The message for Abu Dhabi tourists: go west

Among the emirate's many toruist attractions, those in the Western Region are often overlooked.

For residents of Abu Dhabi, the attractions of the capital and surrounding emirate are self-evident. Increasingly, the world is catching on too, with visitor numbers predicted to increase from 2.8 million last year to 3.2 million this year. Abu Dhabi is well-placed for even further growth, with its airport an established and expanding international aviation hub, and the construction of a high-speed domestic rail link underway. Visitors are flocking to attractions as diverse as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Ferrari World and the beaches of the Corniche, which are complemented by the emerging cultural precinct on Saadiyat Island.

The challenge for the tourism industry is to encourage people to travel beyond the capital and the second city of Al Ain into what some would argue is the true heart of the emirate – the vast Al Gharbia, or Western Region. Accounting for 60 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s land mass but only 10 per cent of its population, the region encompasses pristine beaches, the enormous Tel Moreeb sand dune, a 1,400-year-old Christian monastery and the popular Liwa Oasis.

As The National reported yesterday, the Tourism and Culture Authority of Abu Dhabi is working towards an upgrade for the Sir Bani Yas Island airport, allowing for more flights to the region, and encouraging the construction and expansion of hotels and resorts. Projects under way will add almost 500 visitor beds across the municipality over the next two years.

Hotel occupancy rates are already up 12 per cent year on year, and the area is gaining an international reputation. The renowned artist Christo has long held a great vision for the region, and two years ago he commissioned costings for the construction of the world’s tallest sculpture, a 150-metre metal-drum structure called The Mastaba, near Liwa.

There will always be tourists who want to lie on a beach, indulge in a spa treatment and shop for luxury brands – and they are certainly well catered for in the capital and beyond – but there are other travellers who want cultural and adventure experiences. A future itinerary for an independent traveller might include a day browsing at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, scheduled to open next year, followed by a trip west for days of dune-bashing and nights of stargazing at the edge of Rub Al Khali (the Empty Quarter), the world’s largest sand desert. It will be an experience they won’t forget, and an important contribution to Abu Dhabi’s diversifying economy.

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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