A new phase of growth for Abu Dhabi

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I recently decided to take a trip to Louvre Abu Dhabi. It’s one of my favourite landmarks in the UAE and the collection of artworks is mind-blowing. As I strolled through the galleries, admiring the works of grand masters and more contemporary artists from Da Vinci and Van Gogh to Warhol, it got me thinking about how dramatically Abu Dhabi has transformed. I’ve lived in the UAE capital for just five years, but have witnessed some incredible changes.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is just a small part of the island’s growing Cultural District, which will one day be home to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, and Zayed National Museum, which will bring to life the history of the region and its founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Unsurprisingly, the number of travellers visiting Abu Dhabi is on the up. In fact, according to the Department of Culture and Tourism, around 4.9 million hotel guests visited the UAE capital in 2017, and this number is expected to hit six million by the end of 2018. While this does reflect how the UAE capital is evolving as a travel destination, it can also be partly put down to changes in travel laws. For example, in 2016, the UAE introduced visas on arrival for Chinese visitors. Since then, China has become the biggest tourism source market for Abu Dhabi, and the fifth largest for nearby Dubai.

It’s interesting to see how the hospitality industry is responding to these changes. I spoke to Olivier Harnisch, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group, to see what plans the brand had in store in Abu Dhabi, and he told me about the plans to operate a new Vida hotel on Al Reem Island.

“The new property, Vida Beach Reem Island Abu Dhabi, is going to be spectacular destination overlooking the Arabian Gulf,” Harnisch said. “Like our other Vida Hotels and Resorts properties, we want to offer something upscale and stylish, something a bit different from the usual luxury resort.”

At the moment, Al Reem Island is largely residential, with no big attractions to speak of, but that it is an up-and-coming neighbourhood that’s likely to evolve dramatically in the coming years, much like the rest of the emirate. Plus, it will be a great base for exploring Abu Dhabi’s other attractions, such as the luxury shopping destinations of Al Maryah Island and the entertainment offerings of Yas Island.

The latter is a popular destination for a family day out, as the home to two of the UAE’s biggest attractions: Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, where you’ll find the fastest roller coaster in the world, and Yas Waterworld, the famed Emirati-themed water park.

And of course, Yas Marina Circuit is one of Abu Dhabi’s biggest attractions, especially in November, when it hosts the annual Etihad Airways Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the closing race of the Formula 1 season. Ever since it first hosted the race in 2009, it’s been one of the biggest events on the calendar, not just for motorsports but also for after-race parties including its big name concerts. Some of the best acts in the world have played at du Arena on Formula 1 weekend, from Florence and the Machine and Lionel Richie to Rihanna and Calvin Harris.

Yas Island’s entertainment offering is growing too. Anticipation is high on the island for the upcoming opening of Warner Bros. Abu Dhabi, a theme park based on the movies and characters of the famous studio.

It’s yet another sign that Abu Dhabi is a capital city on the rise.

James N. is an Abu Dhabi-based writer and travel expert with an interest in hospitality trend

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