Sir Baniyas Island and Al Gharbia in focus for tourism authority

Island's airport due for upgrade with cruise stops added, with Saudi tourists a factor in Al Gharbia.

The capital’s tourism authority is working to upgrade the status of the Sir Baniyas Island airport and add cruise stops in two years to accommodate the rising demand from tourists.

The Tourism and Culture Authority of Abu Dhabi will also set up a development committee for Al Gharbia and a visitors’ centre at its border outpost Al Gweifhat aimed at overland visitors from Saudi Arabia. The region, which accounts for 60 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s landmass but less than 10 per cent of its population, has nine hotels in the region.

“We need more flights to the region to feed the increase in [number of tourists],” said Mohammed Al Dhaheri, the strategy and policy director of TCA Abu Dhabi, at the second Al Gharbia Development Forum. “And we need to have hotels that will provide good rates and activities [besides] water sports facilities.”

And more hotels are in the pipeline.

The National Corporation for Tourism and Hotels (NCTH), which manages the four-star Tilal Liwa Hotel and Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort, is investing Dh100 million in a 110-room property in the region.

“There are mega-projects there and the region is emerging as a tourist destination,” said Walid Harouni, the director of hotels division at NCTH, which entered the region in 1996.

Al Dhabi Contracting Company is working on a Dh500 million property in Ruwais shaped like a sand dune called The Ridge. It would have 200 rooms and 35 chalets along the coast.

Another called Al Dhafra Inn will add 120 rooms and 20 chalets in Madinat Zayed City, and is expected in the next two years.

Abu Dhabi’s hotel operator Rotana, which has 13 properties in the emirate, does not yet have any properties in the region.

“We are currently in discussion with a few investors to manage properties in this promising area,” said Makram El Zyr, the corporate vice president of development at Rotana.

But at least one hotel developer is facing some roadblocks.

“It is difficult to find financing in Al Gharbia,” said Mohammed Khalfan Al Hameli, the chairman of Gayathi-based Al Marina Investment, which has interests in real estate, restaurants and labour camps. It is putting 120 rooms in Madinat Zayed City in the four-star segment.

The number of guests to the region shot up by 114 per cent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, even though the number of rooms rose by 74 per cent. The returns on hotel investments touched Dh67.3 million, up 83 per cent, in the first quarter.

“The problem the region faces is with the average length of guest stay — which is currently coming in at only 2.64 nights with average occupancy at 65 per cent,” said TCA’s Mr Al Dhaheri. “Nevertheless we are heading in the right direction as occupancy is up 12 per cent on last year.

Mirfa’s fishing villages and the sand dunes of Rub Al Khali in Liwa have put these sleepy towns in Al Gharbia Vision 2030 tourism development plans. Delma Island and Gayathi are also on the radar. These towns have also been identified as having real estate needs.

Tourism currently generates around Dh200 million towards the region’s GDP. Within 20 years, it expects to attract 2 million visitors, especially those coming overland from neighbouring Gulf countries. The regional GDP, excluding oil and gas, will rise to about Dh60 billion by 2030 from Dh15bn. The population is also expected to triple to 450,000.

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Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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