How to see the best of Abu Dhabi ... without leaving your home

Domestic travellers will be first to return to the city, says the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi as it launches a new virtual tourism portal

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Abu Dhabi's tourism board has built an online portal with tours and live events to help visitors, both domestically and abroad, stay in tune with the UAE's capital.

But, as for visitors touring the capital in the flesh, the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi (DCT) expects locals will be the first to return to the emirate's hotels, attractions and restaurants.

“It’s definitely going to be domestic to begin with," explains Saeed Rashed Al Saeed, destination marketing director at DCT. "But as soon as air travel is opened up and more countries come online, we will go back to normal.

“It will take a little bit longer to get back international travel as a vehicle – planes flying in the sky taking people from A to B – but also until people are actually willing to travel and have that renowned confidence in the travel ecosystem in general."

But, until then, on the new online portal called #StayCurious you can learn to play the guitar, get to grips with coding, delve into the history of a Bedouin tribe or discover the recipe for raw vegan pizza.

#StayCurious is split into six categories ranging from Stay Indulgent – which brings some of the emirate's culinary offerings to viewers – to Stay Adventurous, featuring virtual tours and videos of the UAE capital.

“There are 360-degree virtual tours of the city, there’s going to be concerts and live events, stand-up comedy, an edutainment element and e-learning as well,” Al Saeed explains.

There will also be content coming from Etihad, Abu Dhabi Airports, Yas Island and Louvre Abu Dhabi to allay fears, and show what's being done to keep travellers safe.

With Ramadan expected to begin on Friday, April 24, there are plans to create fresh content related to the holy month, too, including lots about Emirati cuisine.

What this year may look like ...

The cancellation of Arabian Travel Market, the Middle East's leading event for the inbound and outbound travel industry, means that many travel and tourism businesses in the region will miss out on key face-to-face networking this year.

Despite this, Al Saeed isn't too worried about the impact of the event's cancellation on the future of the UAE travel industry.

"Business can go on, but it’s always better to have that closeness to your partners. Events like ATM do bring people from distant corners of the world in one place, so it’s easier to network and create plans together – but those things can still happen, it’s just on a different level."

Where hospitality and tourism may be hit globally is smaller travel and tourism businesses. “If you look at the major players, they can survive a month, two months, three months," says Al Saeed.

"But the little players, the mum-and-dad restaurants that had heavy footfall, whether from international or domestic visitors, those are the ones that we feel will be struggling if things don’t open up soon enough."

Abu Dhabi to 'bring in' in big names for digital gigs

The #StayCurious campaign has an online portal with six themes. Courtesy DCT Abu Dhabi
The #StayCurious campaign has an online portal with six themes. Courtesy DCT Abu Dhabi

In an effort to keep Abu Dhabi's tourism profile strong, part of the new travel portal is a section called #Stay Entertained. This has a wide selection of interactive sessions that users can sign up to take part in, including things like virtual meditation, digital sporting events and live video screenings.

And there’s more to come says Al Saeed, hinting that DCT Abu Dhabi's events sector is in the process of signing up some big names to the portal.

“Globally, we’ve noticed people are going online to watch DJs perform sets or seeing celebrities have a chat, and there is an opportunity there for us,” he says.

“It’s just [about figuring] how to bring it into the digital world to respect the quarantine situation, while at the same time giving the audience a compelling piece of content.”

Ultimately, now it's time for pause

Despite the situation caused by the coronavirus, there are positives to be found - such as a slower pace of life and having more time to reflect on what matters. Courtesy DCT Abu Dhabi
Despite the situation caused by the coronavirus, there are positives to be found - such as a slower pace of life and having more time to reflect on what matters. Courtesy DCT Abu Dhabi

Despite the current situation, Al Saeed sees a silver lining. "A lot of people that were living in their fast-paced world have had the chance to slow down a bit and reflect on many different things. It’s given us the chance to be closer to our families, it’s given us an opportunity to really look at the things we do take for granted and be more thankful".

But these unprecedented times have not been easy, and the destination marketing director compares what the world is going through to a period of grief.

“I think in the beginning we’ve gone through the five phases – starting with denial and moving on to acceptance, but I think we are through the worst of it when it comes to the physiological impact.

"I think people are in a more positive frame of mind, looking forward to the future," concludes Al Saeed. "And the #StayCurious campaign is part of that. It’s about feeding that curiosity of what’s coming tomorrow."