By Gavin Davids
Emirate shifts focus to emerging economies as European market slips, sport events to drive traffic
Abu Dhabi will target India and the Gulf markets in 2011 in its bid to attract two million visitors to the emirate by the end of the year, the emirate’s tourism authority said.
Europe, traditionally a key source market, has slipped amid the economic recession with emerging markets instead the biggest gainers for Abu Dhabi’s hotel industry, said Lawrence Franklin, director of strategy and policy for ADTA.
“GCC and markets like India already deliver a lot of existing business to us and have grown quite strongly in 2010. We’re already active in the [Indian] market, but we have the potential to leverage that market a lot more,” he told Arabian Business.
“We’ve still got to design the strategy and approach, but it’s an obvious opportunity for us.”
Abu Dhabi hopes to attract two million hotel guests in 2011, a rise of 10 percent on the city’s previous goal.
India was the city’s largest growth market in 2010, providing 82,991 of Abu Dhabi’s 1.81 million hotel guests – a rise of 35 percent on 2009’s figures.
Russia and China also notched up growth, providing 14,580 and 9,708 hotel guests respectively.
Although the numbers are small, Franklin said that they still represented 29 and 27 percent growth respectively.
"China is rapidly moving up the country [market] list, achieving 29 percent growth in 2010. This is a market with huge outbound potential, with over 25 million outbound visitors per year," he said.
According to ADTA figures, over 14,580 visitors from China visited Abu Dhabi in 2010.
The majority of guests - 854,844 – were from the GCC states, with Saudi Arabia ranking as the largest source market.
Mubarak Al Muhairi, director general at the ADTA, said that the agency planned to establish offices in major markets across the world in a bid to grow its global reach.
“We have representation on the ground in Moscow and are finalising a dedicated office there, while offices will open in Jeddah and Manhattan, by the end of the first quarter,” he said.
ADTA will also partner with Etihad Airways to help connect with untapped tourist markets.
In January of this month, the flag carrier said that it would be increasing its services on five key European routes this year, a move Al Muhairi welcomed.
“We are also readying to welcome, later this month, V Australia’s thrice weekly flights from Sydney,” he said. “Cathay Pacific [also] plans to fly to Abu Dhabi four times a week from June.”
Abu Dhabi will see 4,000 hotel rooms come online in 2011, swelling stock to more than 20,000 units.
Despite recording more than 5.1 million guest nights in 2010, a 19 percent rise on 2009, room revenue for the year stayed flat at AED4.2bn ($1.14bn), as fresh supply impacted the market.
Al Muhairi said Abu Dhabi is banking on increased revenue from sporting events - such as the Grand Prix which helped drive total hotel revenue up past AED500m in November – and a rise in cruise ship traffic.
The emirate this year will become the home port of luxury cruise liner MSC Lirica, operated by MSC Cruises.
“MSC Lirica’s eight day cruises around the Arabian Gulf will begin and end in the UAE capital, brining a potential 41,000 overnight passengers to our doorstep – 30 percent of which, industry research shows, have the potential to return,” he said.
Abu Dhabi will also play host to the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race in January, which is expected to generate more than 35,000 international visitors.
“The Volvo Ocean Race is the preeminent example of what we want to be launching,” Franklin said.
“Our other sports, the Desert Challenge, the Adventure Challenge, the Triathlon, those sorts of activities are vehicles we can continue to expand in terms of their significance.
“Obviously, many of them would start relatively small, but we’ll build them as products over the years.”