Volvo race caps off hectic year for capital's tourist authority

The tourism authority has helped Abu Dhabi grow as an event destination.

ABU DHABI - 31DEC2011 - Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nahyan (third right) Chairman of the ADTA and TDIC, Knut Frostad (thrid left) CEO, Volvo Ocean Race, Mubarak Hamad al Muhairi (second left) Director General, ADTA with other official opens the Abu Dhabi's Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village at the Corniche breakwater yesterday in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Mubarak Al Muhairi sat back in his chair at the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village reflecting on the past year's accomplishments.

The managing director of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) was noting how far the organisation had come since 2004, when there were only four events in the emirate for the entire year. Last year, that number was 68.

Yet the burden on ADTA of running many high-profile international events was lifted when private and government bodies started to run their own shows, liaising with government services.

With this cooperation, he said, the calendar of events if filling up across the emirate, from the Western Region to Al Ain.

Now, he said, "We can focus on what we want to bring here and what kind of events we can bring here. Before we were always under the challenge of filling the calendar."

The rush of events has both necessitated and fostered teamwork.

"There is not one single government entity that doesn't take part in the Formula One. I think the bug is here and we all learnt how to work together," Mr Al Muhairi said.

"It was a challenge at the beginning but the biggest benefit of the F1 was making Abu Dhabi work together. Once you make that, you can't go back and its keeps getting better. Each agency gets to know each other and learnt how to work together."

Richard Cregan, chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit, said there would be no Grand Prix were it not for the cooperation between government bodies including the airport authority, police, ADTA and Department of Transport.

Representatives from all those organisations were part of the F1 Project Group, which was formed for the Grand Prix.

"They meet once a week for months before the Grand Prix and discuss all the issues and then solve them," Mr Cregan said.

Mr Al Muhairi said the ADTA would continue to add to the calendar, but he would not say what projects were in the works for 2012.

"We are in early discussions in an event that I can't talk about because it might not happen. It will be big and people will be surprised," he said.

What is not on Abu Dhabi’s calendar this year is a special stage of the World Rally Championships. Originally holding a spot on the WRC 2012 provisional calendar, Abu Dhabi lost the spot because organisers said the capital was not ready to hold a full stage. Mr Al Muhairi said he disagreed with the decision.

Since then, ADTA has withdrawn its sponsorship of Team Abu Dhabi and left the WRC, citing the end of its five-year contract.

"We're past that," Mr Al Muhairi said. "It was a complicated decision with many players. The world is big and we weren't successful with that but we were successful with many other things in Abu Dhabi."

He noted that the Volvo Ocean Race, currently making a two-week port stop in Abu Dhabi, has been a hit. On Wednesday afternoon, more than 6,000 people filled the Destination Village on Abu Dhabi's breakwater to welcome the five competing yachts.

Another event pulled off the calendar was the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge: a gruelling six-day race, which featured 426 kilometres of running, swimming and canoeing.

"We are not scaling back," Mr Al Muhairi said, adding all events are reviewed.

"The golf, we see growth and we see a clear path in its future. Some we invented like the Adventure Challenge. We always evaluate after some years. We've delayed it by a year and wonder how we can improve this and generate better media returns for example. We haven't made that decision of cancelling it [for future years] at all yet."

Activities have also expanded to other parts of the emirate. The Al Ain Air Show, for example, will become part of this year's National Day celebrations.

"We should appreciate what happens here," Mr Al Muhairi said. "The figures will tell you what change has happened. It went from 12 to more than 100 events at [Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre] alone. It's really huge. Our events team has never stopped.

"When we see other agencies and departments in government growing in supporting this calendar of events, it's an achievement for us and for everybody."