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Travel & Tourism | Global Arab Network
Abu Dhabi moving toward a new era of expansion in 2010
Global Arab Network - - Mohamed Tamer
Having earlier this week clinched the World Travel Award for the ‘World’s Best Tourist Board’ Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) has now unveiled a plan of measured expansion for 2010.

Over the coming 12 months, ADTA, which manages, helps develop and promote the tourism industry in the Arabian Gulf emirate, aims to lead the destination and its stakeholders to a new era of measured expansion. It looks to demonstrate strength and resilience against an operating background of consumer shifts brought on by global economic uncertainty. The long-term view will prevail as flexibility of approach is underpinned by robust local economic fundamentals, strong political will, a resourceful business tourism profile, continued healthy regional demand and expanding air access, particularly from emerging markets.

The authority’s rolling five-year plan, originally cautious in Abu Dhabi’s preferred style, has already been adjusted and the destination remains on course to hold steady at last year’s 1.5 million hotel guests. In the coming year 10% growth in hotel guests is being targeted with 15% slated both for 2011 and 2012 as the destination moves towards 2.3 million by 2012 end.

The authority’s expansion will match that of the destination’s as more product – hotel rooms, golf courses and attractions – lift the potential and the proposition.

Upping The Ante
Substantial investment for 2010 is on the cards for the authority’s events, industry training, stakeholder and internal communications, destination marketing, business tourism initiatives, overseas promotion and data resourcing functions.

“We are fully committed to delivering value and performance for all stakeholders,” said Mubarak Al Muhairi, ADTA’s Director General. “The products and services we will deliver in carrying out our mandate will be broader in scope, more rigorous and more effective. We will adapt to change and continue to look strategically ahead.”

Strategy will be informed by the results of a 12 month visitor profiling exercise, due out next year, which will provide crucial insights into a variety of inbound tourism drivers. More than 5,000 visitors are being interviewed on a range of issues including spending patterns, length of stay, accommodation preferences and activities undertaken.

The survey, spanning a full year to gauge seasonality fluctuations, sees visitors surveyed at key entry points and attractions within the emirate, most predominantly on arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Results will be shared with industry stakeholders.

“Increasing competition within the international market place and particularly within our target high-end segment requires a corresponding sophisticated response for client fulfilment. To be able to plan and deliver a successful proposition we have to fully understand the habits and requirements of those visiting the emirate and who we hope will return repeatedly and become destination proponents," said Al Muhairi.

"To date there has been little solid data available to profile the range of tourists Abu Dhabi receives - business tourists, fully-inclusive tour guests or family and friend visitors. This initial survey will help address this paucity of vital information and will be complemented by a market segmentation and brand tracking studies.”

Eventful progress
More events are being lined up as the existing portfolio is enhanced. Quarter 1 next year will host the first Abu Dhabi International Triathlon which is set to be one of the world’s richest triathlon events. Open to both professionals and amateurs, the event will see up to 1,000 triathletes bid for a share of a six-figure dollar purse. As the contestants swim, cycle and run a course centred around the capital city and its environs, the community is expected to fully engage with the spectacle, cheering their favourites on and with young supporters inspired to emulate these athletic heroes in the future.

“Once again we are leveraging our sporting credentials to deliver an event which will resonate with a worldwide audience while encouraging fitness lifestyles among our own residents,” said Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, ADTA. “Other major sporting event initiatives are in the pipeline.”

Plans are also underway to mark the 20th anniversary of the Desert Challenge rally which has now evolved into the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. “This milestone in the rally’s history gives us the opportunity to celebrate its development and engage an even greater audience,” said Ahmed Hussein.

The annual culinary arts festival Gourmet Abu Dhabi will be expanded in size and scope. The 2010 event will run for 15 days from February 5, as opposed to last year’s 10-day launch edition. Special themed dinners will take in more venues and, following attendee feedback, a number of ladies’ only masterclasses have been built into the programme.

Business Tourism too is in for a boost with the first approved Advantage Abu Dhabi product  - the World Green Tourism Summit – now due to be held in the UAE capital in December 2010. A second product is now in the final assessment stage with an announcement imminent.

Highly classified and well-trained
Sector classification will expand to take in restaurants and desert camps while training initiatives will be progressively developed. ADTA’s Youth Tourism programme – an educational ‘summer camp’ for aspiring Emiratis - will be stepped up to increase enrolment by around one third.

“We hope next year to expand the intake to around 100 students and develop the curriculum more to include self-mastery skills following feedback from the class of 2009," explained Nasser Al Reyami, Director Tourism Standards, ADTA.

"This will upscale the programme's interactive capacity to enhance the team work, critical learning and presentation skills modules.”

The authority’s industry-wide professional development and training strategy is to gain momentum. Abu Dhabi's existing tourism industry workforce will benefit from mandatory, year-round, short-term training programmes, focused on customer-facing employees.

"We will address the rapid transformational pace of our industry and the multi-national nature of our workforce, to attain a unified and world-class standard in its quality delivery. It will streamline tservice delivery standards to create greater consistency and alignment with the respect and hospitality values of our brand," explained Al Reyami.

Another industry training strategic strand is aimed at evolving Abu Dhabi into the Middle East's centre for tourism and hospitality education and training. Exploratory talks are underway with renowned tourism and hospitality institutions to introduce both short-term and permanent programmes for local and regional students.

"Our professional development and training initiatives are being taken to build long-term destination competitiveness which we believe depends on consistent delivery of world-class service standards by a human resource pool of well-trained, committed and dedicated professionals," explained Al Reyami.

“Ultimately our differentiator will be the people power that will ensure uncompromising service levels totally aligned with our brand.”

Educate and excite
The coming year will also see the authority roll out a fully-fledged education tourism strategy which will take a three-pronged approach covering overseas school trips (OST), enrichment or personal development programmes (EPP) and corporate training (CT).

The OST segment will be based on a 2008 pilot programme involving students from Singapore's Raffles Junior College - which is recognised as the Lion City's top school, and which saw 23 students completing a five-day immersion learning mission to Abu Dhabi.

The programme will include interaction with Emirati students, visits to Al Ain and to major developers and attractions through the emirate. Educational Tourism as a product and visitor segment is seen as having strong potential for Abu Dhabi through increased visitations and awareness as well as competitive positioning.

"The student exchange is paramount to the success of this programme as the long-term aim is to have overseas students come to Abu Dhabi and their Emirati counterparts going out to see and interact with the world within an educational context," explained Al Muhairi.

The authority is to use key learnings from the pilot programme to enhance the OST strategy to target future groups from the GCC, Europe and Australia.

Pilot programmes are being developed for the EPP segment, which will typically engage people who combine travel with special interests such as sport, art, cookery, language and wellness activities, as well as the CT sector, which will attract leadership groups for short-term executive courses with a mix of classroom learning and site visits.

Reaching out
As the product expands so will its public outreach. The authority’s overseas network will be boosted by the addition of at least two overseas offices – one in the USA with feasibility studies on additional centres in Eastern Europe and Asia underway. “The new offices may be activated to serve regions, rather than specific countries,” explained Al Muhairi.

A permanent visitor centre is being built and manned at Mina (Port) Zayed to serve the growing cruise arrivals business.

A more comprehensive range of information collateral will be available to visitors calling at these centres. The authority’s Official Visitors Guide is to be updated twice-yearly and from 2010 will be available in German, French, Russian and Mandarin to complement the existing English and Arabic versions. From 2010, a dedicated handbook on accommodation options will also be produced.

Visitors will also be able to pick up any of a range of 31 fliers devoted to individual attractions throughout Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia, as well as cultural and lifestyle characteristics. Available in English and Arabic initially, these too will be produced in additional languages for early 2010 release.

A powerful motivational brochure is also to find its way to visitor centre shelves by 2009 end, again in seven languages, and will be complemented by an informative ’10 things to know’ guide to Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia. A series of destination posters are under production to be distributed to travel agents worldwide, while the New Year will also see the completion of a trade brochure, which will serve as a destination manual for travel professionals.

An online plan is being developed which could see social networks, such as Linkedin, used to update visitors and draw them to the ADTA web site.

Promotional Power
The authority’s marketing muscle is to be significantly honed over the coming 12 months. Next year will see the roll out of specially-commissioned destination video footage and a major international advertising campaign.

A public relations consultancy has been appointed to represent the authority and the destination in the crucial UK & Ireland, as well as the emerging Scandinavian markets. This is part of a global public relations strategy, which is being co-ordinated by headquarters to ensure geographic-specific solutions are delivered to individual markets.

Inbound trade and media familiarisation trips and overseas promotions, including major conference speaking engagements, precision-targeted sponsorship opportunities and trade fair participation are all being stepped up and will be increasingly activated in conjunction with stakeholder interests.

Cruising Ahead
By the end of next year, the authority will roll out a cruise tourism strategy and associated cruise terminal feasibility analysis.

The authority believes Abu Dhabi has strong potential to develop as a home or turnaround port for cruise ships operating in the Gulf which would deliver longer lengths of stay, additional accommodation use and increased vessel servicing.

“Key success factors for any cruise destination are the range, quality and market appeal of activities on offer, overall popularity and awareness of the destination, quality of back up facilities, such as medical and other services, reputation for safety, quality of cruise terminal and berthing facilities, professional cruise support services, competitiveness of port charges and other fees. In addition, a turn around port also needs good airport connections to main origin markets, a wide range of accommodation and suitable, preferably integrated, assembly and check in facilities. Abu Dhabi is already well on the way to exceeding many of these requirements,” said Lawrence Franklin, ADTA’s Strategy & Policy Director.

“This segment is an obvious fit for Abu Dhabi. On average cruise tourists spend over US $300 per visit and crew US $150. The market obviously ranges between low cost volume cruise business and very high end exclusive cruises. Abu Dhabi will be targeting the higher end segment.”

Abu Dhabi is witnessing growth in cruise tourism with the season running from October to May and the bulk of activity occurring in December to April.  Over 60 ships are due to call in Abu Dhabi during the 2009/2010 season, including some new operators bringing up to 190,000 visitors ashore.

Due to sail into Abu Dhabi next season are the 1,266 passenger capacity 'Aida Vida' of Germany's Aida Cruises, and the recently commissioned 'Costa Deliziosa' and 'Costa Luminosa', both of which have a 2,828 passenger capacity in addition to Royal Caribbean's 'Brilliance of the Seas,' with its 2,501 passenger capacity.

Going Green
With approved environmental, health and safety management systems (EHSMS)now in place for the authority and Abu Dhabi’s tourism sector, implementation across 50 nominated entities is due to begin in 2010. The systems were completed in record time and represent the destination’s first sector-wide EHSMS model. The first phase will involve all five-star hotels implementing, with the authority’s support, EHSMS plans, covering, among other things energy and waste conservation, the identification of environmental, health and safety risks and implementation of approved solutions. Work is also underway to progress an emirates-wide Green Hotels strategy which will extend from design to operational phases.

Engage and communicate

The authority’s Partners in Progress, first generation stakeholder programme launched to drive a unified approach to destination development and promotion, will find its feet. The programme’s twice-yearly, flagship Seyaha magazine will go quarterly and its five dedicated Industry Development Committees (IDC), spanning the accommodation, attractions, retail, business tourism and transport segments, will meet regularly with the authority to identify challenges and proffer solutions. One member of each IDC will also sit on and feed into an overarching industry consultative body and will be fully represented at an annual ‘state-of-the-industry’ forum.

Seeking direction
The New Year will see the authority establish an External Advisory Board aimed at assisting the continual generation and incubation of bold ideas. Made up of 12 members, all internationally recognised business, tourism or academic leaders, who will serve for a non-executive term of three years, the Board will convene every 12 months.

Members will provide strategic counsel on Abu Dhabi’s tourism sector development across areas such as product development, destination branding and communications, international promotions, tourism standards and human resource development.

The authority will also see a new Board of Directors elected to take it through the next half decade.

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