Despite deepening economic meltdown worldwide, Abu Dhabi moves ahead with plans for development in hotels and attractions. The spotlight has turned on Abu Dhabi as an emerging cultural capital focused on developing visionary projects based on modern architecture and sustainability, according to international real estate and development experts.
Abu Dhabi, the largest of seven emirates within the United Arab Emirates and home to the country’s capital, has raised hotel guest projections for five years from the original targets set in 2004. Abu Dhabi has emerged as one of the world’s most rapidly developing destinations in recent years following the government’s decision to promote tourism as a key priority sector in its diversification strategy. Besides year-round sunshine, fine hotels and excellent facilities for leisure, sport, shopping and dining, the emirate offers an authentic taste of traditional Arabian culture and outstanding natural beauty, including vast tracts of spectacular unspoiled desert dunes, green oases and miles of pristine sandy beaches.
Despite the recession that has not kept Dubai and the whole country immune from, Abu Dhabi isn’t buckling. The upgrade, revealed in the authority’s five-year plan for 2008-2012 launched May 2008, put projected annual hotel guests at 2.7 million by the end of 2012 – 12.5% more than initially expected. The new target also calls for the emirate to have 25,000 hotel rooms by 2012 end, equal to 4,000 more than originally forecast. The plan will push the emirate’s hotel stock up by 13,000 rooms on its current available inventory.
Abu Dhabi, however, is not oblivious of the dangers and risks of operating in a global recessionary environment. “With the global credit crisis causing uncertainty across much of the real estate industry, investors are naturally cautious about where to focus,” said Rohan Marwaha, managing director of the Cityscape Abu Dhabi 2009 trade show.
“With its multi-billion dollar long term plans for continued infrastructure development, Abu Dhabi is providing the world with remarkable opportunities that simply do not exist elsewhere,” he added. “What is becoming clear in the new global economic climate is that Abu Dhabi, is fast establishing itself as a beacon of cultural renaissance as well as a focus for futuristic, sustainable residential and commercial habitats.”
Abu Dhabi’s cultural focus is centered on the Saadiyat Island development which includes the first branch of the Louvre outside of Paris and the world’s largest Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a modern-day Wonder of the World designed by Frank Gehry. Appropriately, Saadiyat translates aptly as the ‘island of happiness’.
The Saadiyat Island is a large, low-lying island, some 500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi developed at a cost of US$ 27 billion in a mixed commercial, residential, and leisure project design.
His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said, “The Emirates is characterized by a legacy of culture and heritage. In a 2003 study we completed with UNESCO, a careful examination of the final report showed we have many areas that can be put on the World Heritage List. When we created ADTA in 2004, our most important task was to create the Saadiyat Island. We had the concept of opening museums consistent with the vision of the Abu Dhabi leaders whose objective is to preserve culture and make it part and parcel of local education. When we launched the master plan in 2007, we also opened two new museums representing top foreign fine arts.” The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) is the apex body that manages the tourism industry in the seat of government of the Middle East’s most successful nation, by far.
On the sustainability front, Abu Dhabi is a providing a global role model with the UK architectural firm Foster and Partners master planning the world’s first zero carbon city. Known as Masdar City, the pioneering development has begun construction and will eventually house 40,000 people with no greenhouse gas emissions and no waste.
“Though developing business tourism is expected to support Abu Dhabi during the financial downturn, the emirate is pressing on with dramatic cultural attractions for the longer term,” said Marwaha.
Saadiyat Island’s cultural district is on track to be completed on time, with construction of the Louvre, Guggenheim and Sheikh Zayed National museums scheduled to start this year, with no delays expected in their progress, according to the Cityscape director. Saadiyat Island’s cultural district is one of the emirate’s planned anchor tourism attractions and is expected to attract 1.5 million visitors a year once fully completed by 2018 and will be home to around 160,000 people. When the project was first announced, the island was expected to attract investment of more than $27 billion.
The dramatic Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi will be the largest Guggenheim at 30,000 square meters. It is being built at an estimated cost of $400 million. Gehry’s previous best-known works include the world-renowned titanium covered Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. The similarly dramatic domed Louvre Museum planned for Abu Dhabi is designed by French architect Jean Nouvel who was awarded the 2008 Pritzker Prize for his creative experimentation. His works include the much acclaimed Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris, which utilises aspects of Islamic architecture and, like the Louvre itself, is one of the French capital’s cultural reference points.
Marwaha said Abu Dhabi’s property market remains strong. “You have to compare Abu Dhabi to other international cities in terms of the extent to which they are on the radars of institutional investors and high net worth individuals,” he said. “Abu Dhabi still is a very strong proposition and has a lot of growth to go through.”