competitors will stop off in an Arab country.

This year's event gets under way on October 29 in Alicante, Spain and the UAE capital would do well to learn from the experience of Galway.

The Irish city proved to be a successful stopover in the last edition of the race in 2008-9, with organisers being so impressed with its efforts that they granted Galway the final port slot for this year's race.

Enda O'Coineen, chairman of Galway's campaign for the last race and this year's one, explained how they attracted fans to the race stopover.

Galway bypassed traditional methods of getting the message out and downloaded information directly to school classrooms.

"It was a success because of the young people," he said. "They connected with the adventure of racing around the world. It blew the mind of the people on the east coast."

Organisers also liaised with educational boards to see how they could help capture children's imagination.

Galway is no stranger to large-scale events - it is home to successful annual events such as an arts festival and a seven-day horse racing festival - but the Volvo race was different.

John Concannon, the market development officer for Failte Ireland, the country's tourism authority, revealed how they created interest in the race.

"We positioned it as a free family festival and we had the cooperation of everyone," he said.

"We went out to create an event," Mr Coineen said. But he insisted the key to the event's success in Galway was getting in at the grassroots level, while making provision for cheap rail and bus transport also helped.

"The main thing is to have a home team," Mr Coineen added.

Ireland teamed up with China and entered the Green Dragon, which was skippered by Ian Walker, who is now skipper of Abu Dhabi's first entry to the race, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam.

A major programme was launched with local businesses, especially hotels, pubs and restaurants, called "We're on Board". There was level pricing and the public expected a certain standard that was met.

Key spots around the city were chosen for live music and the port was completely redeveloped to accommodate the race.

All the targets were achieved, and 60 million (Dh301m) in revenue was generated.

"There were 150,000 visitors who wouldn't have come to the town." Mr Concannon said. "It had massive international media exposure."

Images shown around the world depicted bonfires on the Aran Islands, while thousands lined Galway's beaches welcoming the teams at 2.30am.

"The city was alive, it was buzzing," Mr Concannon said.

Abu Dhabi's biggest advantage over Galway is its abundant sunshine, although Galway did enjoy good fortune on that front last time.

"No doubt that the good weather helped," Mr Concannon said.

Yesterday, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority announced that the infrastructure for the Destination Village was complete and they were ready to start installing the team buildings at the site next to Marina Mall. The village, which opens on New Year's Eve and will welcome the teams the following day, will be the centre of activity for the two-week stopover.

Abu Dhabi's organisers will also attempt to create a buzz when the race comes to the Emirates. There will be exhibitions, shows, simulators, game zones, restaurants and cafes, sailing academies, shops and concerts, and a focus on Abu Dhabi's strong sailing heritage.

eharnan@thenational.ae

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