Franklin says summer in Abu Dhabi is the main focus this year as it has been expanded to take in its traditional Adnec base but also malls in Abu Dhabi city and Al Ain. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Despite the fact that the tourism business is looking good for the capital city this year, the average occupancy rate for hotels and hotel units is down on last year's figures.

Experts blame it on the recent increase in hotel rooms, such as those on Yas Island.

As part of its 2030 strategy plan, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said it has been working to provide developers, investors and operators with information about the demand and supply of hotel accommodation in the emirate.

It has also been working to lure more visitors to Abu Dhabi.

Despite obstacles such as the hot summer, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said it is aiming to deliver at least 80,000 new hotel rooms by 2030.

The authority's strategy and policy director, Lawrence Franklin, spoke to Gulf News ahead of the summer season, about how tourism would look in the months to come, and about what was attracting more tourists than ever to the region.

Gulf News: What is the current occupancy level across hotels in Abu Dhabi? Are numbers decreasing or increasing from last year's levels?

Lawrence Franklin: The latest figures we have are for April 2010. These show the average occupancy rate across all hotels and hotel apartments as 65 per cent, a 19 per cent decline compared to last year.

This result was achieved in the context of significant growth in guests and guest nights — 12 per cent and 13 per cent respectively — indicating that substantial additions to supply at the end of last year have made for competitive operating conditions for hoteliers.

Please give us approximate percentages for 2010 for business and leisure tourism.

For hotels the best estimate is still around 75 per cent business and 25 per cent leisure. For the entire market, which includes visiting friends and relatives, the estimate is 60 per cent business and 40 per cent leisure.

Do you feel the hot weather in the emirate contributes to lower tourism numbers during the summer?

Climatic conditions influence visitor numbers in destinations all over the world, typically with winter versus summer comparisons.

We benefit from ideal conditions for leisure tourism for nine months of the year but summer is a challenge, particularly for leisure tourism, although we have developed the Summer in Abu Dhabi festival to appeal to the GCC family market on our doorstep.

Is the Fifa World Cup affecting tourism numbers in Abu Dhabi these days?

There may well be some element of outbound tourism from the UAE and displacement of visitors from other markets, but definitive information is not yet available.

A counter to these trends is the innovative way in which hotel, restaurant and cafe owners have catered for World Cup fans within the emirate with deals, big screens and fan zones.

What are the occupancy numbers expected to be during the "Summer of Abu Dhabi"? Do you expect tourists to arrive from the GCC or Europe? How many guests are you targeting?

The [Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority] is actively seeking to leverage Summer in Abu Dhabi to enhance visitation from our GCC markets.

We have not set specific occupancy targets but any result in the 60s would be positive. We expect the event will attract tens of thousands of visitors.

What other events are due to take place during the summer to help attract business and leisure tourism? Please name a few.

Summer in Abu Dhabi is the main focus this year as it has, for the first time, been expanded to take in its traditional Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) base but also malls in Abu Dhabi city and Al Ain. In addition, our industry stakeholders are providing great deals across hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Will there be a reduction in hotel room rates during summer? What summer offers are you introducing to enhance tourism numbers?

Yes, the hotel market typically responds to market conditions at this time with discounts, specials, and value adds.

How many hotel rooms do we currently have across the capital city?

There are currently over 17,000 rooms available in the emirate, with most of these in Abu Dhabi city.

Please name the new hotels introduced to the capital city during 2010. Why the increase in hotel numbers? Does demand match supply?

Up to April 2010 there have been few new rooms added to the emirate compared to 2009. The management challenges we face are encouraging the delivery of 80,000 hotel rooms by 2030, in association with increases in demand.

New supply brings us challenges and opportunities. It has changed the dynamics of the market. It is easy to forget that less than 12 months ago the more common complaint was the relative lack of accommodation in our emirate.

How many hotel guests have we received so far in 2010 across the emirate? Is that higher or lower than last year's numbers?

For the year to date (January to April), we have received 622,731 guests, a 16 per cent increase, and 1,682,149 guest nights a 10 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Do you expect occupancy levels to drop by Ramadan? How would you make up for any such loss?

Typically occupancy rates pick up again towards the end of the year, especially as the hottest time passes.

The ADTA is working with stakeholders on demand-generating projects including expanded events, cruise tourism and stopovers.

How many hotels do you expect to introduce to the market across the emirate by next year, and in the coming few years? Where will these hotels mostly be located?

Information provided by developers indicates approximately 4,000 rooms may be added to the emirate in 2010 with a further 6,000 in 2011. Most of these will be in the capital but significant additions will also be provided in Al Ain.

What are the occupancy levels across hotels in the Yas Island? Do you feel these numbers may improve, even without the Yas Marina Circuit events? Why?

The ADTA does not provide information on occupancies in this detail for reasons of confidentiality. There is however little doubt that occupancy rates for Yas Island will increase.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi opening in October, the opening of the Yas Links golf course, the recently announced major water park, in conjunction with Yas Marina and Yas Circuit, all add up to a major destination which Abu Dhabi has been waiting for.