Business is key to Abu Dhabi’s strategy for attracting 2.3 million visitors by the end of 2012. The emirate is raising its profile as a business destination in several ways: by building more hotels, investing in public transport infrastructure, and setting up a dedicated business tourism division of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (Adta). But most importantly, it is extending the conference and exhibition facilities in a new, mainland district of Abu Dhabi, the Capital Centre. 

When completed, the $2.1bn Capital Centre will house an extended Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, commercial and residential towers, a shopping mall and a $303m, 35-storey mixed-use tower, Capital Gate.

The UK’s Halcrow is the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) consultant on the main Adnec expansion project, which is due to be finished in late 2011. The local Al-Habtoor Engineering is the EPC contractor on the tower project ,which is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2010, and the UK’s Mace International is the project manager.

The exhibition complex will include 57,000 square metres of exhibition floor space, a 21,000 sq m visitor area and 7,500 sq m of multi-purpose exhibition halls. Conference facilities will accommodate 1,200 delegates.

Accommodation pledge

A central landscaped plaza has been designed to host outdoor events, while an air-conditioned, enclosed footbridge, designed by the UK’s Halcrow and Denmark’s Dissing & Weitling, spans the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway to connect the facilities with the marina that is also part of the development.

Adnec is hoping the completed centre will attract 35-40 exhibitions and 50-60 conferences a year. The emirate won a victory in November 2008 when it bid successfully to host the 12,000-delegate World Ophthalmology Congress in 2012, which has been running since 1857. This event makes meeting Adta’s pledge to provide 24,000 hotel rooms by that year crucial if the emirate is to be a successful host.

Hotel accommodation is currently in short supply in the emirate, making hotel building a central plank of its tourism strategy. The Capital Gate tower will house a 200-room luxury hotel managed by the US’ Hyatt when completed in 2010.

In October, Abu Dhabi’s second-largest hotel, the 408-room Aloft Hotel operated by the US’ Starwood Hotels & Resorts, opened. Linked directly to the exhibition centre, the hotel is targeting business visitors.

“The high demand and relatively low supply of hotel space in Abu Dhabi is a concern for our international exhibitors and visitors, so I am delighted that the first hotel to open at Adnec will be the city’s second largest and one of its most competitively priced,” says Simon Horgan, group chief executive officer of Adnec.

While Adta is playing a major role in ensuring sufficient hotel supply for visitors, its business tourism division has a brief to market the emirate as a suitable venue.

In March, Adta launched the Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative, designed to offer resources – both financial and non-financial – to exhibition and conference organisers, aimed at attracting more business events to the
UAE capital.

Organisers can apply to the initiative for start-up financial grants, government endorsement, cost rebates and marketing support if the topic of the event falls within one of 12 categories including petrochemicals and healthcare.

While the growth of Abu Dhabi’s airline, Etihad, since it was established in 2003 to cover 58 destinations around the world has significantly improved air links, Adnec’s location on the mainland rather than Abu Dhabi Island means that when the new Al-Maktoum International airport opens in Jebel Ali next summer, conference visitors to Abu Dhabi will be less than an hour’s drive from the world’s largest airport.

Transport infrastructure is a key ingredient in being a popular destination for conference and exhibition organisers. While Adnec expects the domestic UAE market to deliver strong business visitor numbers, it is emerging markets such as China that Abu Dhabi is targeting outside the GCC.

Earlier this year, Adta had a promotional pavilion at the China Incentive Business Travel & Meetings show in Shanghai to raise awareness among Chinese exhibition organisers.

“This is one of today’s most important markets,” Mubarak al-Muhairi, director general of Adta, told the UAE press in April this year.

Abu Dhabi has a strong business tourism competitor in neighbouring Dubai, where hotel rooms are cheaper and there are more air links. Adta and Adnec have the plans in place to build a business tourism destination to rival Dubai, but the results will not be evident
until at least 2012, when the Capital Centre is fully functioning.