Abu Dhabi: The fastest growing business destination in the Middle East
Abu Dhabi is an absolute pearl of a city, leveraging its traditional economic acumen and naturally beautiful surroundings to produce a modern-day offering fit for all demographics
Fast becoming a key contender across all significant success barometers on a global scale, Abu Dhabi’s prominence as a thriving economic entity certainly isn’t a new realisation, but its ability to match financial prosperity with tourist accessibility is proving a formidable modern day combination.
The main beneficiary of such a combo is inevitably the business traveller; the new sect of suit-meets-swimsuit individual that requires conference room, boardroom and professionalism competencies, yet covets fine dining, copious leisure facilities and spectacular scenery.
As the capital and political and industrial centre of the UAE, yet also a holiday hotspot; Abu Dhabi ticks these boxes more pertinently than most. And as the city’s Convention Bureau alludes to throughout this guide to this island-situated pearl, the extent of business activities heading to the city epitomises better than any words how important Abu Dhabi has become.
It has climbed the world rankings in recent years to become one of the top meeting destinations for globally significant industry events; now being talked about in the same bracket as Hamburg, Chicago, Valencia and San Francisco.
“[It is] reflective of Abu Dhabi’s strides to gain recognition as a prime destination for the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions industry,” said HE Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) back in 2016. “Our business event ambitions have also been recognised by the World Travel Awards, which named Abu Dhabi the Middle East’s Leading Meetings and Conference Destination in 2015. We are encouraged that the number of business events taking place within Abu Dhabi continues to grow, having climbed steadily from 24 in 2013 to 35 in 2015.”
The variety of these events is exhibited in their range from exclusive events to large conventions attracting more than 3,000 delegates, such as the World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) hosted at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) in March, 2015.
Global events of this calibre place Abu Dhabi at the forefront of the agenda for major conventions and conferences, providing strong evidence of the city’s ability to ensure the success of large, significant occasions.
“Abu Dhabi’s growth as a global meetings destination has been identified with several key contributing factors,” introduces the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau’s Director, Mubarak Al Shamisi. “Unique opportunities found within the emirate include the availability of headline attractions, new luxury resorts, and a commitment to high standards of service and excellence.
“Accessibility has also been cited as a contributing factor to Abu Dhabi’s high ranking among global meetings locations. The emirate is situated at the centre of three continents and is within a five-hour flight’s distance for half of the world’s population.”
Facts and figures
Country: United Arab Emirates
Languages: Arabic, English, Persian, Urdu, Hindi
Area: 972 square kilometres
Population (2015): 2.8 million
GDP (2015): US$262 billion
Currency: UAE dirham
Time zone: UTC+4
Dialling code: +971
Internet TLD: .ae
Climate: Hot desert
Highest recorded temperature: 49.2°C
The business end
Traditionally potent across the pearl trade sector as well as in the oil & gas domain, prior to its more recent exposure to manufacturing, construction, finance, retail and technology industries, the modern multiculturalism of the city, and its subsequent appeal as a foreign direct investment opportunity lends Abu Dhabi perfectly to the business event scene; and by proxy, the business travel visitor.
Abu Dhabi has continued to invest in efforts to develop and upgrade event organisation facilities in order to promote an accurate record of events hosted within the emirate.
The Events Licensing Service (ELS), recently announced by TCA Abu Dhabi, introduces a standardised online platform that will streamline the official registration of all events administered, organised and managed across the emirate. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi also aims to develop premier venues such as ADNEC in order to promote the destination to international and regional events. In 2014, significant developments were introduced to ADNEC’s outdoor exhibition spaces adjacent to the Grandstand building, as well as the Central Plaza.
Responsible for leading this drive is the aforementioned Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau which, as a division of TCA Abu Dhabi, is a dedicated one-stop entity which supports the growth of exhibitions, conferences, meetings and incentives within the emirate by forging closer links with the industry and providing a full range of support.
“Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau can assist with any planner’s needs and acts as a one-stop shop, offering free advice, help with planning and local knowledge. Key assistance includes researching bid opportunities, assisting with a tailored bid strategy to ensure competitiveness, providing destination promotional collateral, and boosting delegate numbers through the authority’s international offices,” explains Al Shamisi. “The Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau team provides co-ordination with local partners, and helps arrange introductions to key Abu Dhabi stakeholders, secures support from mainline industry and tourism leaders, and assists with government liaison, researching appropriate venues, offering PR and marketing support, and providing innovative activities and pre- and post- conference ideas.
“Our groundbreaking Advantage Abu Dhabi is aimed at catalysing and seeding innovative and viable business events aligned to the Abu Dhabi Government’s 2030 Economic Vision.”
Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau
Established in March, 2013, Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau drives and supports the development and promotion of business events throughout the emirate efficiently, effectively, and transparently, and in partnership with all its stakeholders. Its main mission is to champion the emirate as a dynamic global business events leader.
Significant strides to this end were made in 2016 via numerous bids to host a number of key conferences in the coming years.
In total, the Bureau successfully submitted successful applications along with partners and stakeholders to host 14 conferences which are expected to attract more than 35,000 delegates.
“The Convention Bureau recorded a record-breaking 2016 making significant strides in attracting business into the emirate by leading and supporting bids to host a number of key conferences,” Al Shamisi says. “We are targeting conferences, congress and association meetings from sectors identified as pillars of the 2030 Vision; education, healthcare, transport, energy and sustainability. A key objective is bringing Government, public and private sectors together under a ‘one Abu Dhabi’ for bid developments; also driving development of an ambassador programme and encouraging UAE participation in international associations.”
Europe & Middle East Outlook (EME): To this end, how would you say Abu Dhabi has developed in recent years as a business travel hub and what are the key reasons behind its growing appeal?
Mubarak Al Shamisi (MAS): While we are continuing to work on long-term bids - up to 2025 - we are getting quite a few short- term leads. We are seeing an increase in regional meetings coming to Abu Dhabi as well. We are also seeing a real interest from International Associations looking to expand their activities and membership base in the region. Business Tourism has been identified as a primary segment of a holistic strategy for Abu Dhabi’s tourism sector which could lead to up to four percent GDP contribution by 2021, and MICE growth of seven percent.
Abu Dhabi will focus on regional markets and maintain its current share from nearby source markets that are experiencing large growth which could yield 660,000 visitors per year by 2021.
EME: In line with this, how have the influence and saturation of business events grown in Abu Dhabi in recent years and what makes the city so appealing to prospective events?
MAS: Recent statistics from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) show that the number of association meetings taking place in the emirate has grown steadily from four in 2005 to 35 in 2015, catapulting the UAE capital into 73rd place of the MICE industry’s leading industry ranking. The city is becoming more appealing to prospective events as it strives to become a world-class destination, attracting record numbers of guest arrivals. In 2016 Abu Dhabi welcomed 4.4 million hotel guest arrivals - a sixth consecutive record - and this year is aiming to attract 4.9 million guest arrivals.
EME: What are the biggest events to have been held in Abu Dhabi in the past, and the main events expected to take place in the city in the future?
MAS: Major bids supported and won in 2016 include the hosting of the Special Olympics in 2019, which is expected to attract 10,000 participants, the International Conference in Medicine & the Healthcare Professions - Ottawa Conferences in 2018, and the World Obesity Federation - Gulf Regional Conference on Obesity in 2017.
Other significant bids won in 2016 related to medicine include the 6th Congress of the World Union of Wound Healing Societies, which will attract an estimated 6,000 professionals to Abu Dhabi in 2020 and the Wonca World Conference 2020, which specialises in family medicine which will also be held in 2020 with around 4,000 delegates.
Among the key events earmarked for the emirate this year are World Skills, the world’s largest vocational skills competition, which is set to take place in October in Abu Dhabi with 7,000 young participants anticipated from 76 countries. In December, up to 15,000 members of the global diabetes community will converge in the emirate to take part in the International Diabetes Federation 2017 Congress. 2018 will also be another busy year for the emirate as the Bureau continues its momentum with the hosting of the World Roads Congress and the World Energy Congress.
Out and about
Events such as WordSkills, the World Diabetes Congress, the World Cargo Symposium and the World Energy Congress will inevitably bring large swathes of visitors to the city over the coming years, an indictment of the appeal that Abu Dhabi now has within the business fraternity.
For each visiting individual however, the city of Abu Dhabi offers a whole lot more than business acumen and vast expo floors. When addressing the ‘vacation’ part of ‘bizcation’, a diverse and multicultural plethora of sights and activities await.
As home to a number of cultural institutions, any notion of it being a solely modern city is cast aside, however, it is still fair to say that the overall appeal of Abu Dhabi veers more towards a younger demographic of visitor.
Cuisine is geared towards the experimental and the ‘give it a try’ sect of tourist, with most international options catered for, and while the sale of alcoholic beverages is regulated, it’s probably best to stay sober while experiencing its numerous sport and leisure facilities anyway.
The Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, Yas Links Golf Club, Wadi Adventure, and Ferrari World all provide athletic and adrenaline pumping ways to enjoy your time outside of the boardroom or expo centre, while Emirates Tours and Safari LLC, Zaya Nurai Island, and Yas Island all present opportunities to get out into nature.
Numerous souks and malls facilitate any visiting shopaholics, and coming back full circle to a more cultural pursuit; the 2017 unveiling of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to birth one of the Middle East’s most spectacular museums.
Sport and Leisure
Abu Dhabi’s marine culture is world renowned, and within that domain, the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club (ADIMSC) is equally revered on an international scale. Operational for 14 years as an organisational base for a plethora of marine sports events and activities, it has not only become a landmark upon the city’s shoreline, but has become one of the sport’s most significant locations; hosting varios rounds of Powerboat world championships. “The club is one of the Middle East’s leading venues for marine sports events at local, national, regional and international level,” the Company enthuses.
For a more purposeful and competitive way to see some of the scenic wonders that Abu Dhabi has to offer, the Yas Links golf club is the perfect combination of sporting prowess and local feel. With some of the key landmarks of the city visible from the different parts of the course, the Club rightfully boasts “a course that will enhance both your game and your senses”.
“Adventure is all that matters!” is the rallying cry from Wadi Adventure in Al Ain, the Middle East’s first man-made whitewater rafting, kayaking and surfing facility. Perhaps more of a tourist destination, it’s certainly not to say that the adrenaline pumping, state-of-the-art park - set upon a stunning backdrop - wouldn’t suit a business trip or out-of-office thrill as well.
Labelled as intriguing and enthralling, it’s fair to say that both buzzwords are more than apt even when walking up to the entrance of Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel (AFOC&H). Stunning architectural design meets astute luxury and customer service to create one of the premier hotels in the city; offering unmatched “five-star Arabic hospitality”.
Of course, five-star luxury is nothing unique in Abu Dhabi, so the need to differentiate within your final execution and service is of paramount importance; something which Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort achieves spectacularly as a result of scenic beauty, astute business event hosting facilities, fine dining, excellent spa facilities and extra leisure activities to create an award-winning option.
With the pearl so intrinsically linked to the city’s history - especially in economic terms - Al Marfa’s responsibility to meet tradition with modern luxury is lived up to comprehensibly. Adopting the pearl colours of the sea into its make-up, the business’s Mirfa and Liwn hotels are two of the most coveted and revered hospitality options in the city.
As one of the city’s leading tour operators and event managemrnt companies, it has thrived off the back of Abu Dhabi’s increased visitor numbers over the years, offering a direct route into the most natural and ornate areas of the region. It’s “vision to pave the way for Abu Dhabi’s finest desert tourism” is something not to miss out on.
Transport and Hospitality
Facilitating both aforementioned facets of modern day Abu Dhabi life - work and play - is an ongoing upgrade of the city’s transport links, especially regarding air and road travel. The visa process has also become more streamlined in recent years to aid efficiencies as demand to enter the city increases.
Increases have reached as much as 17 percent in some comparative year-on-year statistics since 2015, and falling into line with these improvements have been general enhancements of the city’s public transport array too.
Public busses, taxis, ferries and air links have all been improved upon and modernised, and in all truth, there is no real cut and dry reason to choose one over the other. It largely comes down to personal preference, where you need to be, and how long you have to get there when deciding on the best way to travel around internally.
From a hospitality perspective, luxury hotels have been cited as a strong factor for the increasing number of global meetings taking place in Abu Dhabi, and growing appeal to the business travel demographic consequently. Locations such as Emirates Palace and Jumeirah at Etihad Towers offer their own exclusive event venues, while leisure facilities such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld provide engaging alternatives for event planners.
Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel, Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort, and Al Marfa Pearl Hotels Management LLC are further examples of Abu Dhabi’s plentiful hotel assortment.
And event organisers and delegates are also subsequently taking advantage of the significant tourism options provided by Abu Dhabi from year-round sunshine to a selection of popular beaches.
Yas Marina / Formula 1 Abu Dhabi
“[Each November], the Yas Marina Circuit hosts F1's only twilight race. Creating a magical atmosphere as day turns to night under the lights there is no better place to see the stars of F1 shine. This is a comfortable, modern venue, with excellent hospitality, and an abundance of off-track attractions from the thrill of Ferrari World to the concerts in Yas Arena. Very much looked-forward to, the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi, its glamour and amazing circuit as well as its top-class entertainment constitute the perfect ending for yet another brilliant Formula 1 season.” - Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
“The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center (SZGMC) was established by decree in 2008. According to the decree, the SZGMC aims to emphasise on the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s noble deeds and contributions to humanity, in a way that commemorates his legacy and memory,” explains the Center. It also cooperates with research centres, academic institutions and religious entities, to primarily enhance its appeal as a cultural tourism destination.
Abu Dhabi Heritage Village
“Run by the Emirates Heritage Club, this reconstruction of a traditional oasis village provides an interesting glimpse into the emirate’s past. Traditional aspects of the desert way of life, including a campfire with coffee pots, a goats’ hair tent, and a falaj irrigation system, are attractively displayed in the open museum.” - Visit Abu Dhabi
“Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is designed for those with an appetite for G-force and velocity. Home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, this is the only place on the planet where you can be blasted to 240km/h in 4.9 seconds, just for fun! Take a look at just a few of our favourite things to do at this one of a kind theme park.” - YasIsland.ae