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28 February 2024

A destination reimagined: Hatta emerges as a model for sustainable development and heritage preservation

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- A destination reimagined: Hatta emerges as a model for sustainable development and heritage preservation

The picturesque Hatta region of Dubai, nestled in the Hajar Mountains, is seeing a remarkable transformation. Driven by a visionary development plan, the region has emerged as an exemplary model for sustainable growth and cultural preservation, making it a destination that is steadily growing in popularity not just nationally but also globally. 

Named as one of the ’50 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the World’ by Condé Nast Traveler in May this year, Hatta is a testament to Dubai’s visionary leadership and commitment to balanced growth. The town, located 130 km south east of Dubai city, has not only evolved into a must-visit destination but also set an example for how modern development can harmoniously coexist with cultural conservation and environmental sustainability.

Visionary development plan
The Hatta Master Development Plan, a visionary blueprint for growth and transformation launched in 2021 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai has played a crucial role in the region’s growing profile. Integrating the enhancement of residents' wellbeing with the creation of unique experiences for visitors, the plan, which forms part of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, has catalysed Hatta's rise as a vital tourism and cultural hub. 

His Excellency Mattar Al Tayer, Dubai’s Commissioner General for Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Well-Being Pillar, said Hatta's development, guided by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's visionary strategy, represents a harmonious balance of sustainability and economic growth and an emphasis on maintaining the region's unique cultural identity. “This strategic approach is focused on embracing the natural environment and preserving Hatta’s cultural heritage as fundamental and invaluable assets. The area’s development encompasses economic, cultural, ecological and social dimensions, affirming Dubai’s commitment to building a sustainable future in collaboration with the people of the area, deeply rooted in heritage and environmental consciousness,” he added.

As part of the first phase of the plan, the Supreme Committee to Oversee the Development of Hatta launched the 'Hatta, The Highlands of Dubai' campaign to promote the region's unique attractions, activities, and experiences. This campaign highlighted the region's natural beauty, pleasant climate and rich history, dating back more than 3,000 years.

Hatta’s destination ambitions received a strong boost with the development of the new Hatta Souq and the redevelopment of the Hatta Heritage Village. Blending traditional and contemporary architectural designs, the Souq has today become a vibrant marketplace, showcasing local products and crafts. The Hatta Heritage Village was transformed into a cultural landmark, highlighting the region’s rich history and traditions. Today, Hatta has become a buzzing tourist hub that offers some of the Middle East’s most distinctive experiences spanning from nature to heritage. The Hatta Dam, Hatta Hill Park, the Hatta Honeybee Garden and Discovery Centre are just some of the other attractions offering enriching local experiences for wanderlust-struck travellers.

Robust infrastructure
The first phase of the plan also saw the creation of the infrastructure necessary for a vibrant destination. The initial plan period saw a complete overhaul of Hatta’s transportation system. The introduction of public and shared mobility solutions marked a significant step towards enhancing connectivity and accessibility. This phase also included the construction of an extensive network of cycling tracks which link various transportation facilities and tourist attractions, facilitating eco-friendly travel and adventure sports. 

Visitors and residents in Hatta have the exciting opportunity to explore its breathtaking landscapes by renting various individual mobility options, including bikes, e-scooters, and mountain bikes. These vehicles can be used on cycling tracks spanning 11.5 kilometres, offering an enjoyable and environmentally friendly means of getting around Hatta. The area also offers 50 kilometres of mountain bike trails spanning a network of various terrains and distances. To ensure convenient access for riders, the tracks have been linked to prominent tourist sites.

All-season destination
The launch of the second phase of Hatta’s development in early 2023 is enabling the region to make further strides in its growth as a major destination. The 22 projects and initiatives in the second phase include the transformation of Hatta Beach into an all-season tourist spot that caters to residents and visitors alike. The waterfront of the Hatta Beach will be developed to include a variety of recreational amenities, services and activities catering to visitors. Featuring the Crystal Lagoon, the Hatta Beach Project is designed to offer year-round leisure and entertainment facilities, boosting the number of visitors to the region.

Another major project is the Hatta Sustainable Waterfalls that will be constructed in the vicinity of Hatta Dam. Seamlessly combining sustainability, heritage, and economic development, the project is uniquely designed to leverage the natural slope of the upper dam of Hatta’s pumped storage hydropower plant to create a beautiful, natural waterfall. Below the dam, a waterway is being constructed to ensure the efficient use and recycling of water. The water cascading down the waterfall is collected at the end of the stream, then recycled and pumped back to the top of the dam, facilitating sustainable resource utilisation.

A striking aspect of this project is its hexagonal beehive design inspired by Hatta’s honey-making traditions, adding a distinct cultural and aesthetic touch to the project. The beehive-inspired architecture is not just a nod to local heritage but also an innovative approach to integrating cultural elements into modern infrastructure. The Hatta Sustainable Waterfalls project marks a significant milestone in Hatta's journey towards becoming a unique and popular destination for visitors. The site will also see the installation of a 5.4 km cable car that will carry visitors from the dam to the top of Umm Al Nusour, the highest peak in Dubai. 

A hub for sports and culture
Buoyed by the development of its infrastructure, the town has emerged as a hotspot for events ranging from sports to culture. The inclusion of Hatta in the Dubai Fitness Challenge and its selection as the venue for the Spartan Race underscore its growing reputation as a sports and wellness hub. As part of the 2023 Dubai Fitness Challenge (DFC), Hatta hosted the first Dubai Stand-Up Paddle last month with around 1,000 participants enjoying stand-up paddle boarding sessions against a scenic mountainous backdrop. Furthermore, the DFC SUP Challenger Session brought an exciting challenge to participants, while the Sunset SUP Yoga Class offered a peaceful experience in the midst of tranquil mountain scenery. 

Last month, Hatta also played host to the third Spartan Race, recognised as one of the toughest endurance races worldwide, attracting the participation of more than 3,500 athletes from diverse nationalities and age groups, including 900 participants from outside the country. These events, attracting participants globally, highlight Hatta’s potential in hosting international sporting events and promoting an active lifestyle. Held against the backdrop of Hatta’s mountains and valleys, the race attracted over 5,000 spectators.

With the Hatta Master Development Plan strongly emphasising cultural enrichment and community engagement, Hatta has also become a hub for a range of cultural events. During the year, Hatta hosted unique events like the ‘Hatta Cultural Nights’ and initiatives like COREUNITY designed to foster a sense of community. The Hatta Cultural Nights celebrated Emirati heritage, folklore, music and poetry, showcasing the culture of the mountainous region while the COREUNITY Festival delivered three days of music, movement and wellness. The Hatta Heritage Village, the new Hatta Souq and the newly developed Leem Lake have become focal points for this cultural renaissance, bringing to life the area’s history and traditions.

Hatta’s offerings are a key part of the latest #DubaiDestinations winter campaign, which encourages residents and visitors to discover the emirate’s diverse attractions and activities that make the city a distinctive destination in the cooler months of the year.

Emphasis on sustainability
The Hatta Master Development Plan places a strong emphasis on sustainable development. The Hatta hydroelectric power plant, the first project of its kind in the GCC, which is rapidly nearing completion, is notable for its engineering complexity and substantial environmental benefits. It utilises hydroelectricity, a reliable and sustainable power source, surpassing the consistency of wind and solar energy. The project operates in two modes: turbine and pumping. Uniquely, during pumping mode, it harnesses energy from the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, creating a clean power production loop. This integration is pivotal in Dubai's goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, significantly reducing reliance on fossil fuels and raising Hatta’s profile as an eco-conscious destination. 

A critical aspect of the plan is the support extended to local farmers. The Supreme Committee has implemented a comprehensive programme providing farmers with guidance, resources, and marketing platforms. This initiative has not only promoted local agriculture but also enriched the region's green cover, with the plantation of about 13,000 indigenous trees.

As Hatta continues to evolve, it is setting a global benchmark for how smaller destinations can advance development and widen their offerings while preserving their cultural character and embracing the future. Hatta stands as a testament to Dubai’s commitment to sustainable development, heritage preservation, and community engagement, making it not just a distinctive destination but also a model for well-rounded growth.