UAE’s capital gains on the centre stage

(SAEED DAHLAH)   

 
 

The capital of the UAE has not only emerged as a credible alternative on the hotel and real estate maps, but it has suddenly appeared on the radar as a top cultural events destination.

 

Abu Dhabi is hitting the headlines worldwide courtesy of Elton John and Justin Timberlake, both of whom stopped off at Emirates Palace recently on their world tours. Beyond the crowd-pullers, however, a host of smaller events – art exhibitions, ballets and musical festivals – are raising the emirate’s profile with the arty set.

 

You were travelling last November? Too bad, you missed one of the region’s biggest art fairs, which raised $60 million (Dh2.2bn). But the true culture maven was in the capital, watching Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet.

 

Abu Dhabi is not just an add-on extra date when promoters want to bring a show to the region anymore, it is a capital draw in its

own right.

 

“As the emerging cultural capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is becoming the destination of choice for high-profile international events. The combination of venues, facilities and support from local sponsors and government bodies has already ensured the success of a number of prestigious events, and we fully expect this trend to continue,” says Hans Olbertz, general manager at Emirates Palace Hotel, which is the top choice of venue in the capital, and has hosted both John and Timberlake.

 

“Abu Dhabi is on the radar now because there’s so much going on here,” said Rania Kimaz, managing partner of event management firm Events Solutions, which brought in Elton John.

 

“From projects to art to entire new developments like the Saadiyat Island, people are putting their money into the emirate now. It has the infrastructure, what it needs more of now is the entertainment.”

 

Imad Elias, chief operating officer with Rotana Hotels brings it back to the emirate’s vision. “Abu Dhabi’s economy is largely dominated by the oil industry but with this in mind, the government has made it clear that it is keen to introduce diversification for the future prosperity of the emirate,” he told Emirates Business by e-mail.

 

“These events are only part of the offering that will help encourage visitors and ultimately attract more business. This will assist in fulfilling the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority’s (ADTA) objective of creating The Abu Dhabi Destination.”

 

To rewind a little, when the $27bn Saadiyat Island complex was unveiled in 2006, with its collection of iconic museums designed by some of the world’s biggest “starchitects”, the ADTA declared its intention to position the emirate as the Middle East’s biggest cultural capital, drawing parallels with old-time centres such as Damascus and Cairo, which drew artists and scholars from everywhere in their day.

 

Speaking at the opening of the Arts Of Islam exhibition, running at Emirates Palace until April 22, ADTA chairman Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, said Abu Dhabi had for some time recognised the key role culture and art can play in the development of society by providing a new communications platform bridging various cultures and nationalities. He urged the Middle East and the global arts community to solidly support the emirate’s plans to transform itself into an international cultural centre for the benefit of all.

 

And doing so will be key to bringing in more tourists. The ADTA believes events are important for the growth of a tourism destination, and has been encouraging partners in the emirate to up the cultural ante. When speaking to media before, Sheikh Sultan has pointed out that in the studies undertaken by the emirate, culture has been shown to be a strong driver of the kind of tourism Abu Dhabi has identified as its primary market: upscale and high-repeat visitation. According to the World Tourism Organisation, cultural tourists spend more on a daily basis – about $20  a day more – than beach or sun tourists on average.

 

By filling its dance card with big-ticket cultural events even before the jewels in its crown – the largest Guggenheim in the world or the first outpost of the Louvre – are ready, the ADTA is ensuring the words Abu Dhabi and culture are being spoken in the same breath. Once these museums and arts facilities are open, the ADTA has said it anticipates 500,000 overseas cultural tourists a year at the Saadiyat Island – or just under one-sixth of its estimated target of three million tourists by 2015.

 

That tourists come in from around the region for events is borne out by the high room occupancy levels. “Inevitably during events, the hotel is often fully-booked, as many guests travel from other parts of the region to attend,” said Emirates Palace’s Olbertz.

 

Elias added: “Rotana witnessed  a consistent occupancy of above 89 per cent, which was the highest in the city, and this was mainly due to the increase in demand. When the city hosts such events, our hotels in Abu Dhabi run at an occupancy of 100 per cent during these events throughout 2007.”

 

“Although we’re not really anticipating a surge in ‘mass tourism’, we hope to appeal to the more discerning tourist – someone who wants to experience something new in surroundings that are unspoilt, but with all the modern-day luxuries.”

 

So why should events managers choose Abu Dhabi? What does it have going for it? “Abu Dhabi offers modern, luxurious facilities with the highest international specifications combined with the ideal infrastructure to support world- class events, while providing an authentic Arabian experience”, is how

 

Olbertz at Emirates Palace put it, with the emphasis on authenticity, one of tourism’s buzz words at the moment.

 

Events Solutions’s Kimaz agreed and summed it up like this: “Competition is always good for the market. But however you look at it, Abu Dhabi has a unique cultural formula that sets it apart as an events destination.”

 

Save the last word, though, for Barrett Wissman, pianist and chairman of events organisers IMG, which is putting together the upcoming Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Festival: “When people in the West think about the Emirates, you can’t imagine what’s in their minds. But I can say from having worked here, that what we’re finding is a testament to the personal commitment of these people to develop their arts in the right way.” The capital of the UAE has not only emerged as a credible alternative on the hotel and real estate maps, but it has suddenly appeared on the radar as a top cultural events destination.

 

Abu Dhabi is hitting the headlines worldwide courtesy of Elton John and Justin Timberlake, both of whom stopped off at Emirates Palace recently on their world tours. Beyond the crowd-pullers, however, a host of smaller events – art exhibitions, ballets and musical festivals – are raising the emirate’s profile with the arty set.

 

You were travelling last November? Too bad, you missed one of the region’s biggest art fairs, which raised $60 million (Dh2.2bn). But the true culture maven was in the capital, watching Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet.

 

Abu Dhabi is not just an add-on extra date when promoters want to bring a show to the region anymore, it is a capital draw in its own right.

 

“As the emerging cultural capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is becoming the destination of choice for high-profile international events. The combination of venues, facilities and support from local sponsors and government bodies has already ensured the success of a number of prestigious events, and we fully expect this trend to continue,” says Hans Olbertz, general manager at Emirates Palace Hotel, which is the top choice of venue in the capital, and has hosted both John and Timberlake.

 

“Abu Dhabi is on the radar now because there’s so much going on here,” said Rania Kimaz, managing partner of event management firm Events Solutions, which brought in Elton John.

 

“From projects to art to entire new developments like the Saadiyat Island, people are putting their money into the emirate now. It has the infrastructure, what it needs more of now is the entertainment.”

 

Imad Elias, chief operating officer with Rotana Hotels brings it back to the emirate’s vision. “Abu Dhabi’s economy is largely dominated by the oil industry but with this in mind, the government has made it clear that it is keen to introduce diversification for the future prosperity of the emirate,” he told Emirates Business by e-mail.

 

“These events are only part of the offering that will help encourage visitors and ultimately attract more business. This will assist in fulfilling the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority’s (ADTA) objective of creating The Abu Dhabi Destination.”

 

To rewind a little, when the $27bn Saadiyat Island complex was unveiled in 2006, with its collection of iconic museums designed by some of the world’s biggest “starchitects”, the ADTA declared its intention to position the emirate as the Middle East’s biggest cultural capital, drawing parallels with old-time centres such as Damascus and Cairo, which drew artists and scholars from everywhere in their day.

 

Speaking at the opening of the Arts Of Islam exhibition, running at Emirates Palace until April 22, ADTA chairman Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, said Abu Dhabi had for some time recognised the key role culture and art can play in the development of society by providing a new communications platform bridging various cultures and nationalities. He urged the Middle East and the global arts community to solidly support the emirate’s plans to transform itself into an international cultural centre for the benefit of all.

 

And doing so will be key to bringing in more tourists. The ADTA believes events are important for the growth of a tourism destination, and has been encouraging partners in the emirate to up the cultural ante. When speaking to media before, Sheikh Sultan has pointed out that in the studies undertaken by the emirate, culture has been shown to be a strong driver of the kind of tourism Abu Dhabi has identified as its primary market: upscale and high-repeat visitation. According to the World Tourism Organisation, cultural tourists spend more on a daily basis – about $20  a day more – than beach or sun tourists on average.

 

By filling its dance card with big-ticket cultural events even before the jewels in its crown – the largest Guggenheim in the world or the first outpost of the Louvre – are ready, the ADTA is ensuring the words Abu Dhabi and culture are being spoken in the same breath. Once these museums and arts facilities are open, the ADTA has said it anticipates 500,000 overseas cultural tourists a year at the Saadiyat Island – or just under one-sixth of its estimated target of three million tourists by 2015.

 

That tourists come in from around the region for events is borne out by the high room occupancy levels. “Inevitably during events, the hotel is often fully-booked, as many guests travel from other parts of the region to attend,” said Emirates Palace’s Olbertz.

 

Elias added: “Rotana witnessed  a consistent occupancy of above 89 per cent, which was the highest in the city, and this was mainly due to the increase in demand. When the city hosts such events, our hotels in Abu Dhabi run at an occupancy of 100 per cent during these events throughout 2007.”

 

“Although we’re not really anticipating a surge in ‘mass tourism’, we hope to appeal to the more discerning tourist – someone who wants to experience something new in surroundings that are unspoilt, but with all the modern-day luxuries.”

 

So why should events managers choose Abu Dhabi? What does it have going for it? “Abu Dhabi offers modern, luxurious facilities with the highest international specifications combined with the ideal infrastructure to support world- class events, while providing an authentic Arabian experience”, is how Olbertz at Emirates Palace put it, with the emphasis on authenticity, one of tourism’s buzz words at the moment.

 

Events Solutions’s Kimaz agreed and summed it up like this: “Competition is always good for the market. But however you look at it, Abu Dhabi has a unique cultural formula that sets it apart as an events destination.”

 

Save the last word, though, for Barrett Wissman, pianist and chairman of events organisers IMG, which is putting together the upcoming Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Festival: “When people in the West think about the Emirates, you can’t imagine what’s in their minds. But I can say from having worked here, that what we’re finding is a testament to the personal commitment of these people to develop their arts in the right way.”

 

 

Top events to look forward to

 

Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Festival:

 

To be held from March 22 to April 2 at the Emirates Palace, the event will see performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra and Ballet, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, as well as Anna Netrebko, Vladimir Jurowski, Nicolaj Znaider, Khaled Selim, Saeed Kamal, Naseer Shamma, Elina Garanca, Hiba al Kawas, Erwin Schrott, Sarah Chang and José Maria Gallardo del Rey.

 

 

French Art Festival:

 

In Dubai this weekend and in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, the festival will exhibit 350 contemporary art works by 30 French artists, as well as works by five UAE-based artists.

 

 

The Abu Dhabi Festival for the Nation’s Culture, Heritage and Folklore:

 

To be held in June, it will feature a host of activities, including exhibitions, an international conference on cultural interaction, folklore events, as well as cultural and heritage contests.

 

The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage is offering a series of Islamic craft workshops for adults until Monday, led by gifted masters in traditional crafts including calligraphy, Persian painting and ceramics.

 

 

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction:

 

Abu Dhabi and The Booker Foundation will name one Middle Eastern author as winner of the annual award – and $50,000 – on Monday.

 

 

Al Ain Classical Music Festival:

 

Scheduled to run from Thursday to March 16 in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, the 11-day festival will see the region’s first performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, a performance of Wagner’s most popular works by the Statskapelle Dresden and a selection of Puccini and Vivaldi by the Academy Teatro Alla Scala, among others.

 
 
 
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