The more you look at Abu Dhabi, the more surprises you find. It is a tiny member state and capital of the United Arab Emirates and it has a local population of under 2m but it actually houses 10m people.
It is known to be a devout Muslim nation but the 8m expatriates are free to follow their own faiths and maintain their own very diverse cultures.
At The Meetings Show in London I met a lady who very enthusiastically made the point of how much Abu Dhabi has to offer to organisers of every kind and size of event. She is Sara Abdulla Al Aslai and it is obvious why she holds the post of Conferences and Exhibitions Unit Head at the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau. She is devoted to developing Abu Dhabi as a MICE destination and her eagerness is infectious.
‘Abu Dhabi is oil rich’, she agrees, ‘but we ae aiming at extending our range of job opportunities for our population. The Convention Bureau is a key player in these plans’.
Abu Dhabi is making a virtue out of being a small country. ‘We are following a course whereby, under the umbrella of the Convention Bureau,’ explains Sara, ‘all the official departments and services work closely together, first to attract an event and then to ensure it gets everything it needs to be successful’.
As an example, she cites the aviation sector as a target and says that the national airline Etihad, the Government’s Department of Transport and the international airport will all co-operate with the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau and ADNEC, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, to present an attractive offer to an organiser in that sector.
ADNEC is the state-of-the-art facility that has spaces to cater for events from 100 delegates to 17,000. ‘It was built’, Sara comments, ‘on what used to be a massive parade ground for national march pasts on a grand scale.’
The Hyatt Capital Gate hotel on the same site is an iconic building recognisable round the world. ‘Close to ADNEC there are hotels to suit all budgets’, says Sara. There are significant new properties being launched in Abu Dhabi by Marriott, Dusit Thani and Viceroy.
Other MICE sectors being targeted are Health and Education. ‘We have superb facilities and renowned experts in these fields who can make a contribution to a presentation’, Sara adds. ‘Amongst our academic highlights are branches of New York University and of the Paris-Sorbonne.’
Visitor attractions of the highest order are proliferating in this tiny country. Yas Island was built to create the now famous Abu Dhabi F1 circuit and also boasts Ferrari World theme park. This is being joined, in July 2018, by Warner Bros World.
There is something extraordinary for everyone in terms of museums. They include the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum. They are not only the homes of fascinating exhibits, but also architectural gems by the world’s best-known architects. One of the most visited buildings globally is the gleaming white-marble Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
There is ample proof that Abu Dhabi’s approach is working. Sara is able to quote statistics showing that January to May 2018 has been a record period for tourism. ‘We now have over 30,000 hotel rooms and occupancy averaged over 75%. China was the biggest source of visitors, India second and the UK was our third best market with 120,000, representing a 19.9% increase over the previous year.’
As the interview ends, Sara makes a point that should be of special interest to event organisers around the world. ‘Abu Dhabi is a zero-crime country. No problem walking around anywhere after dark’.