ABU DHABI // The biggest event in the travel and tourism calendar kicks off in Abu Dhabi tomorrow, aiming to make the country a more attractive destination and to improve the sector worldwide.
Bill Clinton, the former US President, will give the keynote address at the World Travel and Tourism Council global summit, which will explore the impact of a growing population and changing world economy on the sector.
He will be speaking in his role as the founder of the William J Clinton Foundation, which aims to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote healthier childhoods and protect the environment.
The two-day event brings together leaders in the field and features a host of celebrity speakers, including the British broadcaster Sir David Frost and the American actress Daryl Hannah, who is an environmental campaigner.
It has been organised by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), in collaboration with Etihad Airways.
Mubarak Al Muhairi, the director general of the authority, said he was delighted Abu Dhabi had been chosen to host this year's summit.
"This is the biggest annual gathering of international travel and tourism leaders, so it is a very significant forum," he said. "You will see from the calibre of speaker line-up - and the fact that the audience includes almost 1,000 attendees from 56 countries, including 235 chief executives and 10 tourism ministers - that this is a very weighty gathering indeed, and of a level where we can expect highly strategic input and debate."
The global travel industry is estimated to be worth more than US$6 trillion (Dh22tn) and employs more than 250 million people.
Abu Dhabi continues to build its own tourism sector, attracting 2.3 million hotel guests last year.
It is on schedule to meet its 2013 target of 2.5 million guests, with the city's occupancy rates in January and February up 5 per cent on last year.
Most visitors come to the capital on business but tourism chiefs are looking to increase the number of tourists and families who visit, and entice them to stay longer.
The summit will also tackle the issue of making tourism more eco-friendly and sustainable, as the environmental cost of international travel continues to mount.
"Sustainability in all its forms is most certainly a key issue on TCA Abu Dhabi's agenda and, indeed, is part of our vision and mission to deliver a world-class, sustainable destination of distinction," Mr Al Muhairi said.
The summit, at Etihad Towers on the Corniche, is open to invited industry guests only.
"We look forward to greatly impressing this influential audience with our distinctive Arabian hospitality, culture and heritage, and world-class infrastructure," Mr Al Muhairi said.
"We want them to be convinced of Abu Dhabi's tourism potential and to begin to promote the destination within their business circles - or, where links already exist, to spur the acceleration of our destination's promotion."