Abu Dhabi: Celebrating the traditions and culture of the UAE, the 11th annual edition of Al Dhafra Festival got under way on Thursday in Madinat Zayed, with the event set to run until December 28.

Organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee, this year’s festival will be holding several traditional competitions with a total of Dh38 million in prize money to be awarded to 1,400 lucky winners.

The festival’s main competition — totalling over Dh30 million in prize money — will be the camel beauty competitions, with organisers expecting more than 20,000 camels to feature at the festival. The camels — along with their 1,500 owners — all hail from several nearby Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, highlighting the festival’s growing reach and popularity in the region.

“This is the biggest event in Al Dhafra Region. It celebrates and honours the traditional way of life people still live in this area. Our culture, heritage and traditions are still very much part of the daily life in Al Dhafra Region, and this festival gives people an opportunity to express, in many different ways and through many different traditions, their love for their country and their roots,” said Abdullah Butti Al Qubaisi, director of the Events and Communications Department at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee - Abu Dhabi.

Al Qubaisi spoke positively on the festival’s competitions which, he said, were more than just about winning, but rather to raise awareness on local traditions.

“For the past decade, Al Dhafra Festival has opened different trade channels, generated incomes and raised awareness on marketing tools for the people in the region. Through competitions run at international standards, participants learnt how to package their handicrafts — for example, they learnt how to better care for their date palm trees or their animals.

“The festival also showed people new creative ways of presenting their heritage, ways that also ensure their legacy is passed on to their children,” he added.

Al Qubaisi also highlighted the economic impact of the festival for the region, with this year’s festival expecting more than 90,000 visitors due to its rising popularity and its boost for local businesses.

“From an economic perspective, the festival continues to make a major impact on local businesses. Weeks before the festival, all hotels in the region are fully booked, restaurants and cafes are very busy and nearly every service and goods providers flourish,” he said.

Like previous years, the festival will have an array of daily events and activities. The traditional souq — covering an area of 48,000 square metres — will offer visitors the chance to get a look at several traditionally produced Emirati handicrafts and art, as well as the chance to taste several popular Emirati cuisines.

This year’s festival will also have a daily Bedouin show for the first time which will present the desert life and traditions, giving visitors the opportunity to get a glimpse of what life was like for Emiratis in the harsh desert environment.

Al Dhafra Festival

Where: Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi

When: December 14-28

Times: Daily, 10am-10pm, open free to public

The full list of programmes and events can be found on festival’s official website: http://turathuna.ae/en/event/al-dhafra-festival