x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Capital mounts overseas sales drive

Abu Dhabi is to create three new outposts which will sell the city as more than a stopover destination.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, where Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is opening an office this week.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, where Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is opening an office this week.

ABU DHABI // The capital has begun an aggressive push to attract more international visitors and by the end of the year will have doubled the number of its tourist offices abroad. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) already has offices in the UK, Germany and France. This week, it will open its farthest-flung outpost to date - 12,000km away in Sydney, Australia. Three more offices will follow shortly in China and Italy.

In most parts of the world, Abu Dhabi is still an obscure location. In comparison with Dubai, which has 15 offices in countries across the globe, the ADTA has been slow to sell the country overseas, partly because it is aiming at a more select type of tourist. By 2013, however, ADTA hopes to have opened 10 offices, said Ali Ahmed al Hosani, the director of promotions. Australia may already have sun and sand, he said, "but they don't have the flair of Arabic or the culture of the Arabian peninsula". Germans could go to Spain, only an hour away, but "they come here looking for the culture".

The market in Australia is particularly promising: 8,000 Australians visited Abu Dhabi last year, either to see friends or during stopovers on their way to the UK. Following Etihad Airways' introduction in November of 11 flights a week between Abu Dhabi and Sydney, that number is expected to grow. Positioned at the junction of the European, Asian and African continents, Abu Dhabi is perfectly located to become a global transport hub. Recent technological innovations have also helped the capital's case. Aircraft can now make the trip between Australia and the UK in two legs, as opposed to three or four and, with major attractions such as the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in the pipeline, Abu Dhabi will become an increasingly attractive prospect as a cultural oasis for long-haul travellers.

"With the UK ranking among Australia's top five outbound destinations and with Etihad's excellent onward connections via Abu Dhabi to Britain, the potential for stopover business is obvious," said Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the ADTA, in a statement to WAM. The emirate is unlikely to be overrun immediately by vast numbers of additional tourists; the ADTA outposts will be playing a long game, says Mr Hosani, starting with building relationships with local trade media, travel agents and tour operators in the host countries. Travel journalists will be invited to visit the city so "they can write about it with their own pen".

There was, he said, "an emerging trend of retired clients and families using the Middle East as a stopover to break up long-haul journeys. Lack of knowledge could be a reason the region is viewed simply as a stopover destination and our initial focus must be on addressing this by first educating the travel trade." In Australia, the high-profile publicity firm Hill & Knowlton has been recruited to raise the emirate's profile. Mr Hosani said the ADTA did not send its own employees to overseas offices, but recruited local people who had the necessary contacts to develop relationships with regional industry players. Incentive schemes, offering prizes including holidays, would be introduced for travel agents who committed to learning more about the destination. The new offices themselves will be designed and decorated to give a flavour of Abu Dhabi. "When you step into the office, it will be like you have come to Abu Dhabi," said Mr Hosani.

ADTA's strategy is to build relationships with the local tourist industry and then reach out to the potential tourists - and not just any tourists. In China, for example, the authority advertises in upmarket newspapers and magazines to attract an elite crowd, a strategy that will continue in Australia. @Email:jgerson@thenational.ae