The Emirate of Abu Dhabi

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Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, both capital city and the largest (and most wealthy) of the seven United Arab Emirates is home to a population of some 1,975,000, that’s approximately 30% of the combined UAE.  According to UAE Interact, the population of the UAE has increased 64.5% in the past four years to 8.26 million.

Abu Dhabi lies on the central western coast of the Persian Gulf, as it has for some five thousand years, but it was not until the mid-1960’s that it rose to international attention with the transfer of power from one brother to another resulting in the momentous release of oil revenues that were once so cautiously banked. Development was nothing short of spectacular with the crowning glory being the construction of the Emirates Palace, the second most expensive hotel built to date costing a cool three billion US dollars. (The most expensive being the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, a casino complex with an estimated total build price tag of US$8 billion).

The past 40 years in Abu Dhabi have seen the growth of a modern metropolis with the construction of high-rise buildings, luxury hotels, broad streets, beautifully landscaped parks and gardens and modern commerce.  Standard Chartered Bank state that, ‘In Abu Dhabi, government spending and on-going mega-projects continue to drive economic activity’, adding, ‘Abu Dhabi’s GDP is projected to increase by 5.5% in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively’.

Abu Dhabi Vacation Holiday Travel

The slump in oil prices in the late ’90s saw the emirate rethink and diversify, especially since 80 percent of the federal budget came from oil revenue.  And thus the focus on tourism with the decision to redevelop Lulu Island (aka Alu Lulu Island), a large man-made island jutting out into the Arabian Gulf off the west coast of Abu Dhabi.  Still undergoing its transformation, an admixture of residential and commercial properties, hotels, restaurants, landscaped gardens, bird and animal sanctuaries and fun-parks will eventually transform the island into one of the Middle-East’s most engaging tourist destinations.

Tourism has definitely become big business – the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) reported 1.9 million visitors to the 116 hotels in the capital in 2010, and they’re pushing to increase that to a target of 2.0 million in 2011.

The ADTA also said they ‘expected tourism to rise by 15%, contributing 11% toward its non-oil GDP’.  So, with the focus on diversification, the emirate has managed to increase its non-oil related GDP to approximately 45% of the capital’s GDP.

Weather conditions in Abu Dhabi

In the summer months, the climate in and around Abu Dhabi can prove challenging for many Westerners given extreme temperatures and high humidity. That said, all buildings in Abu Dhabi are air-conditioned and the abundance of greenery lessens the impact.  October through May is considered the better months to enjoy a stay in the Emirate with temperatures ranging from a low of 14ºC in January to a high of 37ºC in May. Rainfall is negligible throughout the year but the occasional sandstorm can suddenly reduce visibility to mere meters.

There are in fact over 200 islands along the Gulf coastline, many of which are privately owned but which nevertheless are becoming locations for tourism.  Major airlines and tour operators including British Airways offer competitive package deals to fit most budgets, with regular flights to and from Abu Dhabi.

Though all this talk of growth is of great importance for the emirate one must not forget that this Gulf coast city is steeped in tradition which can be observed when visiting the stunning Sheikh Zayed ‘Grand’ Mosque.  As one of the Worlds’ largest mosques it is able to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers, and unlike many buildings of its type, visitors of all ethnicities are welcome for guided tours between 9am-12noon Saturday through Thursday, but be warned, there are certain regulations that one must abide by whilst visiting this holy and spiritual space.

Shopping in Abu Dhabi

Another popular pastime in Abu Dhabi is shopping and with the many Souks (open air markets) that take place throughout the city you will be spoilt for choice from Food Souk focusing on local produce and noted for an abundance of date sellers; Spice Souk obviously selling fresh herbs and spices; Gold souk – gold, and for one of the oldest and most traditional experiences then one must visit Mina Souk.  Wandering around these traditional marketplaces will give one a true taste of the old culture of Abu Dhabi.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is Yas Island, a man-made island completely dedicated to entertainment.  At Yas Marina one may charter or rent a yacht, enjoy dinner at the world famous Cipriani restaurant, or an evening of fun at the Allure nightclub, courtesy of Cipriani.  However, if fast cars are your passion then the Yas Marine Circuit will be the right track for you!  Qualified instructors offer tips and instruction to drivers (in their own vehicles) allowing them to test their driving skills in a safe and controlled environment on the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit where the world famous race will be held on November 11, 2011. Alternatively, let someone else do the driving as you take a track tour in an air conditioned bus, and visit the state of the art 500-seat media centre and pit garages as you imagine the world class racing drivers revving up their Formula 1 cars for the big race!

Currently, under construction and due for completion in 2020 is Saadiyat Island.  The developers, TDIC (Tourism Development & Investment Company) describe their vision for the Island as, ‘Saadiyat will be an irresistible magnet attracting the world to Abu Dhabi, and taking Abu Dhabi to the world’. It will feature waterfront properties, the Gulf’s first tidal and ocean golf courses, art galleries and museums, including the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry – scheduled to open in 2014, and Louvre Abu Dhabi, created by Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel.

Abu Dhabi Business Travel

Abu Dhabi National Exhibition CentreThe Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre was opened in 2007 and welcomes as many as one million visitors every year.  Offering 12 exhibition halls (totalling 73,000 square metres) and two main conference facilities there is space enough for between 400 and 800 guests. Smaller meeting rooms are available accommodating a maximum of 30 delegates.  Throughout the year hundreds of exhibitions are held welcoming exhibitors from around the globe which illustrates the Emirates’ recognition of the importance of business travel and commercial visitors.

Abu Dhabi is not only hosting the 2011 Formula 1 Grand Prix but also proud to be the venue of the 2011 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi, UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship.  The Abu Dhabi team are world renowned for being some of the hottest competitors in power boat racing.  Also, the annual Abu Dhabi Golf Championships welcome many golf celebrities from around the world.

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