Abu Dhabi’s events spaces
L ast year, Abu Dhabi was ranked one of the world’s fastest-growing destinations by Mastercard. It is gearing up for an eventful few years, with the long-awaited Louvre due to open by the end of the year, and other impressive new attractions under development.
In 2016, the UAE capital welcomed 4.4 million visitors, up eight per cent on the previous year. Events such as the Abu Dhabi Summer Season, Abu Dhabi Food Festival and Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which celebrates the emirate’s history and heritage, have helped to tempt tourists.
Visitor numbers are likely to grow still further thanks to a new terminal building at Abu Dhabi airport, opening in 2019. Expected to increase annual capacity to 30 million passengers, it will have 28,000 sqm of retail and dining space, eight airline lounges and a 163-room transit hotel.
Still, the emirate is not only looking to pull in tourists – it also wants to attract meeting and event planners. The convention bureau has developed the Advantage Abu Dhabi programme to attract business gatherings aligned with the“Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030”, the city’s long-term growth strategy. Its central aim is to diversify the UAE’s economy beyond oil and gas, by investing in sectors such as aviation, tourism and financial services.
The programme offers financial incentives and marketing support to events that show their value within these industries. It seems to be working – a record 14 conferences were secured last year, and are expected to draw more than 35,000 delegates to the region.
The most anticipated of Abu Dhabi’s upcoming openings, and one that should be on any future event itinerary, is the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Originally due for 2012, the dome-shaped building on Saadiyat Island has finally taken shape. It was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel and has been built on a manmade island.
About two-thirds of the museum is covered with a white latticework disc, inspired by the interlacing of palm leaves, used traditionally as roofing material in the region. The US$650 million museum will contain 600 pieces of art across 23 halls, with works borrowed from the Louvre in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou and the Château de Versailles.
Also on Saadiyat Island, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is expected to be 12 times larger than its New York counterpart, although a contract has yet to be awarded for its construction. The Zayed National Museum is on track to open within the next few years – backed by the British Museum, it documents the history and unification of the UAE.
For aviation buffs, the Etihad Airways Innovation Centre in the city’s Al Maqta district features a walkthrough reconstruction of the airline’s A380 and B787 aircraft cabins, including mock-ups of the luxurious A380 residence and first apartments. It is also set up for events, with two meeting rooms, an auditorium and ten classrooms, often used by cabin safety instructors from the airline’s training academy.
Organisers planning larger-scale gatherings could consider Etihad Towers. This multi-use development on the Corniche contains apartments, offices, a shopping mall and a convention centre with a ballroom that can host 2,200 delegates. Within the complex, the luxurious Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel has 382 rooms and 199 serviced apartments as well as 13 meeting rooms and the Mezzoon ballroom, which can host 1,400 guests.
A two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi, event planners looking for a day out of the city can opt to visit Al Ain Oasis, which opened last year. The 1,200-hectare site contains more than 1,47,000 date palm trees in 100 varieties plus an Eco-Centre visitor experience that shows what measures are being taken to conserve the environment.
Another highlight is Al Jahili Fort, the former headquarters of the Trucial Oman Scouts, who guarded the region’s mountain passes and maintained inter-tribal peace. Its north wing is now home to a captivating exhibition on British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, displaying photographs from his travels with Bedouin tribes and Sheikh Zayed, whom he befriended, alongside video footage and excerpts from his best-selling book,
Left and right: Louvre Abu Dhabi; and horse riding in Al Ain Oasis