Capital's overseas inspiration is brought out closer to home

Abu Dhabi Model Economies: The National's special series on the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 examines the tourism industry within the capital.

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The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) had no shortages of countries to choose from when it developed its initial strategy to diversify the capital's tourism sector.

From Singapore to South Korea, Australia to New Zealand and elsewhere, different countries have provided insight for creating a robust tourism industry in Abu Dhabi as everything from a motor racing circuit to an amusement park has popped up in the emirate.

Similarities with tourism development in other countries such as Egypt, Hong Kong, the Maldives and Malaysia have also been examined.

"ADTA, like many other government agencies, does a lot of benchmarking and exploratory and comparative work with other economies," says Lawrence Franklin, the strategy and policy director for ADTA.

"We're evolving at a much more compressed time frame than a lot of these other countries, and that's why we can benefit [from using them as a] benchmark.

"They're not all perfect, and their solutions haven't ultimately been the best, and we may well come up with other alternatives," adds Mr Franklin. The result on the ground, so far, is an eclectic mix of tourist attractions that cater as much to car and boat-racing enthusiasts as cultural buffs interested in visiting sites such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village.

What's still missing, however, is a more subtle incorporation of Emirati culture in "the 'soft side' of the tourism experience", says Mr Franklin. "We've done a lot of good work, obviously, on the big, shiny hotels and other things that we desperately need, but we need to keep this tradition and history bubbling up into the tourism proposition as well," he says.

Mr Franklin points to the Al Maqta bridge. It is known by many who travel through the region simply as "the bridge we go over on the way to Abu Dhabi", he says.

"[But] for local people, the significance [of the bridge] is that it's the original crossing place and entry to the island. Those things need to have more prominence," he says.

* Neil Parmar