UFC gives Abu Dhabi tourism a big kick

Capital's exposure to more than 500 million global viewers will add to bonus for hotels as Yas adds to world-class sports roster.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), to be staged in Abu Dhabi tomorrow, is expected to boost the capital's international exposure and attract visitors who may not otherwise have thought about coming to the UAE. The mixed martial arts event, which has never been held in the Middle East before, is expected to lure more than 10,000 spectators.

More than 500 million people worldwide watched UFC 100, an event held in Las Vegas last year, and a similar number are expected to tune in to the competition in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Hotels in the capital have reported more than 800 room nights booked for the competitors alone. Thousands of fans are expected to travel to the capital from overseas, adding to the expected bonanza for hotels, restaurants and retailers.

UFC has a huge following around the world and is particularly popular in the US and Canada, said John Lickrish, the managing director of Flash Entertainment, which has brought the UFC to the capital. The organisers say fans of the sport are typically in their 30s, with women making up 40 per cent of the crowd. Flash, the Abu Dhabi-owned events management company, bought a 10 per cent stake in the UFC in January. UFC was worth about US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in 2008, according to Forbes magazine.

"People are travelling from all over the region and a lot are coming from Asia, the UK and some from the US," Mr Lickrish said. He said half of the spectators attending the event would come from outside Abu Dhabi. Ticket prices for the event start at Dh395 and go up to Dh3,695. The Park Inn hotel on Yas Island was full this weekend because of the event, said Torbjorn Bodin, its general manager. "We are getting quite a few spectators staying with us," Mr Bodin said.

He is also the general manager of the Radisson Blu, which had bookings for about 80 per cent of its rooms for this weekend. The teams are staying at Yas Island Rotana. "We're looking at the bigger picture of destroying people's perceptions of what the Middle East is like," said Mr Lickrish. Other sporting events held in the capital have been more traditional thus far, including the Capitala World Tennis Championship, the FIFA Club World Cup, and the Formula One Grand Prix.

"It is difficult to reach people as you can do with the UFC," said Mr Lickrish. "People will be able to see the cultural diversity of the city and what is going on on Yas Island." A spokesman for Aldar, the Abu Dhabi property company responsible for Yas Island, said: "Hosting UFC at Yas Island demonstrates the ability of this destination to attract varied entertainment opportunities aimed at different segments of Abu Dhabi's population."