Discover the ingredients that make Abu Dhabi the ideal MICE destination for business travellers. Amelia Walker reports
When Abu Dhabi climbed into the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) top 100 busiest meeting destinations in 2012, CEO Martin Sirk advised the destination not to solely focus on specific rankings, but instead aim for business that suits a realistic, long-term economic vision. Since these words of wisdom, the emirate’s MICE market has listened to this suggestion and done just that, by concentrating on strategic markets and forward-thinking venues.
Abu Dhabi has witnessed a considerable expansion in business events over the last 10 years. New statistics from the ICCA show that the amount of events here has grown from four in 2005 to 22 in 2014, visitor arrivals show a 21% year-on-year increase, and hotel habitation is presently at 74%. The extension of regional airline capacity, which has quadrupled during this period, means that 90% of the globe is now well catered for and is within nine hours’ flying time. Forecasts from the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ADTCA) now project that the MICE market ought to double in profit by 2020 to reach almost $1.4 billion (about £1.1 billion). Evidently, there has never been a better time for business travellers to visit.
So, when an invitation from leading hospitality operator Rotana, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and Etihad Airways landed in my inbox inviting me to discover first-hand why Abu Dhabi is now a major player in the MICE market – by reviewing Abu Dhabi’s hospitality, beach-meets-city landscape, versatile venues, innovative state-of-the-art convention centres and an eclectic array of attractions and sights – naturally I accepted.
We fly Business Class aboard Etihad Airways’ new A380 aircraft to sample the revolutionary new Business Studios. All offer direct aisle access and a fully flat bed, blissfully equipped with an in-seat massage. Business Class passengers can now enjoy The Lobby, a luxurious lounge located between the First and Business Class cabins, which offers comfortable leather sofas, a TV where you can watch live sporting fixtures and news coverage, and a staffed bar serving hot snacks and refreshments. There’s also full mobile and wifi service, with USB and power points at every seat.
The Food and Beverage Managers are handpicked from the world’s top hotels and restaurants. Malik, my personal host, is charming and guides me through the extensive à la carte and ‘dine anytime’ options and provides recommendations on the ideal tipple to accompany my meal choice. Breakfast offerings can be anything from omelette, poached eggs, ful medames and blueberry pancakes to appetisers of carpaccio, scallops, hummus and chicken kibbeh, as well as mains of grilled monkfish, quail and marinated roasted lamb. Still hungry? Then take your pick of the desserts – there’s pomegranate granite, hot chocolate cake and Japanese cheese cake.
Seven hours by plane from the UK, Abu Dhabi offers year-round sunshine, pleasant temperatures, stylish hotels and restaurants, fantastic sandy beaches and safe surroundings. English is widely spoken and visitors have few communication difficulties, I’m told.
Next year marks a major milestone for Rotana as they enter their 25th year in operation. They currently offer 90 exceptional meeting and conference facilities in 13 hotels across the emirate. Little wonder that they recently won the inaugural Arabian Travel Award for Best Arab Group of hotels at this year’s Arabian Travel Market and are planning to expand into Eastern Europe, South Asia and Africa, with the aim of operating 100 hotels worldwide by 2020.
We’re staying at Beach Rotana, Rotana Hotels and Resorts’ flagship five-star property in the city. The hotel boasts a private beach, tennis and squash courts, water sports centre, gym and spa and seven meeting and conference rooms, including the impressive 1100-square-metre Al Thuraya Grand Ballroom, which is able to accommodate up to 1200 guests. The stunning space regularly plays host to local weddings and launches for luxury brands.
There are eight room categories to choose from. The Classic starts at 30 square metres and the most exclusive room is the Royal Suite, which reaches 240 square metres. I’m checked into one of their Premium Suites, which is a grand size. It’s like an apartment. There’s a dining area and living room and two private balconies with glittering waterfront views. The marble bathroom steals the show with its sunken Jacuzzi tub, rain shower and gigantic mirror.
There’s an incredible 11 restaurants to dine at. But which one to choose – American-Japanese, Italian, fine steaks and grills, Indian, or German? The two stand-outs for me are Finz seafood restaurant (pictured above) and bar and Trader Vic’s. Finz’s seaside setting out on the water is just gorgeous and the live singer belts out soul. The fish is some of the finest you will ever taste. Lobster and scallop ceviche, yellowtail hamachi, stands of chilled seafood on ice, market fresh oysters, whole sea bass baked in salt, black cod – I could go on. Trader Vic specialises in potent tropical cocktails – it’s one hell of a party place. Latin American accents set the mood and atmosphere with lively songs for many an upbeat evening that extends long into the night. I was whisked around the dance floor by Latinos ’til dawn.
As I journey around the capital, it’s easy to be bewitched by the place that’s fast becoming the Middle East’s new hot hang-out. Adored by shopaholics, sun worshippers and die-hard Formula One enthusiasts, the city continues to grab headlines for its fantastic restaurants, skyline of mirror-glass office towers and rising arts scene. 2017 will see the opening of the Louve Abu Dhabi, designed by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel. Due to display significant loads from its counterpart in Paris, there will be Manets, Monets and other masterpieces, plus its own collection of artefacts spanning many ages and civilisations.
We tour the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), recently named among the ‘Top 100 Busiest Global Meeting Destinations’ by ICCA. It boasts 12 event halls, two conference halls and 20 meeting rooms. Between functions, both delegates and organisers can benefit from nearby tourism offerings. There are three championship golf courses, the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (located just minutes from Park Rotana), towering desert sand dunes and world-class theme parks like Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld – where Yas Island Rotana sits at the heart. Be sure to hit up Yas Marina Circuit to get your adrenaline pumping at the exhilarating drag racing experience in Mercedes CLS 550 AMGs. It’s addictive and a great one for team building. Travis Simmons, Business Development Executive is one cool cat. A truly great host.
If you’re looking for a rejuvenating stay with a pace that’s slower than that of the city, 90 minutes away sits the ‘Oasis City’ of Al Ain, one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements and home to several World Heritage Sites. Here, the Al Ain Convention Centre offers 20,000 square metres of exhibition space and the capacity for more than 7000 delegates, making it ideally suited to host anything from banquets and gala dinners to weddings, conferences and exhibitions. Director Obaid Alshamisi is the man to contact.
Check into the sexy, five-star Al Ain Rotana (pictured below), which offers extremely spacious rooms, suites and chalets, an inviting outdoor pool, Zen the Spa, Bodylines Fitness and Wellness, a superb selection of meetings and events facilities, a nightclub named Moodz (available for private parties) and six diverse dining options. The Lebanese cuisine at Min Zaman is divine; the evocative shimmies of Raqs Sharqi are sure to provide fun entertainment. Be warned though, you may be encouraged to get up and join in. It’s a place where local rosé appears upon your arrival, dinner is held under the stars and candles flicker in lanterns. At night especially there is a fantastic vibe.
My poolside villa is like a small house. Modern and slick, the gigantic Falaj Suite is styled out in white and dove grey, rather than the traditional Arabian bling. The king size bed is so big it’s almost vulgar (almost), there’s an even bigger bath, spoiling little touches (fresh fruit and mini cakes daily), a vast living room with dining table, a rain shower, impressive sound system, working desk, mini bar, washing machine, microwave, safe box and IDD telephone with voice mail, along with high-speed internet access. My sliding doors back straight onto the pool. Upon arrival I swiftly change into swimwear and leap in.
There’s not a huge amount to see in this region, but if you want to explore, the Al Jahili Fort is now home to a permanent exhibition about British Adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who crossed the deserts of the Empty Quarter twice in the 1940s disguised as a Bedouin. I spent two hours perusing the photos and reading extracts from letters.
The saying ‘work hard, play hard’ could have been invented for Abu Dhabi. It’s built for business. It’s a place where after a day of meetings you can climb aboard The Yellow Boats and travel at high speeds across the open water (ask for Seychellois guide Danny), tee off at one of its spectacular golf courses, take a leisurely dinner cruise and glide past the city’s fairy-lit waterfront or visit the Empty Quarter for dune-bashing, quad-biking, or dining around a camp fire. Here, the afternoon heat will fall on you like a heavy cloak when you climb up mountains of custard-coloured sand. But for the view, it’s worth it. There is nada but dunes. It’s a wonderful, soul-soothing prospect.
A return fare from London – Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways starts from £358 in economy class and £1870 in business class. This fare price is inclusive of all taxes and subject to availability.
Etihad Airways is the national carrier of the UAE and offers three daily flights between London Heathrow and Abu Dhabi. Etihad Airways also flies from Manchester and Edinburgh to Abu Dhabi. For reservations and further details visit etihad.com or call 0345 608 1225.
Etihad Airways has officially opened its spectacular new flagship First Class Lounge & Spa at Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Terminal 3.
Inspired by the world’s most prestigious hotels, private members’ clubs and fine dining establishments, the lounge features 16 unique zones designed to ensure that guests can relax, re-energise and be entertained in complete luxury before boarding their flight. Etihad CEO Peter Baumgartner wants visitors to feel as though they’re relaxing in the likes of Claridges – and not just killing time before their flight.
There’s an à la carte restaurant, showcase bar, fitness room, cigar lounge, Six Senses Spa, Style & Shave barber, a nail bar, TV room, secluded relaxation room, prayer room and children’s play room. Guests can enjoy one complimentary express treatment each, be it for the Spa or Style & Shave.
Foodies will enjoy the talents of the Executive Chef, who brings with him immense experience from a long career with leading hotel brands including Ritz Carlton, Shangri-La and Intercontinental. Menus are changed frequently. There is also a menu that has been developed in collaboration with Mezlai restaurant, of the Emirates Palace hotel. The food is exquisite.