Abu Dhabi makes its play for Israeli tourists

Ali Alshaiba / Photo: PR

Ali Alshaiba of Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism tells "Globes" how his city can compete with glitzy Dubai.

Eleven million tourists visited Abu Dhabi in 2019, six million of them day tourists, such as people visiting from Dubai, while five million spent at least one night in the UAE capital. Now, a new tourist segment is awaited - the Israeli tourist, who, without a shred of cynicism, really seems to be eagerly expected everywhere.

"The excitement is mutual, and we are happy to be taking part in history and showing to the world a successful model of peace between countries. We are here not just to open the door to business, but also to people who want to be exposed to the culture and knowledge of the countries," says Ali Alshaiba, Executive Director of Tourism and Marketing at Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism.

Alshaiba says that the main sources of tourism in Abu Dhabi are Germany, Britain, China, the US, and India. Among other significant markets are Russia, Italy, and France. "Israel is a nearby destination, and that's a big advantage: just three and a quarter hours flying time separate us," he says. "We'll market Abu Dhabi as a perfect destination for a weekend getaway for two or three nights. Our advantage is the variety you can get out of a vacation in a short time. You can spend the morning on the beach, and then go to an entertainments park, and in the evening set out for a star-gazing trip in the desert. I know of no other destination that offers such variety, and we'll provide free shuttles from everywhere to everywhere, at the level of luxury that tourists find in Abu Dhabi."

One thing that, according to Alshaiba, will change the face of tourism is cashless payments. From the shawarma stand in the market to hiring jet skis at the beach to journeys in a taxi, everything can be paid for using payment apps or credit cards. "The aim is that tourists should not have to go around with cash at all," he says. He repeatedly stresses how safe a destination Abu Dhabi is for tourists, claiming that "this is the safest country in the world as far as crime statistics are concerned."

Alshaibi also stresses Abu Dhabi's cultural openness. "Women can wear bikinis at the beach or go covered up; both ways are acceptable here, and I believe that in Israel too people know how to accept all ways. Alcohol is also permissible from age 21, at restaurants and nightclubs. We are a modern and open city that, just like any other place, expects its local guidelines to be respected. Citizens from 200 different countries live here. We are used to different cultures and religions and respect every person. You can tour Abu Dhabi on different budgets. An overnight stay at a hotel can start at $70 and reach $1,000."

Competing with lively Dubai

In its atmosphere, Abu Dhabi is comparable to Jerusalem, while Dubai is the UAE's Tel Aviv. Alshaiba too realizes that the competition over Israeli tourists with lively Dubai will not be straightforward. "Abu Dhabi has a quality of life that doesn't exist in many places," he says. "Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are here, and places of entertainment for tourists. Since the peace agreement was announced, we have been researching the Israeli market. We have met many partners in order to understand the needs of Israelis and what attracts them on overseas trips. We already know that you have to aim at the Jewish holidays. We missed the Tishrei holidays, but Passover is still ahead. We'll appeal to all target groups, from the Arab community to observant Jews. We're aware of the importance of kosher food, and we'll offer it at all the hotels and at restaurants throughout the city, at affordable prices. We'll ensure that there are spaces allocated for prayer at the hotels. We see an amazing connection between the two cultures. It starts with language."

Travelers landing in Abu Dhabi undergo a coronavirus test at the airport and at present have to enter isolation for fourteen days. "The coronavirus crisis has affected us just as it has every other destination. We are fortunate that we have a leader who understood how to contain the outbreak from day one, and today we are seeing the results of that. The public's discipline contributed to the fact that we succeeded in moderating the morbidity statistics, and now there is readiness to open destinations to tourists. We shall do this shortly, in accordance with special protocols that will make it possible to open up Abu Dhabi to tourists gradually. The procedures will change considerably as soon as there's a vaccine. From the moment that the agreements come into force, we'll be ready to host Israelis. We await that day with excitement," Alshaiba concludes.

The writer is a guest of Etihad Airways and Maman Group. Her flight was entirely financed by "Globes".

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 21, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Ali Alshaiba / Photo: PR
Ali Alshaiba / Photo: PR
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