Tourism comes down to earth in Abu Dhabi


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The first ever World Green Tourism event takes place in Abu Dhabi this month, but what is the emirate doing to be a  ‘green destination’?

The end of November will see a landmark event take place in Abu Dhabi as the emirate hosts the world’s first ever ‘World Green Tourism Event’.

Sceptics might express some surprise that Abu Dhabi could play host to an eco-tourism event – after all, given its rapid pace of development and ongoing construction boom, not to mention the growth in energy consumption and pressure placed on it’s resources – how ‘green’ can Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry really be?

Director general of the The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), Mubarak Al Muhairi – who is hosting the event – admits that while there is a still “long way to go”, the World Green Tourism Event will be the ideal platform to highlight the ongoing initiatives taking place within Abu Dhabi as it seeks to position itself as a sustainability champion.

“We have a long way to go, it is true but every successful journey begins with first steps and we really are determined to promote environmental sustainability at every level of the industry,” he says.

The ADTA has had some major success stories to shout about. For example, Last year, the 134-room five-star Al Raha Beach Hotel reduced its water consumption from 103 million litres in 2008 (that’s equivalent to 768,000 litres per room), to 34 million litres in 2009 (255,000 litres per room) through undergoing a  simple maintenance overhaul.

Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) has a powerful environmental ethos and is taking steps to ensure that environmental stewardship is central to the design of resorts taking shape on Saadiyat Island, with elevated walkways being built from the resorts to the beach where hawksbill turtles lay their eggs, so as not to disturb these vital breeding grounds.

Green hotels

A major initiative launched by ADTA has been the ‘green hotel guidelines’ which it is now piloting across four properties currently in the early design stage. The plan is for the  guidelines to be absorbed into Abu Dhabi’s hotel classification system by next year.

“By the middle of 2011, all Abu Dhabi hotels and hotel apartments will have a green rating included in their star rating,” explains Al Muhairi.

“These guidelines are part of a comprehensive programme of green initiatives the authority has devised to help deliver a world-class sustainable tourism destination in line with the Abu Dhabi Government’s 2030 plan.”

Added to that, ADTA is pioneering an Environmental, Health & Safety Management System (EHSMS) for the emirate’s tourism industry – the only one in the world to cover the entire tourism sector.

The system has set strict targets for all hotels and hotel apartments to reduce energy by 10%, water by 20%, and waste by 20% and requires that hotels introduce their own EHSMS’s in order to meet those targets. “By the end of this month, all our five and four-star hotels and deluxe hotel apartments will have their own entity EHSMS and their own programmes to meet our targets,” states Al Muhairi. “By the end of December, all hotels and hotel apartments in Abu Dhabi – and that’s more than 120 – will have their own EHSMS – probably the highest number of hotels in any city.”

Educating the industry

For now, Al Muhairi says the biggest challenge in terms of tackling the issue of green tourism is educating the industry about why it is so important to be sustainable.

“We are aware that many people associate environmental responsibility with additional capital cost,” he says. “That is not always the case and through education, workshops and seminars we are gradually getting the message across.”

ADTA’s Tourism Standards department has been actively involved with hotel engineers to help in the roll out of their EHSMS, and Al Muhairi notes: “we have noticed a considerable shift in attitude from an initial skepticism to growing enthusiasm.”

Al Muhairi hopes that the World Green Tourism event will be a major step towards influencing the integration of eco-tourism principles into the operations and policies of local tourism industry players.

“The event has huge synergies with the authority’s overall vision of becoming an outstanding, globally recognised and sustainable destination of distinction,” says Al Muhairi. “The speaker line-up is really powerful and we will learn much from their experiences so I would urge all involved in the industry to attend.”

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