A year of sporting events is set to boost spending in the UAE and raise the profile of its cities.
Sport spectaculars help to raise profile of Emirates
The UAE is poised to enjoy a major economic boost from the legion of international sporting events taking place in the country this year.
Experts say the Volvo Ocean Race is just the beginning of a big year for sport in the UAE, as more than 12,000 hotel nights in the capital have been booked by race teams, organisers and guests - and the same number of reservations are expected from fans, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) .
Within the next few months, the UAE will host two international golf championships, an international tennis championship, the Dubai World Cup horse racing meet, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, the Dubai Marathon and a number of cricket matches between England and Pakistan.
"Sporting events by their nature are often strong generators of awareness, given widespread market interest and dedicated media coverage, especially when coupled with the celebrity status of many top-ranked competitions and participants," said Lawrence Franklin, the strategy and policy director at ADTA. He said the country would continue to harness the benefits of sporting events as it matures as a destination and increase focus on events that had the capacity to "realise major economic returns rather than solely awareness-building".
Greg Sproule, the managing director in the Middle East and North Africa for IMG, one of the largest sports agencies in the world, said events were likely to be "refined" this year to provide the biggest economic benefits.
"Sporting events are just one part of the tourism puzzle," he said. "But these big events bring TV audiences and that impacts spending in the economy."
IMG helps to organise and run the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
About 100,000 spectators are expected to visit the purpose-built Destination Village on the capital's breakwater during the Volvo Ocean Race's two-week stint in Abu Dhabi. St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, the official hotel of the event, earmarked 1,300 room nights for the period.
John Pelling, the hotel's general manager, said the event provided a good platform to promote its brand. "I am confident that Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority's events calendar not only raises awareness for 'destination Abu Dhabi' but offers us the stage to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences," he said.
The decision to become a host city for the Volvo Ocean Race is part of a strategy by Abu Dhabi to boost tourism through major sporting events.
"A country bids for one of these events because it's big business," said Brian Greenwood, a managing partner for the Middle East and India at the sports marketing company Prism.
"People follow international events. A lot of people come into the country to follow the tennis, and the golf, certainly."
Experts say each sports tournament brings different benefits, all boosting the UAE economy.
The Formula One race in the capital is a global televised event that puts Abu Dhabi on the map, said Mr Greenwood, while sailing showcases Abu Dhabi's coast and attracts a different type of tourist.
About 60 per cent of Volvo Ocean Race followers occupy senior managerial positions, according to organisers.
"Sailing covers everything from dinghy sailing where you do not need a lot of money, to superyachts, where clearly you do. But yes, there is a certain group there that is usually educated and has disposable income and is interested in going to new places," added Mr Greenwood.
The Volvo Ocean Race, which takes place across six continents, will also generate significant television time for Abu Dhabi. More than 70 broadcasters from 50 countries are covering the event.
The Abu Dhabi leg of the event, which started on New Year's Eve, ends on Saturday, when the boats will leave for leg three of the race to Sanya, China.