Tourism authority will regulate desert safari camps

The new classification system will rank the authenticity of the camps based on criteria including henna demonstrations, falconry, dune skiing and camel riding.

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ABU DHABI // Tourists will soon have a better chance of experiencing an authentic Emirati desert safari, as the municipality plans to roll out a classification system for desert camps this month.

Considered one of the emirate's fastest growing tourism attractions, desert camps will now be regulated by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). Camps and safaris will need to meet at least five of 11 standard criteria to receive municipality-approved designation.

The activities that will fulfil classification requirements include henna demonstrations, falconry, dune skiing and camel riding.

"These new regulations will ensure tourists get a positive experience of Abu Dhabi and all the touch points that come with it," said Nasser al Reyami, the tourism standards director for ADTA.

The classification process will begin this month, and operators will have six months to implement the criteria before official classifications will be made. To obtain a licence for a camp - for both day and night trips - operators will need to receive classification.

The criteria will at first apply only to a 36sq km section in Al Khatem, a plot about 85km from Abu Dhabi city in Al Ain. Five other sites in the emirate will begin operating in the coming months. Two others - one in Al Wagan in Al Ain and one off Ghayathi Road in Liwa - have already been identified.

Mr al Reyami said the standards, billed as the first of their kind, are meant to cover everything from the transport to the camp and interaction with the local population to the quality of food and the planned activities. Each camp would also be required to meet environmental standards that includes recycling, fire safety regulations and specifications for the quality of tents, which must be made with authentic material such as goat's hair.

Inspection teams will oversee the camps' operations to ensure that standards will be met.

Murad Saket, the general manager of the Abu Dhabi-based tourism company Arabian Nights, said he expected the classification system to revolutionise the desert safari experience.

"Right now, we have operators who come and they do what they want," said Mr Saket, whose company is building a 125,000sq metre Emirati heritage escape on the ADTA plot in Al Khatem.

"The ADTA will make sure they have the right activities; the basic operation will be good. The good thing about it, to me, is that it will maintain standards. You will get the same kind of experience wherever you go."

More information about the criteria can be requested from the ADTA's Tourism Standards Division.