Sporting drama and concerts boost tourist numbers in Abu Dhabi

The UFC, Eminem and the Asian Cup contributed to what officials say was a record year

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Major events such as the Special Olympics, the Asian Cup and the UFC helped persuade about three million international visitors to stay overnight in Abu Dhabi last year, officials said.

The Department of Culture and Tourism estimated a further 8.53 million daytrippers from abroad travelled to the emirate last year and said the combined figure of 11.35 million was a record high.

Numbers were boosted by a string of large events in the capital, which also included the Pope’s visit and concerts by stars such as Eminem.

Figures collated separately showed 5.1 million foreign guests stayed in Abu Dhabi hotels during the year, a slight increase on 2018.

Guest numbers rose significantly in Saadiyat Island hotels in particular, with an increase of almost 75 per cent on the previous year’s figures.

Hotels around Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, which hosted the Special Olympics, recorded an increase of more than 20 per cent compared to the same period 12 months earlier.

Abu Dhabi is looking to build on the success of the Special Olympics with a new series of events to be held each year.

More than 650 athletes with intellectual disabilities will take part in the Special Olympics UAE Games event, which this year will run from March 20 to 22.

However, figures published earlier this year suggested there were also large falls in revenue reported by hotels in Al Ain and a drop in guest numbers in Al Dhafra.

“These 2019 results reflect the hard work and dedication that DCT Abu Dhabi, its tourism stakeholders and its partners have put into offering a must-see, must-visit leisure and business destination,” said Saood Al Hosani, acting undersecretary at DCT Abu Dhabi.

“These outstanding results were underpinned by some world-class, exceptional events presented in the UAE capital across 2019.

“We also saw a fantastic edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi Art, ADIPEC 2019 and concerts from global superstars.

“These events helped elevate Abu Dhabi’s global standing and reputation and contributed massively to our guest metrics, resulting once more in a record-breaking year in terms of visitation to the UAE capital.”

While the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - the final stop on the F1 calendar - regularly attracts large numbers of sport lovers, the emirate benefited from a series of other major events.

The landmark visit by the UAE by Pope Francis last February culminated with an open-air mass attended by 150,000 people at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

A blockbuster UFC clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier drew a capacity crowd of 13,000 fight fans to a new purpose-built areana in Yas Island in September.

The successful staging of the event is set to bolster tourism numbers in Abu Dhabi for year to come.

A lucrative agreement agreed between the global promotion and Abu Dhabi will involve major fights being hosted in the emirate until 2023.

While visitor numbers to Abu Dhabi have been increasing, the capital continues to lag behind Dubai in tourism. There were 16.73 million tourists to Dubai in 2019, according to figures released in January.

In Abu Dhabi, international visitor numbers from India and the US rose significantly, with increases also reported from Russia, Ukraine and South Korea.

Figures published for the first nine months of the year suggest significant falls in hotel visitors from the Philippines and Germany.

Officials hope tourist numbers across the UAE will increase this year on the back of Expo 2020 Dubai, which begins in October and runs for six months.