Hoteliers in Abu Dhabi say there are signs of a recovery in the travel sector, as the number of visitors to the emirate last year beat targets.
More than 1.8 million visitors stayed in Abu Dhabi's 114 hotels and hotel apartments last year, up 18 per cent from 2009, according to new figures released by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
Guests also stayed longer in hotels, at an average of 2.83 nights each. The ADTA said the region beat its hotel guest target by 8 per cent.
"Demand is coming back," said Konstanze Auernheimer, the director of marketing and analysis at the hotel research company STR Global. "More people are staying in hotels again."
Follow our Business tweets - twitter.com/biznationaluae
Officials at the ADTA credited the region's expansion of tourist attractions as a driver for the growth in visitors. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and new golf courses brought in many tourists, as did international events such as World Green Tourism Abu Dhabi and the Formula One Grand Prix.
"The Government is pretty committed to provide incentives to travel to that destination," said Ms Auernheimer.
Lower hotel rates also boosted visitor numbers. In the first half of last year, average rates in Abu Dhabi fell by 26 per cent, in sharp contrast to the 38 per cent increase a year earlier, according to a survey conducted last year by the corporate travel services company Hogg Robinson Group.
During the first half of 2009, Abu Dhabi was the only city among the top 10 most expensive to live in that recorded a rise in average daily rate, although due to new hotel openings, overall occupancy rates were down.
"Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi has faced a substantial fall in occupancy combined with ongoing new hotel developments, set to continue for some time to come," the report from Hogg Robinson Group warned.
Officials from the ADTA have acknowledged that more competitive pricing last year did lure additional visitors. But occupancies in Abu Dhabi fell 10 per cent, which left revenues flat at Dh4.2 billion (US$1.14bn) compared with 2009.
"The main problem is you have so many hotel rooms that need to be filled," said Ms Auernheimer. "That's hindering the recovery.
"I think for the long term, it's looking pretty good that the supply will hopefully be absorbed. But there's a lot of supply coming so the short term might not be as pretty."
The ADTA has an ambitious goal to attract 1.9 million guests this year, which would contribute slightly more than 11 per cent to the emirate's overall non-oil GDP.
The emirate has already seen a boost in domestic tourism. Residents in the UAE accounted for more than 40 per cent of the hotel rooms filled last year, up 16 per cent from 2009.
Visitors from neighbouring GCC countries increased more sharply, with the number of guests from Saudi Arabia growing by 26 per cent, Oman 35 per cent, and Kuwait 28 per cent.
Yet international visitors remain Abu Dhabi's biggest tourism growth area, according to the ADTA. The number of tourists from the UK increased 22 per cent, the US 16 per cent, and France 6 per cent. And more than 14,500 visitors from China came to Abu Dhabi, up 29 per cent from 2009.