Welcome to digital-era Abu Dhabi, available in 4D before you even arrive

By listening in to conversations in cyberspace, we have enhanced and customised the visitor experience

Abu Dhabi is being marketed to visitors on new fronts. Sammy Dallal / The National
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The theme for World Tourism Day today is digital transformation – how it is already influencing the industry, providing a platform for innovative thinking for the sector and how it will impact tourism in the future.

A World Tourism Organisation event will take place in Hungary this year but today also allows the rest of the world the opportunity to contribute to a global discourse.

Every year, World Tourism Day tackles the issue of how the sector can play a crucial role in sustainable development – a subject which is hugely important to Abu Dhabi and to our future plans. Responsibility and sustainability are integral parts of the UAE capital’s strategy to facilitate vital growth in the tourism sector, this being central to our wider diversification of Abu Dhabi’s GDP away from a reliance on oil and gas revenues.

The role of technology sits at the heart of the development challenge. At the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, we are big proponents of using the very latest innovation to address challenges and we carefully monitor and search for the latest in cutting-edge technology that we can bring home, adopt and adapt.

We have, for instance, recently returned from a summit in California, where we, along with some of our UAE partners and stakeholders, were hosted by Google. Talking to the tech giant gave us some fascinating insights into the workings of the company and the technology they use to mitigate risk and maximise efficiency.

We believe Abu Dhabi's tourism ecosystem can only thrive by fostering collaborations between entities working towards the same objective and the summit cemented an agreement on a plan for a shared data initiative, which will significantly bolster government collaborations within the emirate, as well as synchronising the presentation of our destination brand as we communicate it to the world.

This data analysis and sharing initiative is unprecedented in scale in the region and will, we hope, result in further meaningful insights into tourist behaviour and key catalysts.

In addition to learning from Google, we also recently partnered with the world’s leading travel data co-op, Adara. This collaboration will allow us to measure the effectiveness of our digital marketing efforts by using a measurement and analytics platform. It will track and measure the economic impact of our marketing investments, giving us priceless insights about our audience.

This is the first fully integrated Adara Impact partnership with a destination marketing organisation in the Middle East and is a result of our innovative, data-driven focus to help deliver on Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi's development plan.

Harvesting the latest and most pertinent data with regard to the effectiveness of our messaging is also facilitated by another innovation we’ve introduced at DCT – Abu Dhabi’s headquarters, with our digital department having invested in a real-time online and social media "listening" command centre.

It’s a multi-screen system that provides real-time data and sentiment analysis of all online discussion around Abu Dhabi and tourism and travel related topics globally across websites, blogs and social media, along with real-time data about our competitors.

This allows us to listen in to all the conversations happening about our destination in the digital space – whether positive or negative. It means we can take any necessary action much faster.

Speed is, as ever, vital in the modern world. Integrating this system with our operational teams on the ground means we can negate any potential or growing issues before they reach critical mass.

On the front foot, our digital marketing teams also produce tailored social media content for each of our key markets, making sure the messaging for each nationality is as potent and persuasive as possible. The latest technology also allows us to harvest data from wifi usage at key tourist and cultural locations in the emirate.

The combination of all these data-driven initiatives allows us to digitally trace the effectiveness of our marketing spend at all stages of the visitor experience, as well as enabling us to calculate the return on investment of our campaigns.

This helps us decide which medium converts better and at the same time reduces media wastage by targeting the right audience, at the right time, on the right medium, with the right message.

In other technological initiatives, after taking into account the impact of video-based marketing, DCT – Abu Dhabi has also this year launched a series of cutting-edge virtual reality experiences, available online and in our 4D experiential installations, which we take to all our overseas exhibitions.

In addition to that, we are investing in augmented reality technology, which we plan to use at Qasr Al Hosn, the most historical building in UAE, when it reopens this year, to provide users with additional information derived from historic records. Digital innovations that enhance the visitor experience are just as crucial to us as data-harvesting technologies.

Our strategies are in constant flux as we aim to make sure we are as effective and efficient as possible. This, by definition, promotes sustainability by reducing wastage, but by constantly adapting and refining our technological approach, and by engaging with as many leaders in the field as possible, cherry picking the best innovations available today, we hope to attract even more visitors to our emirate.

The more people we attract, the more people we can introduce to what we believe to be a truly extraordinary destination. And as we welcome more international guests, the more we can encourage cross-cultural dialogue, strengthening the bonds of understanding between cultures and forging friendships across borders. And that is something worth celebrating, today and beyond.

Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak is the chairman of DCT – Abu Dhabi