ABU DHABI // Taxi operators admitted bumping up fares for thousands of international visitors who visit for high-profile events.
Cab fares in the capital start at Dh3, but taxis that left from the recent World Ophthalmology Congress at Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre started their fares at Dh20.
Meters are controlled by a GPS receiver on the car's dashboard and the price is changed automatically according to the location of the car, the taxi regulatory authority TransAD said today.
"The starting charge of the taxi meters gets set at Dh20 when we have big events like this," a customer service representative said.
Taxi riders at the conference said they were angered at the price increases.
"I have been here many times and this is the first time I have experienced something like this," said Fawaz Al Duribi, an exhibitor for King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Mr Al Duribi refused to use a taxi when he saw the price, and said it was "a matter of principle".
Mubarak Rashed Al Nuaimi, who chaired the congress's host city committee on behalf of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said he had not been made aware of the Dh17 price increase.
He said the authority had an agreement with TransAd to provide 300 taxis a day for the thousands of visitors at the conference, but that this was not part of the deal.
"Normally the taxis start at Dh3, and the monitor is already fixed by the government, so I don't know what is happening," he said.
Almost 12,000 delegates attended the 12th biennial congress, which is the longest-running medical conference in the world, from February 16 to 20.
It was the largest convention to have taken place at Adnec, which Mr Al Nuaimi said had had a massive impact on tourism in the city.
According to tourism authority estimates, spending by delegates over the five days of the conference generated a Dh80 million for the local economy.
Much of that spending went on entertainment and visiting tourist sites.
Haris M Ali, a business manager at Emirates Tours & Safaris, the only tourism booth at the convention, said the company normally sold about 60 tours a day, but sold about 800 a day during the opthamology congress.
Mr Ali said the tours were being offered at a discounted rate, though there was still a notable mark-up.
For example, the Falcon Hospital tour cost Dh350, while the hospital itself offered the same tour for Dh180, including refreshments.
The Department of Transport failed to return calls despite repeated attempts.
* With Additional reporting by Anna Zacharias