x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi in the spotlight for key tourism event

Global leaders in travel and tourism will descend on Abu Dhabi this week. Bill Clinton is a star speaker.

Former US president Bill Clinton at the Mena Diabetes Leadership Forum in Dubai. (Satish Kumar / The National
Former US president Bill Clinton at the Mena Diabetes Leadership Forum in Dubai. (Satish Kumar / The National

Global leaders in travel and tourism will descend on Abu Dhabi this week as the capital plays host to one of the industry's key annual events.

This year's two-day event, organised by the Tourism & Culture Authority Abu Dhabi and Etihad Airways, will explore the effect of population growth and the changing world economy on the sector.

The former US president Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote speech on the theme "A time for leadership" to the 1,000 delegates from 56 countries expected to attend. These include 235 chief executives and 10 tourism ministers.

"The world travel and tourism council summit  is one of the biggest and most prestigious travel and tourism events," said Mohammed Al Dhaheri, the quality and performance manager at the authority. "This shows that Abu Dhabi has the capability to host such a prestigious event. It's really not as easy as people think."

One of Abu Dhabi's biggest coups to date was holding the  in February last year that attracted 12,000 people.

A significant landmark was reached last year, with a record 1 billion tourists travelling internationally, according to the World Tourism Organisation.

"We will be looking at trends and patterns in the sector worldwide, now knowing that 1 billion people will be travelling [annually] in coming years," Mr Al Dhaheri said. "We will be looking at the motivation to travel, the services and standards people [are] looking for when choosing … a destination."

In the case of Abu Dhabi, the authority was taking "a rigorous approach to understanding the market and what attracts people to us", said Mr Al Dhaheri.

The current ratio of business to leisure tourists is 60:40 and the authority wants to make that more balanced by attracting more families and enticing them into staying longer.

Yas Waterworld is one such family oriented attraction, along with the Ferrari World theme park and venues in the cultural district, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, that are scheduled to open in the next few years.

"We are not neglecting our business tourists" Mr Al Dhaheri said. "But we want to increase the number of leisure tourists and the length of their stay. We are not just building shopping malls but we are building a destination that will have culture, shopping, nature resorts and where people can experience our heritage."

Mr Al Dhaheri said tourism in Abu Dhabi was currently "in good shape, though we are not taking anything for granted". He added that he believed the individual emirateswere able to complement - rather than compete against - each other.

The authority aims to increase the number of Abu Dhabi hotel guests to 3.2 million for the 2015-2016 year, up from a target of 2.5 million this year and the target of 2.3 million achieved last year.

To this end, the authority is active in promoting tourism in key markets including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India.

At the start of last year, it also launched a trade engagement programme. Of the 14 destination management companies that have been co-opted to the campaign, three have opened offices in Abu Dhabi and a fourth will set up shop soon.

Other speakers at the summit, which starts on Tuesday, will include: James Hogan, the president and chief executive of Etihad Airways, Ian Goldin, a University of Oxford professor of globalisation and development, and Sandy Douglas, the global chief customer officer for Coca-Cola.