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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Abu Dhabi seeks new markets in Asia as it eyes more tourists 

Emirate on track to meet target of about 5.5 million tourists by the end of 2018, seeks bigger target in 2019

More details about how the emirate will be affected will be made over the coming days. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
More details about how the emirate will be affected will be made over the coming days. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Abu Dhabi aims to attract more tourists from new markets in Asia and grow business travel in sectors from metals to telecoms as the capital seeks to diversify its revenue streams.

The emirate, known for its luxury hotels, is also calling on the private sector to develop additional four-star and boutique accommodation to attract more tourists, Sultan Al Dhaheri, executive director of the tourism sector at the Department of Culture and Tourism, told reporters on Tuesday.

"East Asia is on our radar because of the similarity between us and Asia," Mr Al Dhaheri told The National. "Asian economies are growing and still have some of the highest gross domestic products." He declined to name countries.

The number of hotel guests staying in Abu Dhabi increased six per cent in June to 340,000 driven by Saudis and Americans compared to the same month a year ago, the department said in its report on Tuesday. In the first half of 2018, the emirate saw a 5.1 per cent increase in the number of hotel guests to 2.4 million from a year earlier. Abu Dhabi is on track to meet its target of 5.5 million visitors by the end of this year and aims to grow that figure in 2019, Mr Al Dhaheri said, declining to provide new targets.

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Across Abu Dhabi's 162 hotels, revenue per available room - an industry measure of financial performance - declined five per cent to Dh244 in the first half of the year from Dh257 a year ago.

Currency rate fluctuations, particularly a drop in the euro and Russian rouble, combined with weaker economic growth in some source markets contributed to the decline in RevPar, he said.

"I believe in time it will be stabilised and will make Abu Dhabi more affordable," he said. "I cannot say it will be this year, but soon."

Hotel occupancy rates in Abu Dhabi reached 71 per cent in the first half, up by 2 per cent from a year earlier. In June, occupancy rates reached 56 per cent compared to 52 per cent in the same month a year ago.

Indians, Chinese and Filipinos were the top visitors to the emirate in June, though the number of Chinese visitors declined 10.8 per cent year-on-year because of Ramadan. In the first six months, Chinese, Indians and British visitors topped the list.

Abu Dhabi is seeking to capitalise on government-to-government negotiations and its infrastructure to boost the number of conferences and business travellers to the capital, Mr Al Dhaheri said. It is primarily focusing on attracting events tied to the oil and gas, petrochemicals, metals, aviation, pharmaceuticals and tourism sectors.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways' restructuring, which involves scaling back routes amid a company-wide review, will not have a "major effect" on the emirate's main source markets for tourism as tier -one markets such as India or the UK remain well served, he said.

"Etihad's focus on point-to-point travel is an advantage for us," he said. "We are working with Abu Dhabi Airports Company to attract other airlines as well."

Abu Dhabi's desert dunes, skyline and hotels have increasingly featured in Hollywood blockbusters, such as Mission Impossible: Fallout starring Tom Cruise, as the emirate tries to develop a movie production eco-system. The international branding has helped Abu Dhabi tout itself as a tourism destination.

"The films showcase Abu Dhabi and provide you with brand awareness," Mr Al Dhaheri said.

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