Travel group eyes capital as base

Abu Dhabi is in discussions with an influential international travel organisation to move its headquarters to the capital.

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Abu Dhabi is in discussions with an influential international travel organisation to move its headquarters to the capital, says the Abu Dhabi Travel and Tourism Agencies Council (ATTAC). The United Federation of Travel Agents' Associations (UFTAA), which has been based in Monaco for the past 20 years, is currently in talks with ATTAC as it looks for a less costly arrangement. The organisation represents travel associations from more than 80 countries.

The move was likely to help Abu Dhabi in its plans to develop as a tourism destination, both organisations said. The capital aims to increase its hotel guest numbers from about 1.5 million last year to 2.3 million by 2012. UFTAA said it worked closely with other international travel associations such as the International Air Transport Association and the UN World Tourism Organisation. "Our plan is to transfer the UFTAA headquarters to Abu Dhabi," said Nasser Butti bin Omeir bin Youssef, the chairman of ATTAC and a board member of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "By this we are going to strengthen Abu Dhabi's tourism traffic, especially by selling Abu Dhabi as a destination.

"We found a big added value for UFTAA to be here, first of all to know more about how to increase tourism traffic to Abu Dhabi and to be closer to those who get the people here." Projects under development in Abu Dhabi include Yas Island, on which the world's first Ferrari World theme park is expected to open this year. Saadiyat Island, meanwhile, will eventually house attractions such as the Guggenheim and Louvre museums in its cultural district. The capital is also investing heavily in tourism infrastructure such as hotels, with plans to add another 5,000 rooms this year, an increase of about 30 per cent.

Mr bin Youssef said the Abu Dhabi association was about to enter discussions with the Government to see what it would be able to offer in its bid for the headquarters. An offer was likely to include free office space. "They saw how in the past two years Abu Dhabi became a big tourism destination, and they know what is coming, with plans such as the Louvre. We want to have more experience of the travel market and we want to share our visions."

Spain and Switzerland were also interested in hosting the headquarters, UFTAA said. "Now the Middle East has become a major player and Abu Dhabi is a major centre, so a relationship with Abu Dhabi will help us negotiate better around the world," said William Tan, the president of UFTAA, who was in the capital last week to appoint Mr bin Youssef as a patron of the organisation. "It's not yet finalised, but we are thinking of moving here," Mr Tan said. Reaching a final decision would take six months.

UFTAA was originally set up in Rome in 1966 to unify travel associations into one international federation, he said. ATTAC, which has about 250 members in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, last year announced that the newly established Gulf Travel and Tourism Associations Committee would have its headquarters based in Abu Dhabi. The regional lobby group was set up to promote and protect travel agency associations' interests as the region expands its tourism industry. The founding members include tourism agency associations from Kuwait, Sharjah and Bahrain.