Tourism & attraction
The shining capital of the UAE
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE and the largest of the seven emirates has seen great transformation in the last few years. Despite its humble and quiet stature, the emirate has now launched itself into the international tourism market with its wealth of quality infrastructure and breathtaking offerings.
The bustling city lies on a T-shaped island in the Arabian Gulf, with an estimated population of one million people – 80% of which are from the expatriate community. The city prides itself in being the largest and richest of the seven emirates, while still holding on to its rich Arabian culture and history.
Steps in history
Excavations reveal that Abu Dhabi was settled as far back as the third millennium BC, with its early history paying homage to the nomadic herding and fishing pattern that is typical of the whole UAE region. The emirates’ origins can be traced back to the late 18th century with the important tribal confederation of the Bani Yas, which was also in control of Dubai. It wasn’t until the 19th century that both emirates were separated and became independent from each other.
Camel herding, date and vegetable production in the inland oases of Al Ain and Liwa, as well as the fishing and pearl diving industries were the major driving forces of the emirates’ economy well into the mid-20th century. The city was mostly inhabited during the summer months, with most dwellings being constructed of palm fronds, known as barasti. Families from a wealthier background had the luxury of residing in mud huts.
Oil came into the picture in 1939, when HH Sheikh Shakbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan granted petroleum concessions – but it wasn’t until 1958 that any oil was found. To begin with, oil did not have a great impact on the emirate’s economy, and grand development was put on hold until HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan encouraged the use of oil money for development after his accession to the throne in 1966. After the British withdrew in 1968, HH Sheikh Zayed became the main driving force behind the formation of the UAE, and following the UAE’s independence in 1971, oil wealth flowed through the area. It wasn’t long before palm fronds and mud-brick huts were replaced by towering buildings, banks, boutiques and shopping malls.
Abu Dhabi’s own Louvre Museum
A deal was signed recently between France and Abu Dhabi for the building of a branch of the renowned Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island. The ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi’ will be an impressive 24,000 square-metre branch of the famous Parisian museum.
The emirate dished out a reported $930 million license fee - $530 million of which is for the rights of the ‘Louvre’ brand. In response, France will make expertise and art works available from its most prestigious museum. Each piece of art will be on loan to the ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi’ for a period of two years.
The ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi’ will be housed in a futuristic building that is designed by architect Jean Nouvel, who also designed the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. The museum will cost $110 million to build, and is slated for completion in 2015.
Formula One races to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi secured the right and privilege to host a Formula One Grand Prix back in 2009. The franchise has been awarded to the emirate for a renewable seven-year term.
The track is on Yas Island, a man-made island of around 6,000 acres that is part of a sophisticated tourism development, including three golf courses, a polo field and a Ferrari theme park.
The track is about 5.6 kilometres long and is divided into a three-kilometre permanent circuit for the public, and a 2.6 kilometre city layout, exclusively for Formula One racing.
The Emirate today
The current boom in the tourism industry is propelling Abu Dhabi into the international scene, with various projects elevating the emirate into a Singaporean-style status in the region. Many visitors from around the world are being attracted to this active emirate, with its 1,300-kilometre coastline, and nearly $50 billion worth of investments in new hotels, good infrastructure and massive commercial, industrial and residential developments.
The secret of the emirate lies in its abundance in tourism offerings – pristine beaches, extensive desert wilderness, sporting attractions and luxurious shopping venues. The government of Abu Dhabi has placed tourism as a top priority, and seen as a good opportunity to boost the economic diversification and growth of the emirate, while at the same time enhancing its international reputation.
Back in 2004 the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) was set up in a bid to expand and support the emirate’s tourism industry. Since then, Abu Dhabi has witnessed a flood of new projects and developments, as well as heightened interest from around the world, reflected through high hotel occupancy rates. International specialist firm, Deloitte and Touche recently published an independent survey revealing that the emirate topped the world in occupancy rates in 2005 with 84.4% - beating the cities of Paris, Singapore and Sydney.
After Abu Dhabi International Airport's expansion, it airport includes 52 contact gates, luxurious passenger lounges and everyone’s favourite duty-free options. Another feature is the latest in luggage processing technology, a hotel for transit passengers for a more comfortable wait, and a new air traffic control tower overseeing all incoming and outgoing aircraft.
One of the most ambitious projects in the emirates’ history is Saadiyat Island, a 27-square kilometre natural island 500 metres from Abu Dhabi. Development began in 2006 and is expected to continue until 2018.
Estimated to be half the size of Bermuda, Saadiyat Island will be one of the Middle East’s largest natural island developments. Boasting 30 kilometres of waterfront and various eco-features, the island will have six distinct districts ranging from a cultural area to marinas.
Features include 19 kilometres of beaches, two golf courses, resorts, three marinas with a 1,000 vessel capacity, over 8,000 private villas, over 38,000 apartments and a total of eight architectural landmarks including museums, a concert hall, art gallery and other major cultural centres. One such cultural centre is the construction of the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry, the original architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim Museum will be 30,000 square metres, making it the largest of all Guggenheim museums worldwide. Scheduled for completion within the next few years, the museum will own its own collection of contemporary art, as well as exhibit works from the Guggenheim Foundation’s global collection.
Another development is ADNEC’s new state-of-the-art Exhibition Centre, which includes car-parking, accommodation, business, residential, leisure and retail facilities.