x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Ain plunges into white water

The Middle East's first whitewater rafting facility is to open in Al Ain within the next few months.

The water park in Al Ain will have three white-water rafting and kayaking runs with a combined length of 1,133 metres. Mohammed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi
The water park in Al Ain will have three white-water rafting and kayaking runs with a combined length of 1,133 metres. Mohammed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi

White-water rafting might seem like an improbable desert pastime, but the UAE's first centre dedicated to the sport is set to open at the foot of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain.

Wadi Adventure is expected to boost tourism in the city, which is trying to position itself as a destination in the UAE.

"In line with the overall Abu Dhabi tourism strategy, Al Ain is trying to grow its unique attributes, and we should see over the next few years new projects in that direction," said Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels Middle East and Africa.

Wadi Adventure is being developed by Tamouh, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi's Royal Group. Tamouh also revealed plans more than three years ago to build a 2.6km indoor ski slope at Jebel Hafeet.

The water park will have three white-water rafting and kayaking runs with a combined length of 1,133 metres, Wadi Adventure says.

"Wadi Adventure is the Middle East's first man-made white-water rafting, kayaking and surf facility," according to the company.

The surf pool on a man-made beach is designed to generate some of the highest machine-generated waves in the world with heights of up to 3.3 metres. The cost of the project has not been released.

The centre is also to include a rope course, climbing wall and zip line, according to Wadi Adventure. There will also be restaurants, shops, chalets and conference and event facilities.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) says the project is to open within five months.

"Al Ain can also be considered as the other capital of Abu Dhabi," said Mr ben Mahmoud. "Coastal cities and sea tourism destinations have always struggled to attract tourism flow to inland backyard destinations. However, Al Ain has a thriving personality and unique attributes, and its potential is far from fully tapped." Significant developments taking place in Al Ain include a luxury Jumeirah hotel, and Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company is building a Dh3.5 billion (US$953,000) convention centre in the city. A 900-hectare park, the Dh3.2bn Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, is also under development.

"There is substantial potential to build business to the area from some of Abu Dhabi emirate's other markets, especially the UK and Europe, from where we would expect to draw a substantial share of visitors who are seeking a cultural experience during their holiday," said Lawrence Franklin, the director of strategy and policy at ADTA.

"Ongoing development of the tourism sector in Al Ain and the Eastern Region as well as the Western Region of Al Gharbia is a vital element of ADTA's ongoing strategy to ensure the dispersal of social, cultural and economic benefits of tourism throughout the emirate."

In June, some of the area's attractions were declared Unesco world heritage sites - recognition that is expected to increase the city's tourism.

Man-made white-water rafting facilities have been built in other countries, usually for Olympic Games canoeing and kayaking.

Jebel Hafeet, already a tourist attraction, is well known for its hot springs and natural caves.

rbundhun@thenational.ae