x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Capital destined to attract more events

Abu Dhabi's investment in tourism infrastructure and its efforts to promote the emirate as a destination are likely to pay rich dividends.

Abu Dhabi is expected to become more popular as a conference and meetings destination this year, second only to Dubai in the region, according to new research. The forecast improvement is likely to come on the back of the capital's investment in its tourism infrastructure and its efforts to promote the emirate as a destination, the Middle East Meetings Industry Report showed. "People hadn't really realised [Abu Dhabi's] potential in 2009," said Sally Greenhill, the managing director of The Right Solution, which compiled the report. The report was based on a survey of 458 event organisers by Reed Travel Exhibitions and Meetme, a Middle East trade publication.

"This year will really be Abu Dhabi's opportunity due to a combination of increased supply, meaning more affordability and availability, and marketing. They've been working very hard at increasing the business," said Ms Greenhill. The capital has moved up to second place in terms of its popularity as a destination for organisers who will be holding business events over the next year. Last year it was in third place after Dubai and Egypt.

The number of hotel rooms in Abu Dhabi increased to 17,500 by the end of last year from 12,800 at the beginning of the year. Another 5,000 rooms are planned to open in the capital by the end of this year, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority says. This has led to a sharp decline in room rates in the capital, with average daily rates falling about 40 per cent last month compared with February last year. The average expenditure by organisers for events in the Middle East declined to US$495,400 (Dh1.8 million), from $505,000 last year.

Delegates at conferences tend to spend about three times as much as the average leisure tourist, analysts say. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority last year launched the Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative, which offers funding to organisers to encourage them to stage their business events in the capital. The meetings industry has been hit by the global economic crisis, with 58 per cent of organisers polled saying they had held events in the Middle East in the past 12 months, compared with 81 per cent in the previous year and 46 per cent in 2007. But 56 per cent said they expected the number of events they held in the Middle East to increase in the next 12 months.

rbundhun@thenational.ae