This article is a crosspost from Fikra Labs.
The direct contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the UAE’s GDP was AED 68.5 billion (US $18.7 billion) in 2016, little over five percent of the total GDP. It is forecasted to grow to over $31 billion in 2027, as figures published by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reveal. The same report highlighted that the industry is expected to attract even more investment throughout the next 10 years, and capital investments are foreseen to exceed $20 billion in 2027.
Besides Dubai, Abu Dhabi has been a solid contributor to these figures throughout the past years. Announcing the multifaceted 2021 plan that aims at positioning the Emirate on a global economic scale, is a clear statement that Abu Dhabi has a strong a diverse package to offer. Under its tourism wing, the plan aims at attracting 8.6 million tourists, said Sultan Al Mutawa Al Dhaheri, Executive Director, Tourism Sector of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, which regulates, develops and promotes the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The plan also aims to promote and develop touristic areas, develop cultural tourism, improving the tourists’ experiences, in addition to developing business, events, and festivals tourism.
Travellers’ needs are changing at a fast pace and businesses must adapt to them. In the last few years, a lot has changed in the travel and tourism industry thanks to technology that played a major role in disrupting the travel experience to boost the traveller’s satisfaction.
Abu Dhabi’s authorities, which look to become a tourism leader, have never stopped fostering innovation and creativity in this regard.
A new visa counter at Abu Dhabi International Airport now grants transit and arriving passengers visas to Abu Dhabi in as little as 15 to 30 minutes. “The launch of the new entry visa system strengthens the country’s efforts to maintain its regional leadership and position it on the global map in the fields of tourism, economy and education,” said Brigadier Mansour Ahmed Ali Al Dhaheri, director-general of residency and foreigners affairs - Abu Dhabi.
Hotels across the Emirate are also embracing technology. Rosewood Abu Dhabi is set to revolutionise the hotel guest experience with the launch of the Neorcha myHotel mobile app, which gives guests direct access to a range of hotel services throughout the guest journey, from pre-arrival to post-stay. The app provides additional functionality for in-room hotel technology, which can be used on a guest’s own mobile device, or on provided in-room devices. It integrates with the property’s hospitality systems and provides a wider range of functionality to the guest’s mobile device.
Food is also served smartly. Icafe is an interactive cafeteria located in Mushrif Mall Abu Dhabi. It brings multi-touch immersive tabletops powered by Intel which engage customers in an interactive way. It merges customers’ virtual experience with reality: From menu options, to placing an order, and even to access to personal social media accounts.
Some places are using tech to offer even more fun experiences. Abu Dhabi’s Rogo’s for instance is the first restaurant in the region where food is delivered to tables on an intricate system of tracks where containers spin and loop, much like a rollercoaster, before reaching the customer.
According to Al Dhaheri, one must embrace and utilize the huge impact technology is having on the tourism industry. Tools and apps are within the hands of travellers even before they decide upon the destination they are visiting. They can now seek consultancy through TripAdvisor and others, book their stays online through OTAs, and stop worrying about transportation, thanks to services like Uber which have been suspended in the Emirate. Abu Dhabi’s Integrated Center (TransAD) stopped car-hailing apps such as Uber and Careem from operating, as their prices compete with that of standard taxis. However, Careem re-entered the market with a new pricing structure and Uber is looking to explore new solutions with TransAD.
“Technology is integrated in different layers of the tourists’ journey, and we want to be ahead of that,” he said.
This triggered the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), Etihad Aviation Group, along with asset management company Miral, Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC), to kick-off Fikra Labs, an initiative that aims to boost Abu Dhabi’s travel and tourism industries through creating innovative solutions.
Launched in February, startups are invited to apply to join the four-week acceleration programme held at the Etihad Innovation Center, and come up with innovative solutions to challenges set by each of the four partners.
The accelerator will help participants concretise and embody their ideas and take them to the implementation level.
Al Dhaheri explained that through this incentive programme, they will help innovative startups achieve their objectives and realise their ideas, supporting them with essential funding, know-how and consultancy.
Out of the 12 startups that will be involved in the acceleration programme, the four partners will be selecting four winners, whose products or solutions will be adopted, as mentioned Al Dhaheri. “Each party has its own challenges, and for us, it’s mainly raising awareness about Abu Dhabi as a destination, better promotion of the destination, and enhancing the guests’ stay and experience.”
He continued: “As DCT Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi in general, we are true believers that entrepreneurship is very important and that new SMEs in the hospitality industry are an integral part of the ecosystem.” This is why a greater number of investments will be oriented in that direction, as he explained. “It will be good for us to spread the culture and the image of Abu Dhabi as a perfect medium to project initiators. We want to support and foster entrepreneurship and let entrepreneurs take Abu Dhabi as a starting point. It will be great for us to promote these startups into bigger entities in the future,” he concluded.
An existing rich offering
According to Al Dhaheri, the Emirate is on its way to achieving its 2021 plan, starting with the implementation of various major projects. These include boosting tourism and culture project Saadiyat Island, hosting the Louvre Abu Dhabi which is a unique asset in itself, in addition to attracting various leisure and business travellers. “In 2006, Abu Dhabi had 7,000 hotel rooms and one million hotel guests. Today, 10 years later, the Emirate has 30,000 rooms, 10,000 in the pipeline, and five million hotel guests,” he said, explaining that growth indicators in the Emirate are almost multiplied by five in just 10 years. “Last year, we achieved a 9 percent growth rate, and some years peaked to 25 percent.”
Becoming a preferred destination to a large number of local and international conventions is another success indicator. “Last year, the Emirate hosted WordSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, an event that celebrates skills such as craftsmanship, 3D game art, and carpentry, which attracted around 10,000 participants and spectators. IDF 2017 Congress in Abu Dhabi (International Diabetes Federation Congress) is another specialised conference that attracted around 8,000 participants.”
According to Al Dhaheri, Abu Dhabi has different market segmentations, which will enable it to achieve its tourism goals.
Geographically, Abu Dhabi is the largest Emirate in the UAE, constituting around 83 percent of the area of the country. It encloses three main regions: Abu Dhabi, Al Ain Region, and Al Dhafra Region, each having its own value proposition and assets.
He explained that each area’s characteristics presents Abu Dhabi as a comprehensive tourism product or package. “Abu Dhabi is a metropolitan city, with rich cultural heritage, gardens, fortress, beach resorts, and museums. Al Ain has its ruins, oases, and natural diversity, whereas Al Dhafra has its unique desert landscape.
A long standing supporter of creativity
Abu Dhabi’s engagement with innovation is not new. The Emirate has a history of supporting creativity and entrepreneurship.
In 2015, Rowad Al Seyaha, an initiative of the Department of Culture and Tourism, was launched. It aimed at offering Emirati entrepreneurs the chance to develop their ideas for potential business startups. The four-stage competition started off with a free one-day workshop, which encompassed a Q&A session with senior government officials and group workshops, where participants were given advice on how to think creatively and develop their business ideas. Judges shortlisted the most outstanding project ideas and moved them to the next stage. Over the following six weeks, shortlisted participants had the chance to take part in a complimentary coaching programme where they developed their project idea into a tangible product, and submitted their final business plans. The winners were entrepreneurs Mohamed Saleh and Ahmed Ali, with their idea to build Abu Dhabi’s first ‘laser maze’ which they named Weez, a giant laser tag arena.