x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Airport opens on Sir Bani Yas Island

Cessna aircraft will shuttle passengers to and from the capital in transport scheme that could offer blueprint for other remote regions.

The terminal on Sir Bani Yas Island will serve guests of the Desert Islands Resort and Spa.
The terminal on Sir Bani Yas Island will serve guests of the Desert Islands Resort and Spa.

ABU DHABI // Tourism authorities have opened an airport on Sir Bani Yas Island as part of the plan to link Abu Dhabi's remote holiday spots by small aircraft. The terminal on the island will serve guests of the 64-room Desert Islands Resort and Spa, which opened in September.

The Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which runs the island, has bought two Cessna Caravan aircraft for the 45-minute flight between Abu Dhabi International Airport and Sir Bani Yas. Construction is continuing on the island, which is a nature reserve established by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the founder of the UAE. The airport, which will be run by Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac), will eventually be able to support domestic and short-haul international flights.

Before the airport opened those wanting to visit the resort had to drive to Jebel Dhanna, a two-hour trip west of Abu Dhabi, then travel by boat. "Ease of accessibility is crucial to any destination and, together with Adac, we are ensuring tourists have a seamless experience when travelling to this remarkable island," Mubarak al Muhairi, the managing director of TDIC, said in a statement. At Al Gharbia, the TDIC is discussing plans to build a centre for small aircraft to serve as shuttle services between Abu Dhabi International Airport and remote regions.

Small planes are to eventually link terminals on Dalma Island and the Qasr al Sarab desert outpost. The company hopes that up to 250,000 visitors a year will visit the Western Region and the Desert Islands. It is also hoped these projects will provide as many as 6,500 jobs for people in the rural regions, many of whom are leaving due to lack of work. The international airports at Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah have all completed, or are in the process of upgrading and adding terminals to capitalise on the tourism boom that has seen almost eight million visitors enter Dubai in the past year.

"Tourism is an increasingly important industry for Abu Dhabi and we wholeheartedly support the Government's efforts, through TDIC, to create world-class tourism destinations," said Khalifa al Mazrouei, the chairman of Adac. "We have an important role to play in ensuring that these developments are linked to their markets by a modern, efficient transport infrastructure." The terminal on Sir Bani Yas, which was built to accommodate royal trips to the reserve, is the first to come into operation in the network of remote hubs.

"The Desert Islands is an excellent example of how we can use our experience to connect a valuable tourism asset with the rest of the UAE through Abu Dhabi International Airport, which is itself one of the region's most important tourism hubs." Since opening, the resort on the island has reported high occupancy rates, especially during the Eid holidays. For the festive season, it is offering discounted rates to encourage more local visitors.

"When it is holidays or over Eid, it's becoming a real destination," said Ali al Jazzazi, the director of sales at the resort. "In all honesty the hotel is being filled by the local market." The TDIC has said that the reserve is likely to never make a profit, although it hopes the hotel will eventually break even. Mr al Jazzazi said the rates had been reduced for Christmas and New Year to Dh1,400 an night, from a standard rate of Dh1,900. When the hotel opened, a night's stay cost Dh1,600.

Christmas Eve dinner is also being offered at a cost of Dh660, while a New Year's meal is being sold for Dh750. Mr al Jazzazi said the hotel had set a target of 1,300 visitors during the first quarter. The hotel is exceeding those expectations with occupancy rates that are averaging about 80 per cent, he said. For decades, Sir Bani Yas was an invitation-only nature reserve for the royal family. It was stocked with populations of oryx, giraffe and other local and exotic wildlife. The island was also used on occasion for hunting.

Next year, the reserve hopes to welcome two cheetahs to keep the wildlife in check. The island is in the process of developing a master plan that will see an increase in the number of hotels, tented structures and resorts. jgerson@thenational.ae