The rise in the number of visitors to Abu Dhabi has fundamental implications for the economic health of the United Arab Emirates on the whole, according to the Emirati capital’s tourism director.
Saif Saeed Ghobash affirmed that tourism safeguards a path to reducing the UAE’s historic reliance on hydrocarbons.
Mr Ghobash, director general of the Department of Culture and Tourism told CNBC's Hadley Gamble. “At a national level, Abu Dhabi strives to diversify its GDP away from oil. And one of the key sectors enabling us to do that is the tourism sector, and its contributions will be direct and indirect."
After the global oil price drop of 2015, petroleum-exporting countries have been seeking other ways to acquire growth and revenues.
Despite the fact the United Arab Emirates is the most economically diversified country in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), oil still makes up around 30 per cent of the state’s GDP. The government plans to reduce this to 20 percent by 2021.
Following the opening of the $1 billion Louvre Abu Dhabi in November, Mr Ghobash anticipates additional growth in the number of visitors, coupled with a renewed appreciation for art and culture amongst the Emirate’s 1.14 million residents.
According to Mr Ghobash, this renewed awareness is essential for the promotion of cross-cultural dialogue, improving education, combatting extremism and reaching greater economic development.
The Department of Culture and Tourism director general continued: "It's all about us providing a place for visitors and residents alike to have conversations to understand how connected they are to one another, it's a message of peace," referring to the government's commitment to this aim but saying that the next step is to further engage the private sector.
"I do believe with our efforts there's an increased awareness in our society about the importance of culture and arts.
"If you look at other countries, the more they invest in culture and arts, the greater the economic growth, the greater the development, the greater their ability to attract entrepreneurs to come and set up base in these countries."
Mr Ghobash added that hotel visitors to the UAE capital rose by 10 per cent in the last year, and the government is steering toward 8.5 million tourists annually by 2021. Aiding this are large-scale events such as Dubai's Expo 2020, as well as new projects including the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi modern art museum, and a Warner Brothers indoor theme park, which is set to be the biggest in the world.
Tourism in Abu Dhabi increased 18.9 per cent between 2009 and 2016, the fourth-fastest growing city worldwide, according to the 2017 Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index.
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