Saadiyat Island dream in Abu Dhabi nearing reality

The Park Hyatt and St Regis resorts are set to open their doors on a pristine beach on Saadiyat Island this year. The luxury development is crucial for Abu Dhabi's plans to expand its tourism industry.

Clear turquoise waters gently lap the island's white sand shore. Palm trees rustle in the breeze and tourists are dotted around the beach.

By the end of the year, this marketer's dream is set to become a reality at Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi as the beach district opens up to what is expected to be a flood of wealthy guests.

In October, the Dh1 billion (US$272 million) Park Hyatt resort will open its doors, while the vast St Regis resort, the first in Abu Dhabi under the Starwood luxury brand, will open a month later. Its cost has not been disclosed. Nearby, the Monte Carlo Beach Club will be up and running in the second quarter of this year.

"This 9km stretch of pristine white sand beach hasn't been accessible because hotels haven't developed it to date," says John Pelling, the general manager of the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort.

"This brings a leisure proposition to Abu Dhabi that might not have existed previously."

Originally estimated to cost $27bn to develop, Saadiyat is a flagship project for Abu Dhabi and will eventually be home to the Guggenheim and Louvre museums.

In the years ahead, the luxury resort will be crucial to Abu Dhabi's plans to expand its tourism industry. By 2030, the Emirates' capital aims to attract 7.9 million guests annually.

Tourism this year is expected to account for 11.1 per cent of the city's non-oil economy.

"This will be the year of opening a great deal of projects on Saadiyat Island and for people to really experience the island," says Noaf Tahlak, the marketing manager for the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which was showcasing the Saadiyat Beach development at the ITB Berlin show last week, the world's largest travel exhibition.

TDIC is the master developer of Saadiyat Island and is hopeful the destination will become the emirate's new "tourism hot spot".

"I think there will be better opportunities as the area opens up," says Ray Manulat, the general manager of Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, which opened last year. "As Saadiyat, Yas Island and the other developments continue to grow, the destination becomes more attractive for both international travellers and domestic guests."

But there are still challenges ahead for Saadiyat. The sprawling development will not be completed until 2020, and there are seven more hotels planned for the beach district alone, including the Mandarin Oriental and the Shangri-La.

"There's always a chicken-and-egg situation when you build a destination," says Jalil Mekouar, the managing director for the Middle East and Africa of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels.

"Whoever is the first is going to benefit from the first mover's advantage, even though not all the infrastructure will be in place. It's going to probably be a bit of a challenge at the beginning.

"These strong brands have customer loyalty. They act as magnets."

The Park Hyatt and the St Regis resort on Saadiyat Island want to bring extra tourists to Abu Dhabi rather than enticing guests from the city's numerous luxury hotels.

"Our main market, which revolves around European tourists, is in the winter, so if we are opening in September or October, that would be a very good time to attract people to our hotel and Saadiyat Island," says Salik Mangrio, the director of sales and marketing for the Park Hyatt hotel on the island.

He said the Park Hyatt would not be in direct competition with the nearby St Regis resort. "We will be complementing each other," he says. "Overall, [the hotels] will attract more leisure travellers to the location."

At the St Regis resort, Mr Pelling is realistic about occupancy rates until Saadiyat is fully developed.

"Will my hotel be 100 per cent full on November 1?" he asks. "No, probably not in reality. I think we need to see the destination grow over the months and years and look at this as a long-term proposition for Abu Dhabi.

"I do think once the word is out and people see the beauty of the island, it will be a tremendous opportunity."