x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Big Bus stops in Abu Dhabi

With tours in London, Hong Kong and Dubai, the Big Bus Company is planning to take visitors around Abu Dhabi.


While you might recognise the distinctive outline in a burgundy and cream livery, you would probably be nonplussed by the setting. Not for long, though. The double-decker London bus could soon be a familiar sight on Abu Dhabi's roads after an international sightseeing tour company decided to bring its service to the capital.

The Big Bus Company, which already has a presence in Dubai as well as in London, Hong Kong and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is planning to show the sights of Abu Dhabi to thousands of tourists a year. While no launch date has been confirmed, officials hope to start in time for the Formula One Grand Prix in four weeks, when up to 50,000 motor-racing fans are expected to pour into the city. The company is confident the capital has just as much to offer them as it does in the other cities it operates in.

Where the London tour, for example, takes in such attractions as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Harrods and the Tower of London, customers of the Abu Dhabi version will see the Emirates Palace hotel, the Corniche public beach (currently closed for a revamp), the Iranian market and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. In Dubai, the bus tour includes sights such as the Burj al Arab, Ski Dubai, the spice souk and Dubai Museum, along with a dhow cruise along the creek.

Chris Compton, the company's general manager, said: "The tour will cover the entire island, starting and finishing at Marina Mall. I think there will be enough interest from visitors. "Abu Dhabi is growing so fast, and if you look at all the work and development that is going on in tourism, it is phenomenal. "It is going to take a couple of years before projects like the museums take off, but we think the time is right to get into Abu Dhabi now, so people are used to the buses by the time those attractions open.

"We are hoping to get things set up in time for F1." The open-top, air-conditioned buses will allow passengers to hop on and off as many times as they like between 9am and 5pm at any of the 11 stops. The complete tour with commentary in eight languages will take more than two hours, and a single ticket will remain valid all day. Mr Compton said the capital's congested roads could pose a problem but said the route had been designed to go against the flow of traffic.

"There are always going to be times in the day when the buses are slowed down," he said. The tour will start officially at the Marina Mall - though passengers can join it at any stop - and travel the length of the island to its first stop at the Grand Mosque. Next will be an eastern viewpoint looking out over mangrove swamps before the bus goes on to Abu Dhabi Mall, the carpet souk, Iranian market and the Corniche.

The 18th-century fort at Qasr al Hosn, which is closed to the public but sits near the Cultural Foundation, will be next, followed by Markaziyah park, which has picnic areas and a children's playground. Then comes the public beach near the Emirates Palace and finally the flagpole on the breakwater. The service was set up in Dubai in 2002 and now draws an average of 250,000 tourists a year. While the Abu Dhabi initiative will be on a smaller scale, using nine buses compared with Dubai's 45, it is hoped that demand will justify expanding the operation.

Buses will be branded with the slogan "We're all over Abu Dhabi" and will leave every 30 minutes, with each 77-seat vehicle completing two full circuits a day, seven days a week. While there will be no tour guides on the buses, passengers can listen to recorded commentaries in English, Arabic, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin. Tickets will be priced Dh200 (US$54) for adults, Dh100 for children and Dh500 for a family of four.

The Big Bus Company was set up 18 years ago by the Maybury family, who started in London with just two buses and now have 80 carrying a million passengers around the British capital every year. The expansion in the Middle East is due to a recent investment in the business from Al Fahim Group in Abu Dhabi. Two years ago the organisation, whose portfolio includes transport, hotels and restaurants, bought a 30 per cent stake in the London company. At the time, Al Fahim said it hoped to launch bus tours in Beijing, Singapore and Shanghai.

Dayne Lim, the product development director at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said the service would help visitors get a "more rounded" view of the city. tyaqoob@thenational.ae