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Abu Dhabi welcomes over 10 million international visitors in 2018

Abu Dhabi is a magnet for tourism but why so many internationals are visiting the city

The UAE capital, which has witnessed an increase in hotel guests to the emirate of 13.62% since the beginning of 2016 More than 10 million visitors came to experience the UAE capital last year, made up of both day-trippers and overnight guests Several sectors have significantly contributed to Abu Dhabi’s growing appeal to international travellers, with cultural tourism perhaps the most prominent

Abu Dhabi welcomed 10.27 million international visitors in 2018, with the emirate also posting figures showing incredible growth over the last three years, powered by the addition of a host of world-class events and enhancements to all of its specialised tourism sectors, massive improvements to its infrastructure and significant development of its cultural assets. 

The UAE capital, which has witnessed an increase in hotel guests to the emirate of 13.62% since the beginning of 2016, has worked hard to reinforce its position as a destination with remarkable global appeal and as a place destined to become a key cultural city of the future.

Abu Dhabi has seen huge advances across all areas of tourism sectors, including the cultural, business, family-focused and medical sectors, with the cruise sector providing more than 350,000 visitors to the emirate in 2018. The emirate’s world-class cultural assets also attracted more than 2,672,732 people to the emirate; further booting visitation metrics.    

The UAE capital has also witnessed the addition of a number of world-class cultural institutions, such as the spectacular Louvre Abu Dhabi and the reopening of the iconic Qasr Al Hosn site, as well as the launch of several high profile events and initiatives which have added to its global reputation.   

Figures released by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) have shown more than 10 million visitors came to experience the UAE capital last year, made up of both day-trippers and overnight guests, with these hotel guests increasing by 3.94% compared to 2017 at one of the emirate’s 168 hotels or hotel apartments. In the last three years, Abu Dhabi has posted record numbers of hotel guests every year, regularly exceeding DCT Abu Dhabi’s annual targets.

The key markets of India, the US and China have all posted double-digit growth for hotel guests in 2018, underpinning the impressive surge in visitor numbers to the emirate. India and China remain the two top markets for overseas visitors, with the UK – the top European source market – rounding out the top three markets for overseas visitors. 

“We are incredibly pleased to see these positive metrics, as year on year we have exceeded the already ambitious targets set for Abu Dhabi’s growth,” said HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman at DCT Abu Dhabi. “The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi has made extraordinary strides since its very inception, and a snapshot of the last three years gives an even clearer indication of the strength of the emirate’s growth and standing on the global stage. We are now firmly established as a world-class cultural destination. With the emirate’s natural beauty as a stepping off point, Abu Dhabi has steadily enhanced its touristic and cultural proposition until today, visitors can now enjoy incredible options in entertainment – both sporting and artistic – retail, dining and hospitality, as well as top class cultural venues for visual and performing arts experiences. The soaring visitor figures we have seen are evidence of the increase in global appeal of our emirate.

“The past three years have seen countless significant additions to Abu Dhabi’s structural, touristic and cultural landscape. Most prominent amongst these include the recent reopening of the Al Hosn cultural site, which now offers visitors new experiences of heritage and artistic creativity, and the stunning Louvre Abu Dhabi. The annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has gone from strength to strength, and has attracted millions of visitors to the Emirate since it launched in 2009.

“Other entertainment options have also proved popular with our overseas visitors. In the last three years our infrastructure has been boosted with many new additions, including Warner Bros World, which has added a new dimension to the entertainment offerings on Yas Island, which is in itself a massive success story for the emirate.

“On the business side of our mandate, we have also had considerable success, with our Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau continuing to secure high-profile conferences and events for the emirate, further establishing us on the global business world’s radar. Since 2009 we have welcomed thousands of delegates from overseas to our conferences, meetings and exhibitions, which have included such notable successes as the World Skills event, which took place in 2017 and attracted more than 100,000 visitors to Abu Dhabi from a multitude of overseas schools and universities. 

“As a mark of how far we’ve come, we’re also looking forward in 2019 to hosting the biggest humanitarian event in history when we welcome the Special Olympics to Abu Dhabi. 

“We have also courted cruise tourism with the opening of the new Mina Port and the Bani Yas Island beach cruise stopover. We have also just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Emirates Medical Association to tap into the booming sector of medical tourism.

“These successes are only a fraction of what DCT Abu Dhabi has implemented in the last three years, and it is important to note that our ambition does not stop there. We will continue to push for growth, and are working toward the introduction of further landmark initiatives and attractions in the coming years that will cement Abu Dhabi’s position as a one of the fastest growing destinations in the region in the last three years.”

Several sectors have significantly contributed to Abu Dhabi’s growing appeal to international travellers, with cultural tourism perhaps the most prominent; a highlight of which was the addition of Louvre Abu Dhabi to the emirate’s portfolio, garnering global attention upon its launch in 2017. 

The first component of the ambitious Saadiyat Cultural District, the first universal museum in the region attracted more than 1 million visitors in its first year and put Abu Dhabi on the world’s ‘cultural map’. The reopening of the Al Hosn site was also a significant event for cultural tourism in Abu Dhabi, with the oldest building in the emirate, now a museum showcasing Abu Dhabi’s history and Emirati culture, reopening to great acclaim in late 2018.  

Abu Dhabi is now established as a vibrant and dynamic hub for global business and the emirate has witnessed a sizeable growth in business events over the last five years. DCT Abu Dhabi’s Convention Bureau has achieved notable success in this time period, successfully bidding for globally recognised events such as the aforementioned Special Olympics, which will be held in Abu Dhabi this year, as well as beating off competitive bids from both Rio de Janeiro and St Petersburg to host the 2019 World Energy Congress (WEC), one of the world’s most important energy forums. 

The cruise sector has also seen vast leaps forward in the last three years, with the new Abu Dhabi cruise terminal opening – a first of its kind in the region, offering state-of-the-art port facilities and features, such as airline check in, not offered anywhere else in the region – as well as the Sir Bani Yas Beach development. Both have increased Abu Dhabi’s appeal as an attractive port of call and homeport destination which has translated into an increase of 27.82% in cruise passengers to Abu Dhabi. 279,704 cruise passengers visited Abu Dhabi in 2016, compared with 354,015 in 2018. Also, during this time from 2016-18, some 963,257 cruise ship passengers disembarked at Abu Dhabi.

The healthcare sector value proposition has also been a focus for the emirate, as medical tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of global tourism. In 2018, DCT Abu Dhabi partnered with the Department of Health to launch medical tourism initiatives to benefit the growth of the sector in the UAE capital, working to stimulate interest in the emirate’s cutting edge medical infrastructure, facilities and treatments and world-renowned doctors.