Abu Dhabi: In spite of the global economic crisis impacting most popular destinations worldwide, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) seems upbeat about the future of the emirate. ADTA anticipates an additional 4,000 hotel rooms by the end of 2009, bringing total room capacity to more than 17,000.

With 13,000 hotel rooms and apartments, the capital has recently witnessed a decline in occupancy levels. Figures suggest that in 2007-2008 the occupancy level averaged from 85-90 per cent, versus current numbers that fluctuate between 75 and 80 per cent.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Lawrence Franklin, strategy and policy division director at ADTA did not deny that Abu Dhabi was not immune to the economic crunch. However, he said the additional supply matches forecasted increases in demand with expected hotel guests of more than three million by 2013, which he believes are well on track to be achieved.

"We take part in as much annual exhibitions for a reason: our aim is to expose our product, build awareness, talk to specialised members of the industry, make ourselves familiar among the international media, and remain among the top aviation and hotelier global access industries," he said.

He added that in spite of the global crunch, hotel room rates remain slightly higher in comparison to neighbouring countries and Dubai, due to the continuous demand, specifically among business employees who prefer to reside in hotel apartments than to rent out an apartment.

Franklin also said that in line with the ADTA's plan to keep Abu Dhabi among the top five leading destinations across the world, a recent project has been set up to promote environmental health and safety measures across hotels, making sure hotels abide by a proper re-cycling process, follow the design parameters required, change their fluorescent bulbs on time and many more.

Abu Dhabi plans to stand out as one of the top five, if not the number one, tourism destination in the world. "We're looking for a predominance of four and five star hotel properties by 2019, which are comparable, if not similar, to the Shangri La Hotel and the Emirates Palace. Quality services and proper infrastructure are the benchmarks by which we are being positioning ourselves across the world," said Franklin.

The Abu Dhabi government, in line with ADTA, plans to support its hotel investment stakeholders and stand out as a class tourism destination and industry, with a long-term projection of 26,000 rooms across the emirate by 2012 and 30,000 by 2013, he said.

ADTA's current challenge, however, is to attract more tourists from Europe and the GCC through ongoing infrastructure and product expansion projects to help reach 7.2 million visitors by 2012, occupying at least 27,000 hotel rooms, reaching a hotel revenue of up to Dh8 billion.

To date, most of the demand has been business-based tourism - both from the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions segment and from people visiting to conduct business in the capital city. Leisure tourism is an emerging sector, keeping officials keen on creating a clear 50/50 split between business and leisure visitors.

As Abu Dhabi's economy widens, business tourism will continue, said Franklin, adding that the capital city has proven to be the most resilient segment of the wider visitor panorama with markets such as the Middle East, UK and Germany with other European, Asian and the Australian markets expanding as destination awareness grows.

ADTA currently operates overseas offices in the UK, Germany, France, Australia and China and Italy and has engaged itself in 17 international exhibitions across 11 countries, with three additional shows from last year (the China Incentive Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition, the TTG Incontri leisure show in Italy and the China International Travel Market), encouraging ADTA to set a target plan of taking part in 25 exhibitions by 2012.

The choice of these additional shows reflects ADTA's commitment to the lucrative and expanding Chinese market, which is currently achieving outbound Mice (meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions) business in excess of 10 billion Euros a year - that's according to the Mice China survey.

According to a recently published ADTA report, the Chinese market is estimated to increase five-fold by 2020 and with the expansion of Abu Dhabi's business tourism proposition with major new products due on line, it is essential the UAE capital is firmly established on the radar of China's key buyers.

Abu Dhabi is a growing market for business/leisure tourism.

Over the coming years, the emirate will play host to the inaugural 2009 Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the opening of the multi-experiential Desert Islands nature-based destination and develop Saadiyat Island, the Culture District offering visitors new branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums.

These flagship projects are part of a comprehensive, long-term strategy to elevate Abu Dhabi's status as a truly international destination of distinction.

The tourism infrastructure development is supported by core values of cultural respect, global connectivity and environmental stewardship, targeting discerning tourists who have a keen interest in heritage and culture.