Exclusive interview: Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Acting Executive Director of Marketing and Communications for Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism
Visitor gures to Abu Dhabi have once again risen year-on-year, and the emirate welcomed an incredible 10 million visitors in 2018. We asked Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Acting Executive Director of the Marketing and Communications Sector at Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism what factors have been driving this success.
There are many. We have been greatly diversifying our tourism offering, and aside from the usual holidaymakers, placing a greater focus on developing different sub-sectors – such as cultural, business, medical, and cruise tourism. This has been paying off – in 2018, the cruise sector provided us more than 350,000 visitors, while our world-class cultural assets, such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, attracted more than 2.6 million people to the emirate.
OUR REPUTATION AS A DESTINATION WITH SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE IS SPURRING EVER GREATER VISITOR NUMBERS
Our packed event programme is also a factor in our success, meaning that all visitors to the emirate have a plethora of entertainment options, from festivals and family events, to artistic and educational workshops, to initiatives making dining and shopping in Abu Dhabi an even more enticing prospect. Our reputation as a destination with something for everyone is spurring ever greater visitor numbers.
Cultural tourism is of course a main attraction. What’s new in this respect?
December saw the addition of a jewel to Abu Dhabi’s cultural crown, with the much-anticipated launch of the Al Hosn cultural site. The original urban block of the city, Al Hosn features our oldest and most significant landmark, Qasr Al Hosn, now transformed into a museum narrating the history of the emirate, as well as the Cultural Foundation, dedicated to all forms of contemporary Emirati culture. Both preserving our history and nurturing our modern creative expression, Al Hosn showcases the best of Abu Dhabi, past and present.
Al Hosn takes its place alongside our many other cultural assets, such as landmark museum Louvre Abu Dhabi, which in November 2018 celebrated both its one-year anniversary and the tremendous milestone of one million visitors. Also noteworthy was the return of Abu Dhabi’s renowned musical platform, Bait Al Oud, now continuing its essential role in documenting masterpieces of Arab musical heritage and restoring music as a fundamental element in the cultural life of the UAE. Last year we also had the honour of the Al Ain Oasis being designated an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our newest cultural attraction in Abu Dhabi is Qasr Al Watan (the Presidential Palace), newly opened to the public as both an architectural landmark and a centre for knowledge and learning. Visitors can discover more about the heritage and history of the UAE, learning about the country’s formation and its system of governance, and access areas typically reserved for official summits. The Palace also houses Qasr Al Watan Library, where scholars can explore a vast collection of books and resources, and exhibitions highlight the intellectual legacy of the UAE as well as notable Arab contributions to various fields of knowledge.
New cultural initiatives will keep coming in the years ahead, as we continue to develop the Saadiyat Cultural District and its further planned museums, and deliver other projects such as the refurbishment of the Al Ain Museum.
How are your source markets evolving?
We have six Tier 1 markets: the GCC, US, UK, India, Germany and China. However, the wide variety and scope of the emirate’s offerings are attracting a wide demographic of tourists from these source destinations and far beyond. We have a comprehensive schedule of international destinations, including but not limited to our Tier 1 markets, where we lead promotional roadshows and attend trade fairs. In China, we are actively increasing our efforts to capture the attention of and attract Chinese travellers. These efforts focused on lowering access barriers to Chinese travellers by preparing digital platforms, including our website and mobile application, to fully support Mandarin-speaking users. We have formed partnerships with the popular technology companies Weibo, WeChat and Baidu to help DCT Abu Dhabi reach millions of new potential Chinese travellers.
Photo: Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Acting Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi