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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Abu Dhabi's oldest building Qasr Al Hosn to re-open this year

No exact date given, but fort will become a cultural hub and a tourist draw for the capital

General view of Qasr Al Hosn, which is currently undergoing restoration and is set to reopen later in the year. Christopher Pike / The National
General view of Qasr Al Hosn, which is currently undergoing restoration and is set to reopen later in the year. Christopher Pike / The National

The redeveloped Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi is on track to welcome its first visitors by the end of the year, according to an official for Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism.

No exact date was given, but the historic fort at the heart of the capital is undergoing a substantial renovation to the Cultural Foundation Building and wider area. Cafes and restaurants will also feature in the finished attraction, while it will host exhibitions and concerts, along with the return of the annual Qasr Al Hosn Festival.

It forms part of the emirate plans to make a sustained push to attract more tourists. According to official figures, Abu Dhabi welcomed about five million hotel guests last year – up 10 per cent on 2016 – driven mainly by increases in Chinese and Indian visitors. This year's goal is 5.5 million.

Cruise tourism has also risen from just 7,000 in 2007 to about 345,000 today.

The sector has also been buoyed by last November’s opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, while the Warner Bros World theme park is also set to open on Yas Island in July.

“The way we position Abu Dhabi is as a cultural destination," said Sultan Al Dhaheri, executive director of the tourism sector at the Tourism Development and Investment Company. "That is our bread and butter but we also need shopping and entertainment elements such as Yas Island."

He pointed to the launch last October of Emirati Experiences – tours led by nationals – as a way to show Abu Dhabi as an authentic, cultural destination. “We’re promoting this [programme] through our platforms and are linking it with Airbnb, Expedia and Tripadvisor to … sell the project.”

There are 13 Emirati Experiences available, while 200 applications to join the programme await approval. Abu Dhabi is also opening up its factories as part of Emirati Experiences. For example, the Al Dana Leather Product Factory (aLmandoos) is an Emirati firm in Al Ain that makes leather goods and sandals and, on Sunday, it was announced that visitors will now be able to tour the factory in the company of an Emirati guide.

Each emirate is trying to develop a unique tourist identity: Ras Al Khaimah has adventure tourism and Abu Dhabi has its culture.

“What we are trying to do is create a different unique selling point in each emirate so we can complement rather than compete,” said Mr Al Dhaheri.

Medical tourism is also becoming more important for Abu Dhabi and figures are set to be released soon about how many people are coming to the emirate for this purpose.

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