Abu Dhabi to launch major medical tourism drive

Tourism to the emirate increased 10 per cent last year

A major drive to bring more medical tourists to Abu Dhabi is to be made in the coming months.

A partnership with the Department of Health and the Department of Culture and Tourism will see a worldwide marketing campaign to establish the city as a centre for medical tourism, with world class institutions like the Cleveland Clinic and the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre.

The campaign will highlight specific areas of medical excellence in areas like open heart surgery and cancer treatment – “Things that you cannot find in the region,” said Sultan Al Mutawa Al Dhaheri, the executive director for the tourism sector at the Department of Culture and Tourism.

In addition, the emirate will add what Mr Al Dhaheri called “more of a tourism twist."

"If you come to Abu Dhabi you can buy a package, with discounts on attractions. If your family is coming with you, we have a better offer for them,” he said.

Mr Al Dhaheri was speaking at the launch of the 2017 tourist report, which emphasises the diversity of Abu Dhabi as a visitor destination for leisure activities, cruising, conventions and conferences.

Last year was marked by spectacular growth in arrivals from two countries who were granted visas on arrival – the number of Russians increased by 91 per cent, and from China it was 61 per cent.

It was no surprise that Chinese tourists also continue to head the league table of overseas visitors heading to Abu Dhabi.

They made up nearly one in 10 of the 4.8 million hotel guests who came to the emirate last year, outpacing more traditional markets like India and the United Kingdom, who were second and third respectively.

But those figures do not tell the whole story of what has become a Dh3 billion market in Abu Dhabi tourism.

Chinese guests spent on average just 1.4 days on a whistle-stop tour of the emirate, compared with 2.8 days for Indian tourists and a leisurely 3.6 days by UK visitors.

In terms of total guest nights, Chinese tourists ranked only fifth, behind Germany and the US.

With the average daily hotel rate at Dh363, the annual revenues for Abu Dhabi Hotels were almost Dh3b, with another Dh1.96b spent on food and beverages.

The total of 4.8 million guests in 2017 was slightly below the target of 4.9 million, but still increased by 10 per cent.

Finding ways to persuade tourists to linger longer is one of the challenges for coming years, said Mr Al Dhaheri.

As further inducements to visit Abu Dhabi, the department has a number of new attractions for 2018.

They include a permanent waterside dining area with food trucks and restaurants that will be a year-round feature of the Mother of the National Festival site currently being built on the Corniche.

There are also big hopes that the new Louvre Abu Dhabi will attract more overseas tourists. The museum is already hitting its visitor targets less than six months after opening. This is expected only to rise further, particularly with the unveiling of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, the world's most expensive work of art, which has been acquired by the museum.

“I know so many people who decided to come to Abu Dhabi because of the Louvre Abu Dhabi,” Mr Al Dhaheri said.

There were over 13 million visits to attractions in Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Abu Dhabi also wants to show its romantic side by attracting more Indian weddings to the city. The worldwide trend for Indians to marry abroad is now estimated to be worth US$2.5b and with the UAE just four hours flying time from much of the country, Abu Dhabi is looking to boost its share of this market.


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Abu Dhabi’s growth as a tourist destination is all the more remarkable in that it barely was a decade ago, Mr Al Dhaheri said.

In particular, he pointed to cruise ships – "In 2007, we had around 7,000 cruise passengers and we had a tent in the Abu Dhabi harbour, “he said.

“Today we have a fully-fledged cruise terminal, one of the best in the world, with around five to six cruise ships home porting in Abu Dhabi and we are targeting even more.”