It's a question that left many officials scratching their heads when tourists put away their luggage in the wake of the financial crisis: how do we attract more visitors?
As The National reports today, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority has figured out a partial formula for success, beating its own target to boost hotel occupancy rates by 18 per cent in 2010 as compared to the previous year. For an emirate that is still developing, newly launched attractions like Formula One and the Yasalaam concert series managed to draw substantial crowds: more than 1.8 million stayed in the emirate's hotels last year.
Those numbers attest to the liquidity floating through the region and the quick rebound many were able to make following the meltdown. Indeed, Emiratis, Saudis, Omanis and Kuwaitis accounted for the majority of tourists.
Aggressive marketing also paid off, but not just in Abu Dhabi. Tapping non-traditional markets such as China has yielded strong growth, particularly with the UAE's exhibition pavilion in Shanghai last year. A fully booked Burj Al Arab in Dubai last February for Chinese New Year is a telling example of this new demographic, as is the increasing visibility of Asian cuisine and amenities in local hotels.
As the UAE continues to compete with other tourist destinations, it will have to think more about niche markets and leveraging the country's business potential. Ecotourism, for instance, can lure tourists interested in exploring the country's natural landscape. Mangrove tours in Abu Dhabi, wadi treks on the border of Al Ain and desert camping throughout the country are unique attractions for both foreign and domestic visitors.
The business of doing business is also driving new arrivals. Conventions, conferences, and seminars draw significant crowds to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and the Emirates Palace. More than 20,000 attended the recent World Future Energy Summit, for instance.
An annual increase in visitors is undoubtedly good news for an economic sector that Abu Dhabi plans to develop. But now is not the time for the industry to rest on its laurels. Visitors who come to see the major attractions that are now coming online should be encouraged to return time and again.