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June 18, 2014

Middle East: Abu Dhabi Adds Value

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The industry standard figures from international data analyst STR Global tell the story: average daily rates for hotels in Abu Dhabi have nearly halved in five years, down from AED1,042 in 2009 to AED546 last year, with RevPAR reflecting this trend, sinking from AED718 to AED368 in the same period. 

In Dubai, despite a decine in performance in 2010/11, recent figures show average daily rates topped AED900 last year and RevPAR at AED722. With average occupancy at 79.8 percent in Dubai compared to 67.4 percent in Abu Dhabi in 2013, event organisers might be forgiven for thinking it was a buyers’ market in the UAE capital. 

However, as always, the devil is in the detail. Abu Dhabi hotels started 2014 with a bang, recording a 36 percent increase in visitor numbers in January compared to the same month in 2012, with occupancy up 10 percent to reach 77 percent and average room rate up to AED462, a rise of two percent. 

Taking to the stage at GIBTM, stakeholders in the UAE capital were bullish about business, with many reporting a significant uplift in meetings and events without resorting to discount snatch selling. 

General Manager at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Doris Grief, reported a 68 percent increase in events over 2012, despite increased competition in the city. “As a luxury MICE venue providing exceptional gourmet banqueting, packages offered tend to be bespoke in line with clients’ needs,” she says, citing medical symposia, luxury product launches and weddings as well as conferences such as the Global Vaccine Summit and the WTTC Global Summit. 

At The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, General Manager Pep Lozano says the hotel had seen a growing interest in Abu Dhabi as a destination in terms of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions over the past year. 

“Increasingly, more meeting planners are becoming aware of the city’s premium facilities and unique event venues and, as the only hotel located directly in front of the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, we offer delegates a culturally relevant experience where the beautiful silhouette of the mosque and the regional heritage that it represents become an integral part of the experience,” he says, citing events such as the Nuclear New Build conference, Temenos conference and Gourmet Abu Dhabi gala, together with the Techtronics conference and International Pipeline & Offshore Contractors Association meetings later this year. 

For Rotana, an increase of up to 60 percent in meetings business is targeted at its Abu Dhabi hotels, according to President and CEO, Omer Kaddouri, who says the group’s properties suit all requirements. “Beach Rotana is a city conference resort, while we also have the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan Resort, the Park Rotana and the new Centro Capital Centre near ADNEC, plus the Yas Island Rotana located close to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and the Formula 1 race track. 

“Rotana’s USP is that we can accommodate a wide number of groups depending on their budgets and services required due to our portfolio in Abu Dhabi, while complementary properties are an added advantage as well as a centralised sales office handling MICE enquiries.” 

Kaddouri cited incentives such as dedicated delegate packages, special excursions and discounts as part of the sales pitch, along with tactical promotions including a summer offer targeting MICE with a ‘one in five goes free’ tagline, valid for any group hotel stay or meeting room booking. 
“In addition, the Beach Rotana was the launch hotel for Abu Dhabi’s first Public Telepresence suite in partnership with Etisalat, providing an HD, lifesize virtual-conferencing experience that emulates an in-person meeting,” he says. 


For those at the sharp end – the destination management companies that actually pitch for events – demand for Abu Dhabi continues to grow, although Dubai remains a honeypot for many organisers according to Peter Payet, Senior Vice President Arabian Adventures/ Congress Solutions International. 

“Event size and delegate numbers are on the rise with regard to meetings held in the region, but organisers are becoming more cost-conscious and continuously looking for the best price point,” he says, while stressing that Dubai is still the most sought-after city for incentives and meetings, both with regional and international clients. 

“Dubai has created a wide variety of venue options in the past five years and these have enabled organisers to work according to their budgets. The constant creative activities and landmarks for incentives have made Dubai more popular.” 

While acknowledging that Dubai has to ensure it does not become overly expensive, Payet says for many events financial support offered via sponsorship is crucial and that the current hotel offering from Abu Dhabi makes it more attractive if price is a crucial factor. “Hotels there do offer flexible package rates, but we would like to see more value additions such as quality audio-visual or special human resources when we host meetings,” he added. 

The Vision Destination Management, Director of Operations, Anwar Abu Monassar says that hotel rates are again on the rise in Dubai, making Abu Dhabi more affordable in terms of budgets. “We are now seeing increased interest in Abu Dhabi. The capital offers magnificent venues and when a room costs half the price of the competition, this does not mean a cheaper event, but rather more budget for sideline activities and services,” he says. 

“In addition, huge steps have been taken to widen the range of things to do in Abu Dhabi and we have different sports, activities, festivals, concerts and natural attractions which, while not always capable of handling big numbers, can offer fantastic opportunities to tailor-make original social programmes for visitors.” 

Realistically, Abu Monassar says accessibility does play against hosting more meetings and incentives in Abu Dhabi given the wider connectivity of its neighbour. “Despite the continuous improvement of links through Abu Dhabi International Airport, it appears that flight costs remain higher and less flexible than those offered by airlines into Dubai.” 

Other costs which have to be factored in to the overall package price of the UAE capital is that of food and meeting room hire, which are often higher than in Dubai, he says. “Daily delegate rates combining the meeting room rental and associated meals tend to be high in Abu Dhabi, with the impact of the lower room cost nullified in some cases and we have had some events diverted elsewhere due to this.” 


Addressing concerns of the MICE sector in the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau is on a twin track to expand product offerings in the emirate as well as invigorate demand through the expansion of initiatives such as Advantage Abu Dhabi, designed as a ‘quick win’ programme to incentivise event organisers. 

According to Sultan Al Dhaheri, Acting Executive Director Tourism, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), intelligent, affordable hotel pricing and the selection of accommodation and leading hospitality brands is a strong competitive advantage that has ignited a huge amount of interest. 

“Our Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative has been very successful with 35,812 incremental room nights in 2013 and big names such as Cipla India, the Rolls- Royce World Dealer conference, Nokia Global, Janssen Pharmaceuticals GCC, Mitsubishi China and Kimberley Clark Healthcare Belgium, to name just a few of the many recipients,” he says. 

“This year is proving to be as good with another recipient, Nu Skin China, with 6,502 guests delivering 16,680 room nights and an average length of stay of five nights in April. They staged two gala dinner functions at Yas Marina Circuit for more than 7,000 people each and visited Abu Dhabi city, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.”

With the initial Advantage Abu Dhabi three-year programme expiring at the end of 2014, Al Dhaheri stressed continued refinement and revamping of the initiative aimed at emphasising how much the emirate has to offer. “We have many venues with a difference, from a silver service dinner on the Yas Marina Circuit Grand Prix track to a beach party at Yas Waterworld, a ‘petrol head’ function at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – the world’s largest indoor theme park – to a glamorous gold-themed dinner at Emirates Palace or a traditional dinner at Al Ain’s Al Jahili Fort,” he explains. 

Through its Industry Development Committee, the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau is also aiming to prompt the private sector to get behind the marketing of the emirate as a fascinating and fun destination. “Increasingly, stakeholders are coming up with innovative team-building packages such as the Survivor Challenge on Sir Bani Yas Island and the Water Ball Kayaking challenge at Eastern Mangroves,” said Al Dhaheri. “Arabian Nights Village in the desert at Al Khatem has also come up with desert team-building packages.” 

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi authorities are not blind to the opportunity to exploit the global publicity generated by Dubai Expo 2020, perhaps enabling the capital emirate to more forcefully define its unique attractions. “Abu Dhabi is promoting itself as a cultural hub within the Arabian Gulf and we believe that the expo will deliver global exposure for the whole of the UAE and its tourism sector, including its world-class infrastructure,” says Al Dhaheri. 
He says the new museums within the Saadiyat Island Cultural District will add a cultural dimension for international visitors, while additional luxury resorts on Saadiyat Beach and elsewhere will be another draw by 2020, as well as more entertainments on Yas Island. 

“These will all heighten Abu Dhabi’s appeal and new audiences are likely to also be attracted to our established heritage and cultural attractions, particularly World Heritage sites in Al Ain and to emerging tours and attractions in Al Gharbia in the Western Region.” 
It’s a view with which Arabian Adventures’ Peter Payet concurs: “Abu Dhabi has definitely got the price point right and the hotels are very flexible to work with,” he says. “The path that TCA Abu Dhabi and other authorities are taking in developing tourism infrastructure, such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, Yas and Saadiyat islands and many more iconic projects, certainly helps create better awareness of the capital and its potential to be a major player in the conference and corporate incentive sector.” 


For corporate meetings and incentives, the Abu Dhabi Advantage initiative is available for those events that include a minimum of 50 paid room nights from a single corporate or organisation, with applications received at least 30 days prior to the start of the event. The benefits vary according to event size: 

On offer are 13 options ranging from a dinner at the host hotel and an Abu Dhabi tour to a traditional Emirati entertainment evening function, a cultural education session and event logo development. 

Also available are: entrance to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi; desert safari and evening among the dunes; a full-day meeting package; round of golf on a championship course; tour and lunch at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital; a visit to Al Ain – the UAE’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site; a Yas Marina Circuit VIP tour and Yas Waterworld entrance. In addition, the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau also provides an Abu Dhabi Welcome Pack for event delegates with information and a souvenir gift and will also provide pre-event marketing support. 


On-site corporate activities at Arabian Nights Village include a ‘Quick Shelter’ challenge for teams to erect tents in the desert sand in the shortest period of time as a light-hearted introduction to desert survival skills. 

The activity suits groups of up to 30, with a maximum of five groups of six people each and is priced at AED450 (US$125) per person including desert activities, lunch and transportation to and from the Heritage Village. 

‘Desert Chef’, meanwhile, takes food as its theme, offering teams an opportunity to create culinary heaven using basic ingredients such as fresh vegetables and bread. Lessons can be learnt about teamwork and the village’s Head Chef judges the dishes based on taste and presentation. 

Groups of up to 40 can participate in a maximum of four teams of 10 persons and is priced at AED450 (US$125) per person including desert activities, lunch and transportation. 

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