x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Abu Dhabi's economy revs up for the Grand Prix

Businesses in the capital are gearing up for a weekend of roaring trade as tens of thousands of visitors descend on Abu Dhabi for the Formula One Grand Prix.

The 22-carat gold-plated, diamond-encrusted miniature F1 car that Style Gallery is selling for Dh175,000. Lee Hoagland / The National
The 22-carat gold-plated, diamond-encrusted miniature F1 car that Style Gallery is selling for Dh175,000. Lee Hoagland / The National

Businesses in the capital are gearing up for a weekend of roaring trade as tens of thousands of visitors descend on Abu Dhabi for the Formula One Grand Prix.

Style Gallery, a jewellery store at Emirates Palace, has commissioned Amorelli in Lebanon to make a 22-carat gold-plated, diamond-encrusted miniature F1 car to sell at its shop in the hotel. A bejewelled model automobile has become an annual Abu Dhabi F1 tradition. This is the third.

"Every year is different. Last year we made one with rubies," said Ahmed Abou El Anin, a sales assistant at Style Gallery.

With a price tag of Dh175,000 (US$47,645), this year's model sports black diamonds on the wheels and a strip of white diamonds running along the chassis.

Ordered three months ago, it arrived on Tuesday and is on display alongside a gold-plated and rock crystal ship, a diamond-encrusted horse and a replica of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

The shop reported a 30 per cent rise in sales during the F1 weekend last year and is expecting the same again this month.

"Every year, we expect more sales because there are so many customers, so many guests come from all over the world," said Mr El Anin. "[The spending] is different from client to client. Prices start from $800 up to $100,000. The palace has been full since yesterday. [But customers even come] from other hotels. Everyone likes Emirates Palace."

Over on Yas Island, where the race is taking place, hotels are bursting at the seams. InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has two properties there, Crowne Plaza Yas Island and Staybridge Suites.

"Yas Island is increasingly popular throughout the year with a number of new attractions for guests, but Formula One is certainly when activity hits a peak," said Ignace Bauwens, IHG's vice president of operations for Near East and Africa.

"Both the hotels will benefit from the hub of activity that Yas Island becomes, with revenue generated by external guests as well as those staying at the hotels."

Small business owners such as Fathiya Ahmed, who owns Heritage for Henna, are also banking on the F1 weekend to boost sales.

This weekend, Ms Ahmed expects to double the number of customers who normally visit her kiosk at the entrance of Ferrari World on Yas Island.

"During F1, I see 30 to 50 people at my kiosk," says Ms Ahmed, who started Heritage for Henna in 2003. On quieter days, she says 11 to 20 people line up to get their hands decorated with henna.

Ms Ahmed has also created a special offer to celebrate the F1 weekend and will be giving her Ferrari World customers one session free for two sessions bought.

Other businesses, including airlines and phone companies, are promoting their brands by linking their products to the F1 extravaganza.

Etihad Airways, the title sponsor of the race, will make a low fly pass just minutes before the chequered flag starts the drivers' engines roaring.

One of the airline's A340s will be painted in F1 livery and the Etihad brand will be plastered all over the race track for the three days.

"You will see the Etihad branding prominently," said Peter Baumgartner, the chief commercial officer at the airline. "Every corner, every camera angle, everything that's broadcast for the race."

The airline will also have retail stands around the racetrack selling F1 and Etihad-branded merchandise, and will entertain 350 guests in the paddock.

The mobile phone company du announced it would continue its partnership with the Red Bull Racing team, which will participate in the event.

Osman Sultan, du's chief executive, said: "F1 is a major sporting event and it is something the telecoms sector considers because it is a good opportunity to have lots of visitors and exposure to brands. We can interact with customers on a daily basis and have our brand exposed."

But at Abu Dhabi's Madinat Zayed Gold Souk, retailers said they were not putting on any promotions to coincide with the F1.

Muhammad Amin who works at his family's business, Al Safin Jewellery, said he expected a slight increase in customers visiting his shop in the evenings after the day's racing had finished.

"The people come mostly from Europe," said Mr Amin. "They buy small diamonds and 18-carat jewellery. We never thought to do any promotions linked to the F1. But now you have given me the idea, maybe in the future we will."

* Additional reporting by Sananda Sahoo, David Black, Triska Hamid, Rory Jones and Gillian Duncan

lgutcher@thenational.ae