Tourists visit the UAE Heritage Village at the breakwater in Abu Dhabi Corniche. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News archive

Abu Dhabi — The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) is on a drive to expand the emirate’s tourism offerings outside the capital itself, with plans to capitalise on Unesco World Heritage sites.

In an email interview with Gulf News, TCA said it had plans to, “engage our partners to leverage more of our Unesco World Heritage sites to deepen the sense of place.”

TCA declined to elaborate further on its plans for the sites. However, the only Unesco sites in Abu Dhabi Emirate are in Al Ain, and include six oases, the archaeological sites of Bida Bin Saud, Hafit, and Hili.

Tourism in the emirate has long been concentrated in Abu Dhabi city. TCA figures for the first four months of the year show a total of 1.37 million guests checking into the emirate’s hotels — 1.19 million of whom checked into the capital city’s hotels, compared to 131,367 guests in Al Ain’s hotels, and 48,641 guests in the Western Region.

The figures for Al Ain and the Western Region are an improvement from the first four months in 2014, though, with the cities showing an 11 per cent and a 33 per cent rise respectively, TCA’s hotel establishment report showed.

Sultan Al Daheri, TCA’s acting executive director of tourism, told Gulf News that the authority’s plans for the emirate also include developing family-friendly resorts that attract guests looking for the winter sun, and expanding partner engagements in events and festivals to raise visitors’ length of stay.

“[We’re looking at] strengthening the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau business events, and the Mice [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] sectors. Cruise tourism is also considered one of the most important sectors, and it plays an important role in our overall tourism ambitions, and we have identified the cruise sector as one with much growth potential,” Al Daheri said.

He added, “Abu Dhabi Ports Company’s investment in a dedicated 8,000-square-metre cruise terminal at Zayed Port, which will be fully open for the 2016-17 season, will be a game-changer in terms of both client and consumer service.”

Working with Abu Dhabi Ports Company and other stakeholders, TCA is set to encourage regional cruises to start and end their journeys in Abu Dhabi, and talk with other global lines about stopping by Abu Dhabi.

“Abu Dhabi’s cruise passenger arrivals have increased fivefold since the sector began in the emirate in 2007, with anticipated arrivals this season reaching 220,000 passengers from 95 vessel calls,” Al Daheri said.

The figure is expected to grow to 300,000 passenger arrivals from 130 calls by a minimum of 16 ships by the 2019-2020 season, with TCA having already signed deals with various cruise organisers.

Away from Abu Dhabi’s shores, TCA is looking to develop halal tourism, and develop an inward investment function to boost the small and medium enterprise sector.

“Our ambition is to become a leader in the global halal tourism market and gain a greater share of the global market which is estimated to be worth $140 billion, rising to $192 billion by 2020,” Al Daheri said.

TCA will host the World Halal Travel Summit in the capital this October, and is working on promoting an international halal tourism campaign that meets with Muslim visitors’ beliefs.

In order to boost the various segments of the hospitality industry, TCA said it was working with Etihad Airways to identify opportunities for new routes and hence, new guest markets.

These include Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, and Serbia. The recently-opened TCA office in Johannesburg is also looking at markets in South Africa.

“Our 11 overseas offices still hold our attention, and we are getting fruitful results especially from the China market, which has now become the third largest overseas market for the emirate. [This is] supported by strong regional GCC tourism growth, and robust performances from the UK & Ireland, India, the USA, and leading European markets,” Al Daheri said.

During the first four months of this year, 79,713 Chinese guests checked into Abu Dhabi’s hotels — a 75 per cent increase compared to the same time in 2014.

Last month, TCA announced that it has raised its 2015 guest arrivals target from 3.5 million to 3.9 million, supported by figures showing 1.37 million guest arrivals during the first four months of the year.