The Presidential Palace's opening to the public completes a fascinating cultural quartet of attractions in Abu Dhabi
Now visitors can walk the same corridors as dignitaries such as Pope Francis and Xi Jinping
This newspaper recently gave readers a taste of what Abu Dhabi was like for visitors who arrived here in the late 1970s. It’s fair to say those were different times: there was one five-star hotel, there were no shopping malls and few genuine tourist attractions, save for the growing sense of a city that was clearly beginning to race towards its future.
This was Abu Dhabi’s sapling moment, a prelude to the delivery of the great trees that have risen today.
It might also be called a false start for tourism in the city, in the sense that back then commerce brought people to Abu Dhabi, rather than star attractions.
That changed with the arrival of Etihad Airways in November 2003.
The 15-years since have been marked by both subtle and sweeping transformation of the city.
In 2003, Abu Dhabi offered international guests the chance to enjoy unspoilt beaches (as it does today), new shopping malls (although not as many as now) and, if it was your thing, some decent golf courses (there are now several more).
Within five years, the visitor experience had been thoroughly enhanced.
Emirates Palace hotel opened in 2005, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 2007 and the development of Yas and Saadiyat islands was taking shape. Today, the former boasts three family oriented theme parks – Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World and Warner Bros World – and on Saadiyat, Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017. The attraction became the lodestar in the city’s tourism constellation as soon as it was unveiled.
Now, something equally important but more subtle is happening, with a set of intriguing new visitor attractions opening in the city over the past three years. Not only does each one add colour to the picture, they add context too. For sure, Louvre Abu Dhabi brings legions of visitors to the city, but this other section of attractions will hopefully see many of those same tourists leaving with a greater understanding of the country and its story.
On Monday, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, announced that the Presidential Palace, which houses the offices of the President, Vice President and Crown Prince, will be open to the public from next week.
A part of the palace compound known as Qasr Al Watan, or Palace of the Nation, will be the centrepiece of the tour, which will also offer visitors a peek at reception halls that have been graced by heads of state and global leaders, including China’s President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis.
While it is too soon to say for sure, this could be called the “Louvre effect” In time, we may yet say that the impact of the “cultural quartet” has helped further boost tourist numbers.
This week, Abu Dhabi Airports chief executive Bryan Thompson said that the airport operator had seen a shift in passenger traffic, stating that there had been an increase in the number of people starting to spend more time in the city, rather than just transiting through.The Presidential Palace announcement is the fourth such significant opening in under three years. In November 2016, Wahat Al Karama, or Oasis of Dignity, opened as a permanent memorial to those who have lost their lives in service of the country. In February last year, The Founder’s Memorial was unveiled to celebrate the life and legacy of Sheikh Zayed, the country’s Founding Father, and late in 2018, Qasr Al Hosn, the most significant building in the entire city, was reopened to the general public.
While it is too soon to say for sure, this could be called the “Louvre effect”. In time, we may yet say that the impact of the “cultural quartet” has helped further boost tourist numbers.
I hope we do. Each of these attractions offers details on the country’s story and development. Each one informs the visitor about history and the fusion of dignity and diplomacy that the UAE has worked tirelessly to establish over the years. And, taken together, they tell a compelling story of what the country represents and has historically stood for.
A suggestion to turn that quartet into a famous five would be the Federal National Council building near the Corniche. You can already view the parliamentary chamber in session and witness the important debates that unfold there. An addition to that might follow formal tours of the chamber and a bigger permanent exhibition explaining its work.
Updated: March 6, 2019 05:10 PM