Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) is planning to create a dedicated industry development committee for the emirate’s western region – Al Gharbia – as it looks to stimulate growth in the area.
The authority is also planning to build a dedicated visitor centre in Al Gweifhat to better educate road travellers from Saudi Arabia on the region’s attraction as they pass through the area to enter the UAE.
The two latest moves were announced at the MEED Al Gharbia Development Forum held at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort today.
“There is substantial opportunity for inward tourism investment into the unique Al Gharbia region, where the desert meets the sea and where visitors can be among the tallest dunes in the world in the morning and go diving in waters rich in marine life in the afternoon,” Mohammed Al Dhaheri, Strategy & Policy Director, TCA Abu Dhabi told delegates.
“Currently there are only nine hotels in Al Gharbia – and only one of these is in the mid-range, four-star category. The hotels there now are performing quite well with Al Gharbia recording Abu Dhabi’s highest average room rate of around AED690.”
Demand for hotel accommodation in Al Gharbia is increasing. The first quarter of this year saw a 114% leap in the number of guests staying in Al Gharbia’s hotels compared to Q1 2013. The number of guest nights delivered doubled on Q1 last year despite the fact that there has been a 74% increase in the number of rooms available.
“New resorts have opened on Sir Bani Yas Island but the problem the region faces is with the average length of guest stay – which is currently coming in at only 2.64 nights with average occupancy at 65%,” said Al Dhaheri. “Nevertheless we are heading in the right direction as occupancy is up 12% on last year.
“There is room for growth and new initiatives are opening up development opportunities. The new Rotana Jet flights from Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Executive Airport and Dubai International’s Terminal 2 are assisting access to Sir Bani Yas Island and plans are being progressed to upgrade Sir Bani Yas Airport to international status which will further boost access,” said Al Dhaheri.
The TCA Director said hospitality investor returns in Al Gharbia have proved healthy with total hotel revenues in the region in Q1 this year surging 83% to AED67.3 million.
“The way ahead is to make the most of what the region has,” said Al Dhaheri. “This includes spectacular landscape with a picturesque fishing village in Mirfa, an appealing oasis town in Liwa, substantial heritage sites with ancient forts, the world’s tallest dunes in the Liwa Desert at the entrance to the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali) and kilometre after kilometre of stunning coastline with waters rich in marine life.
“We have to develop tours and attractions to take advantage of these,” he said. “On Sir Bani Yas Island, for instance, we are progressing the Al Sirdal tours where visitors can board a traditional dhow and go pearling diving or fishing much as our forefathers did 100 years ago.”
“We will shortly have an industry development committee specifically for Al Gharbia which will be led by our authority but include private sector stakeholder representatives. This committee will work collaboratively to identify and activate issues where we can build brand awareness for the region and develop the overall tourism appeal.
“We are also actively working with the cruise sector to have cruise lines operating in the region incorporate a beach stop-over at Sir Bani Yas Island on their itineraries.”
Al Dhaheri said the authority is implementing a number of initiatives to build awareness of Al Gharbia’s tourism proposition. These include a proposed visitor centre in Al Ghweifat.
“There is substantial traffic from Saudi Arabia passing through Al Ghweifat to destinations in the UAE – we want to educate them on their way through of the attractions Al Gharbia has.
“In addition, our destination stand for major international trade fairs which we attend throughout the year has now been redesigned to better represent the three regions of this emirate – namely Abu Dhabi city and its surrounds, Al Ain and the Western Region and Al Gharbia to give more impetus and prominence to each.”