With some of Abu Dhabi’s most powerful people in attendance, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed officially opened the 1.4 kilometre-long Sheikh Khalifa bridge linking Abu Dhabi city with Saadiyat Island on 14 October.

The new bridge provides a high-speed
route into the congested capital of the UAE from the main highway to Dubai. It also delivers a message: Saadiyat, a hugely ambitious masterplanned tourism development, is open for business.

Saadiyat, Arabic for ‘happiness’, is an uninhabited, flat and largely featureless island. But in little more than a decade, it will be home to the Gulf’s largest cluster of major museums and art galleries (see feature, page 8).

Saadiyat is not the only project being developed by Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC). The company’s portfolio encompasses more than a dozen high-end hotel, residential and commercial developments, mainly in Abu Dhabi city itself.

But the island is its keynote project, the one that sets the tone for everything else the emirate is attempting, and is intended to be an iconic expression of Abu Dhabi’s long-term vision.

TDIC, which was created in 2006, is a master developer of large tourism destinations in different parts of the emirate. The likely cost of completing the Saadiyat masterplan is estimated to be about $27bn. Add the other projects under way and planned, and the total investment in TDIC developments could be more than $40bn, making the company the world’s leading investor in tourism projects.

Close links

TDIC’s close connection with the Abu Dhabi government’s tourism development vision is reflected in the fact that the company’s chairman, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan, is also chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (Adta). Mubarak al-Muhairi, the authority’s director general, is also TDIC’s managing director.

TDIC is the largest developer involved in executing Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030, a highly ambitious urban development strategy for Abu Dhabi city and the surrounding area.

The company’s projects are also an important part of the Al-Gharbia 2030 plan for Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, which is due to be announced by the end of 2009.

Cultural focus

TDIC’s most distinctive contribution to Gulf tourism, apart from the sheer scale of what it is doing, is its mandate to focus on culture rather than simply promoting holidaymaking. It is the opposite of the type of opportunistic hotel and resort builder responsible for ruining coastlines across the world.

“Since the establishment of TDIC, our vision has always focused on supporting a sustainable, prosperous and cultural future for Abu Dhabi,” Lee Tabler, chief executive officer of TDIC, tells MEED. “I believe that our significant progress to date and our determination to deliver our projects on time clearly indicates TDIC’s commitment to this vision and to maintaining its leading position in the tourism development sector.”

TDIC is more than just a government department. Capitalised with a massive endowment of land, TDIC acts like a commercial enterprise and has leveraged its assets to raise some of the finance it needs.

Three rating agencies have awarded the company investment grades: Moody’s Investor Services with Aa2, and Standard & Poor’s and Fitch both with AA.

This places TDIC among the most credit- worthy businesses in the Middle East, and at the top of the list of real estate companies to which banks most want to lend.

The agencies say their rating is equal to that given to the government of Abu Dhabi itself, despite the fact the company has not received an unconditional state liability guarantee. TDIC’s status as a wholly owned Adta subsidiary helped to convince them that state financial support would always be there if needed.

Having secured a credit-rating, TDIC quickly tapped the global market, and in July launched $1bn worth of five-year sukuk (Islamic bonds) under a $3bn global medium-term note programme. The notes attracted more than $6bn in orders from about 300 investors.

The deal was organised by a syndicate of arrangers and book runners that comprised French bank BNP Paribas, the US’ Citi, and the UK’s HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank. The banks acted with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi as joint lead managers for the issue. The local Allied Investment Partners was TDIC’s financial adviser.

The money raised provides the funds required by TDIC’s accelerating real estate investment programme. Existing TDIC commitments include projects being carried out in joint ventures with other investors.

The 301-room Traders Hotel, which is located between the Maqta and Mussafah bridges on the eastern side of the channel separating Abu Dhabi Island from the mainland, was developed in partnership with the local Al-Jaber Group.

The nearby 360-room Fairmont Bab al-Bahr is the fruit of a partnership with the Al-Fahim Group, also of Abu Dhabi.

Further developments

TDIC’s developments outside the capital include the Qasr al-Sarab desert resort in Liwa, which opened in October 2009, and plans for the Desert Islands programme, which also encompasses tourism developments on Sir Bani Yas Island.

The cultural projects such as those on Saadiyat and Bani Yas, on which work is now getting under way, represent a huge challenge for TDIC’s management.

“TDIC has a considered approach to development and is committed to sustainability and respect for local traditions,” says James Pringle, executive director of the company.

“We build our diverse project portfolio in line with Abu Dhabi’s broader vision and mission, and are committed to delive ing on time, on budget and to the highest quality standards.”

What is on offer is the chance to be in at the beginning of one of the biggest tourism investment programmes ever undertaken.

“In line with the 2030 vision of the Abu Dhabi government, which places importance on economic diversification through partnering with the private sector, TDIC offers investment opportunities in its tourism and leisure assets,” says Tabler.

The prize is a big one. “TDIC’s developments are helping to realise Abu Dhabi’s considerable tourism potential and its strategic goal of delivering 2.7 million hotel guests annually by 2012,” says Tabler. “There is no doubt that TDIC is playing an integral role in Abu Dhabi’s transformation and will continue to do so for years to come.”

TDIC key projects

Saadiyat Island projects

  • Saadiyat Cultural District Centrepiece of the island. Four centres for arts and culture.
  • Louvre Abu Dhabi Bids invited in October for the $1bn construction contract.
  • Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Prequalifying bids have been invited for the contract to build the 45,000-square-metre museum.
  • Zayed National Museum Designs by -Norman Foster & Associates due late 2009; museum set to open 2013.
  • Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre -Designs are being finalised.
  • Saadiyat Beach5.3-square-kilometre district with nine five-star beach -resort hotels and luxury housing.
  • Saadiyat Marina 3.7 sq km district that will be home to Maritime -Museum Abu Dhabi.
  • Saadiyat Promenade 930,000 sq m promenade.
  • Saadiyat Lagoons 3.5 sq km development of low-rise residences.
  • Saadiyat Reserve 4.8 sq km district with low-density, low-rise housing.
  • Saadiyat Retreat 750,000 sq m district in the island’s far northeast.

Infrastructure

  • 10-lane highway from the Abu Dhabi—Dubai road opened in October.
  • 400Kv power grid is in place, four 132Kv substations planned.

Other projects

  • Qasr al-Sarab 154-room desert resort and associated 52 villas in the Liwa oasis area.
  • Desert Islands Development of a group of islands off the western coast of Abu Dhabi.
  • Other hotel and real estate projects
  • Abu Dhabi Island Four hotels
  • Al-Bateen WharfRedevelopment
  • Abu Dhabi Golf Resort Refurbishing
  • Bridgeway Abu Dhabi Development along the Abu Dhabi airport road
  • Regent Emirates Pearl Abu Dhabi Hotel
  • Adta /TDIC New headquarters