x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Volvo Ocean Race: Big act for Abu Dhabi for New Year's Eve 2014

UAE capital hopes to surpass the 120,000 visitors it attracted in 2011 when the longest Volvo Ocean Race in history comes to town.

Faisal Al Sheikh, an events manager with TCA, says the Volvo Ocean Race “gives us a great opportunity to show how much further we have come as a water sport destination”. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Faisal Al Sheikh, an events manager with TCA, says the Volvo Ocean Race “gives us a great opportunity to show how much further we have come as a water sport destination”. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // It may still be a year and half away, but preparations are well under way for the next visit of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Among the targets for 2014 are a headline concert, on December 31, to mark the occasion and the arrival of the new year.

The artist performing will be announced in April and the event takes place in the capital. British act Coldplay wowed crowds during the inaugural event in December 2011, confirming their performance only two months in advance.

Marked as the longest Volvo Ocean Race in history, coming in at 39,895 nautical miles, the teams will stop in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2014.

Following the second leg of the round-the-world voyage teams will sail into the capital in mid-December, after an estimated 30 consecutive days at sea, and will set out again on January 3.

The event itself is an epic voyage, lasting nine months. Teams begin in Alicante on October 4 and will finish in Gothenburg in June 2015.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) has promised to build on the success of last year's stopover.

"It gives us a great opportunity to show how much further we have come as a water sport destination," said Faisal Al Sheikh, an events manager with TCA.

"Much of the foundation work was done last year, so with that platform already in place we need to build on this and be out there selling Abu Dhabi as soon as possible. We need to work with one vision, to present Abu Dhabi in the best possible light."

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More than 120,000 visitors descended upon the capital during the last visit - clocking up more than 32,000 hotel nights.

Estimated earnings over the two weeks came to at least Dh160 million.

TCA is looking to improve on those figures, hoping to raise earnings by a third. The authority is also aiming to increase nights spent in the capital's hotels by 15 per cent.

One area identified as being a weak spot during the last visit was the hospitality industry.

"We want to get guests and clients onto the boats, to offer money-can't-buy experiences," said Matthew Boucher, from TCA's event planning team.

"Private charters to international clients" could also be offered, he said.

Alongside the financial benefits of last year's visit, the event brought forth a renewed interest in the sport of sailing.

The race village pontoons and facilities set up specifically for the Volvo Ocean Race were gifted to the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club.

"A whole host of marine leisure facilities have popped up since the last race," said Mr Boucher.

"The local community is crucial. It is all very well having an international audience come in, but we want to engage the local population and we want to do that better than we did last time."

There will be plenty of other events for local crowds, with the "in-port" race featuring highly on the list of events. During this race competing boats go head-to-head, albeit on a smaller stage.

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team has already begun training. Although crew members have yet to be announced, it was confirmed there will be at least one Emirati sailor.

Ian Walker, a double Olympic medallist, will once again skipper the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing boat and "is mentioning the 'w' word a lot", said to Mr Boucher.

The Abu Dhabi team came in second from last - out of six teams - during the last race. But with well over a year left to prepare, there is plenty of time to improve on that.

ksinclair@thenational.ae