Abu Dhabi expects six million hotel guests in 2018, as the emirate ramps up efforts to promote tourism, the director-general of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) said.
"Visitor numbers have gone up, we ended the year 2017 with around five million hotel guests – official numbers have yet to be published but there is definitely a ramp up," Saif Saeed Ghobash told The National. "We have witnessed around a 10 per cent year-on-year increase which is quite phenomenal. For this year, as we have closed 2017 with 4.9 million hotel guests, we should hit six million in 2018."
The largest visitor increases came from India and China, as a result of the UAE introducing visas on arrival for Chinese tourists in 2016. New tourism products such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros studios on Yas Island have diversified the offering for families and other tourists that visit the emirate, Mr Ghobash said.
“We continue to invest a lot in promoting the emirate abroad in our source markets and are very optimistic about the future,” he added.
Abu Dhabi is vying to grow its travel and tourism industry despite global and regional headwinds. The emirate received a record 4.4 million tourists in 2016, 8 per cent more from the previous year, according to official statistics.
The emirate is benefiting from widening its arts and culture offerings with the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi – the only regional presence of France's famed museum. Abu Dhabi hopes to attract art enthusiasts and other visitors from around the world.
A free mobile phone app will be launched by DCT on February 27 specifically aimed at promoting cultural activities in Abu Dhabi, Mr Ghobash said, in line with a state-commissioned television campaign launched this month.
The ‘Culture’ app is targeted at residents and visitors and is intended to provide information on Abu Dhabi’s “cultural ecosystem”, especially for digitally enabled millennials.
“One of our jobs as a department is to increase awareness of and preserve our culture by increasing engagement with it, and you have to keep up with the times. Maybe back in the day you’d publish books and go on roadshows at universities," Mr Ghobash said. "Today it’s just easy to make sure you have something easy to understand at your fingertips.”
The emirate is also supporting start-ups operating in the tourism industry. A consortium that includes the DCT, Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, Etihad Aviation Group and real estate developer Miral – said they were partnering with venture capital firm Wamda Capital to launch an accelerator programme for travel and tourism-focused start-ups.
Each of the four organisations will put up $100,000 of capital to one of four winning start-ups that is most relevant to their business, and help incubate the start-up. Wamda will assist in the selection process and offer support and advice to participants. The initiative, called Fikra Labs, is also supported by the emirate’s financial free zone, Abu Dhabi Global Market..
“This is the first round that we are pioneering here and I don’t think it will be the last," Mr Ghobash said. "Fingers crossed we will see...more rounds of this and this could evolve into something grander than something with a platform of just a few weeks.”