A careful approach to property investment is set to put Abu Dhabi's booming meetings industry in pole position.
Much like its approach to leisure tourism, Abu Dhabi has taken it slow when it comes to the development of its meetings industry infrastructure, but huge leaps forward are set to change the shape of the UAE capital's appeal for meetings planners.
Rather then hurry to be the biggest meetings destination in the region, the government of Abu Dhabi has taken a more sophisticated approach; taking the time to invest in projects that will have a sustainable positive impact on the destination, such as the island developments including Saadiyat Island and Yas Island, both of which will appeal to both the leisure and business sectors.
"Abu Dhabi is still relatively new as a business tourism destination and we are not targeting mass tourism but high-end leisure and meetings, incentive and exhibition industries," explains Gillian Taylor, business tourism/MICE manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
"We have quite conservative numbers wishing to go from just over one million visitors now to three million by 2015. We have world-class hotels and great things to do now, but there are many new developments being planned and the next few years are going to be hugely exciting for the business tourism market."
According to Taylor, room availability in the capital is set to increase from the current 10,000 rooms to 25,000 by 2015, with international chains as Four Seasons, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Fairmont coming to the emirate.
Phase Two of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre (ADNEC) is set for completion later this year, effectively doubling the size of the existing facility and making it the biggest exhibition centre in the Middle East.
"These expanded facilities are the catalyst behind exponential growth in the exhibitions market in Abu Dhabi," Taylor explains.
"ADNEC is expecting to welcome around 1.5 million people to 60 major events this year alone."
Construction work on the Capital Gate - a 35-storey tower that will house Hyatt at Capital Centre when it is complete - began last October.
To date only two hotel contracts have been awarded at the development; Hyatt Capital Gate and the Starwood Aloft Hotel.
The latter will be one of five hotels in the Capital Centre, while the Hyatt property will be the only hotel in the 35-storey Capital Tower.
"In our negotiations with hotel chains we have urged them not only to be aware of the ways that ADNEC can help them but of the ways in which they can help us; by considering the needs of the meetings industry," says Paul Vincent, sales and marketing director, ADNEC.
The development of Saadiyat Island will open up a new destination within Abu Dhabi that will position the emirate as a key destination for incentives groups and pre- or post event activities for conference and exhibition goers.
"The aim is to make Abu Dhabi and Saadiyat Island into an international cultural hub for the Middle East on a par with the best in the world with world-class museums such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Louvre Abu Dhabi," Taylor explains.
And it is not only the new projects that ADTA is using to lure new business; the emirate is blessed with a wealth of historical attractions that could be incorporated into events, she adds.
"We have been working with the Authority for Heritage and Culture to make more of our traditional cultural venues available for use for business tourism," she explains.
"Our new 2008 Business Tourism Planners Guide will be out this month and this has a lot of information on what is happening in Abu Dhabi and the many new venues. This will be available in print and on line."
The planners guide will also feature a section called Venues with Difference featuring information and contact details for alternative venues for meetings and events in the emirate.
Taylor also acknowledges that although the rest of the Middle East if far from embracing corporate social responsibility, it is essential when it comes to bidding for major international events, particularly those hailing from Europe.
"As with all destinations we are noticing that we must include some reference to corporate social responsibility and also the environment in all our bid documents and in everything that we do," she explains.
"We have noticed also that there is an emphasis on requirements for health and well-being with spas being popular and also sensible, healthy and fresh menus."
ADTA has also formed a MICE Industry Advisory Panel (IAP) to tackle the major challenges and issues facing business tourism in Abu Dhabi.
"The purpose of the panel is to work together to develop the world-class infrastructure required for Abu Dhabi to grow as a business tourism destination and to be a driving force in securing and promoting profitable business tourism for Abu Dhabi," Taylor explains.
"The panel is about strengthening ADTA's partnership with our stakeholders through better communication and consultation and provides the industry the opportunity to play a crucial role in our planning process, bid opportunities and product development."
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