x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

‘Pressing business case’ to turn Al Ain as a tourism destination

Abu Dhabi's Tourism and Culture Authority looks to develop the oasis city into a hub for travel.

Al Ain Zoo is one of the major tourist draws in Al Ain. Delores Johnson / The National
Al Ain Zoo is one of the major tourist draws in Al Ain. Delores Johnson / The National

Al Ain is set to get busier as the Government steps up efforts to turn it into a tourist destination.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) plans to work with hotels, malls and other government agencies to attract visitors.

“There is a pressing business case to answer,” said Sultan Al Dhaheri, TCA Abu Dhabi’s acting executive director for tourism. “We believe Al Ain can be a point-to-point destination in its own right instead of the add-on to stays in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, often resulting in day visits only.”

At next month’s ITB Berlin travel trade show in Germany, the Abu Dhabi pavilion will have a segment dedicated to Al Ain, and TCA hopes to convince international tour operators to build package around the Eastern Region.

Experts, however, point to the lack of infrastructure in Al Ain, especially hotels.

“Despite its strong potential to attract both local and international visitors, the lack of infrastructure, limited offerings in terms of tourism facilities and limited marketing had inhibited its growth as a major tourism attraction in the past,” said Rashid Aboobacker, a senior consultant with TRI Hospitality Consulting.

TCA said the town and its surrounding areas could expect about 650 to 800 new hotel rooms in the next 18 months.

Earlier this month, the Abu Dhabi-based Rotana opened its 254-room Hili Rayhaan.

Also this month, Al Ain Club Investment Company said it would bring Starwood Hotels’ brand Aloft to the city. That property is expected to be ready by 2016.

The city, which is home to Jebel Hafeet and Al Ain Zoo, needs to position itself differently, Mr Aboobacker said.

“Potential areas could include adventure tourism, eco-tourism, cultural tourism and wellness tourism, which are different from the high-traffic segments, such as sun and sand and shopping and entertainment [ones] attracted by Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he said.

Figures from TCA show that 311,640 guests, or 11 per cent of all tourists to the emirate of Abu Dhabi, checked into hotels in Al Ain and the Eastern Region last year. This was a rise of 9 per cent on the previous year.

The average room rate dropped 1 per cent to Dh428 last year.

The hotel occupancy rate in Al Ain was close to that of the capital at 65 per cent, an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year.

The town is also shaping up as a sports destination with the opening of the 25,000-person capacity Hazza bin Zayed Stadium – the new home of Al Ain Football Club.

The stadium would serve as the cornerstone of a 500,000-square-meter mixed-use development in the town of 580,000.

“Al Ain has a long-term tourism potential because of its cultural aspect, the beauty of the place and as a destination for football and equestrian sports,” said Greg Allan, Rotana’s area vice president for Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. “We have a high concentration of guests from Dubai during the weekends and we are trying to increase that during weekdays.”