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Sun 29 Apr 2007 11:11 PM

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Abu Dhabi to 'rival the Caribbean'

Ambitious 'Desert Island' project hopes to attract over a million visitors a year by 2017.

Abu Dhabi has announced ambitious plans to compete with the likes of the Caribbean and the Maldives by developing 'Desert Islands' as a key tourism attraction.

The Gulf emirate will transform the existing islands – which lie off its western coastline – into 'multi experience destinations,' adding a total of 4,000 hotel rooms.

Desert Islands will consist of eight islands and an onshore gate, and encompass a nature reserve and the 'Arabian National Park'.

“This project embodies Abu Dhabi’s ambitions to develop its islands and other natural resources in line with the guidance and vision of UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to progress the tourism sector in the UAE capital,” said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

“Such projects will contribute to the generation of career and training opportunities for UAE nationals. This will be a world-class tourism destination with local, regional and international appeal,” said Al Nahyan.

It is hoped the Desert Islands will raise the profile of Abu Dhabi’s international tourism trade and will compete with famed tourist destinations such as the Maldives and the Caribbean.

"The Desert Islands will significantly raise Abu Dhabi’s international tourism standing creating a singular destination with experiences rivalling those of the Caribbean and the Maldives," said a statement issued by the emirate's Tourism Development & Investment Company.

Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) believes the region's Desert Islands will attract around 250,000 visitors when the first phase is complete in 2010. And it hopes for over a million visitors a year - consisting of both day trippers and those staying overnight - by 2017. The project aims to attract $3 billion in public and private investments, according to the authority.

According to a press release, the Desert Islands comprise of the former Royal nature reserve of Sir Bani Yas Island, Dalma Island and the Discovery Islands. The islands will be linked by a hydrofoil service, ferry, water taxis, a private ‘resort’ boat service and regional sea planes.

Sir Bani Yas is about 160km west of the Abu Dhabi city and is a little over 80 sq. km in area. Its central hills, rising to a height of over 130 metres, contain the oldest rocks visible anywhere in the country. The island contains archaeological sites from the Late Stone Age (7000 years ago) onwards. Today, the island is a major centre for the captive breeding of endangered wildlife, with herds of several hundred Arabian oryx and several thousand Sand Gazelles and Arabian Gazelles, some of which are being reintroduced to the wild, as well as other species.

The Desert Islands will have a variety of accommodation including five star-star hotels and small family resorts.

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