x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Exotic, exhilarating, exciting and dull

Australian travel agents have mixed opinions on the city: some insist it is dull and others believe it's exhilarating.

SYDNEY // Australians are inveterate travellers, due in large part to their island home's geographic isolation. The 12,000km journey to Abu Dhabi from the continent's most populous city, Sydney, is a 17-hour flight, but one that would not unduly bother most Australians. But will Australian tourists want to visit this oil-rich corner of the Gulf? Opinion is mixed in the Australian travel industry: some operators insist the emirate is rather dull, while others believe it's an exhilarating place to explore.

"I was very excited about Abu Dhabi," said Claudia Rossi Hudson, the managing director of Mary Rossi Travel in Sydney. "One will make comparisons with Dubai across the sand, but one gets more feeling of permanence and longevity, so to speak, in Abu Dhabi. There is a cultural vibrancy about it. "It has wonderful hotels and there are new ones opening up all the time. There's a terrific arts community and obviously for business people it's a hub as well.

"I think those who've used Dubai as a stopover, or even as a destination, understand what the attractions are of the Gulf. I don't think it will be a hard sell." Alan Collingwood, a veteran travel agent in Sydney, disagrees. He says Abu Dhabi will find it hard to compete with Dubai and establish itself as a rival destination. "What I'm hearing in the industry is that there's not a lot to do in Abu Dhabi," he said. "The feeling is it's a bit boring. I think travellers arriving there often transfer to Dubai, where there seems plenty to do."

In the past 10 years, he said, Australians "have become well aware that Dubai has taken off. If Abu Dhabi invests in infrastructure and attractions it can create something in a relatively short period of time. "There are no two ways about it: Abu Dhabi wants to become the next Dubai." One of the major challenges facing Abu Dhabi is persuading travellers to make it their final destination rather than merely a stopover on the way to Europe, for example.

Jaqueline Preketes, the manager of Touchdown Tours in the Australian state of Victoria, thinks Abu Dhabi has good potential. "I don't think it's considered exotic by Australians. It is considered undiscovered," said Ms Preketes. "Many travellers are now deciding that they don't necessarily have to stay in Dubai, they can go to Abu Dhabi, see a different city and experience a different culture. "Abu Dhabi is an all-rounder destination. Right now it's very much used as a stopover. After people start discovering how close it is to the other emirates and how easy it is to drive around, I think that's when Abu Dhabi will probably change."

It would, she said, "take a good two years or so until tourists start to discover Abu Dhabi. It does have to start as a stopover first and then, I believe, it will grow into a destination in its own right." @Email:pmercer@thenational.ae