Sometimes it can be better to follow than to lead. Europe follows the US in many things and does them better. India follows Europe. Australasia follows both Europe and the US. And it is happening in the United Arab Emirates where the path that was initially trodden by Dubai is now being followed by Abu Dhabi, for example.
Abu Dhabi is the hot spot in the Middle East for 2009 – bustling, innovative and energetic but at a pace that seems less frenetic and more manageable, though no less ambitious. The largest of the seven emirates that form the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi was inhabited as long ago as the third millennium before Christ, although its first significant settlement appeared in the latter half of the 18th century. It was the discovery of oil in 1958 and the exporting of what we now know of as “black gold” four years later that assured the prosperity of Abu Dhabi, which now has the world’s highest per capita gross domestic product at $46,147. Abu Dhabi has 9.2% of the world’s oil reserves and 4% of its natural gas. In fact the emirate has enough oil to last for 150 years. What would Britain do for oil reserves of half that just now?
With the prosperity that followed the export of oil have come plans to make a world-class destination for tourists, businessmen and residents. Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) was created to manage the development of the Abu Dhabi government’s real estate assets and central to that is the growth of destinations and tourist experiences.
It may not generally be known that Abu Dhabi covers more than 85% of the landmass of the United Arab Emirates. What might not also be realised is that it has 700km of coastline and 200 islands. You can get an awful lot of visitors into that area, drawn by the rich cultural background as well as the sun and beaches the region has to offer. Let us examine some of the main developments being undertaken in Abu Dhabi currently. The first is Saadiyat Island, a 27sq km area of land north-east of Abu Dhabi city on which eventually 150,000 residents will live. Access to the island will be by way of two causeways within easy reach of the airport. You have to be near an airport these days. People want to land and get to their final destination as quickly as possible, particularly if the sun is shining and they have golf on their minds! And of course when a holiday or business trip is over you want to pack, get to the airport and get home smartish. The accessibility of Abu Dhabi International Airport is going to become as much an attraction for a city as the great railway stations of London were 100 years ago. Saadiyat Island will be divided into seven districts and have 29 hotels, including one boasting seven stars! There will be three marinas with moorings for yachts, a culture and arts hub, two golf courses and as long a beachfront as the journey from central London to Heathrow airport.
One of the seven districts will be the cultural one where there will be a maritime museum, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, as well as exclusive villas and the like. And, if when you’re staying you want even more in the way of culture, there will be Abu Dhabi outposts of both the Guggenheim Museum and the Louvre. Another district will be Saadiyat Beach where low-density hotels will be set back
from the sand dunes. There is 11km of natural beach on which to walk here, with the mesmerisingly blue ocean beyond. Gary Player is designing a championship-standard golf course here (another is in the pipeline) which will be the first in the Arabian Gulf to offer seafront holes.
A host of up-and-coming projects in Abu Dhabi – such as Reem Island, The Abu Dhabi Creek Business Resort, the South Beach and the Al Marina District – are being readied and the development prospects for the region are clear. Finally, there is Yas Island, the home of Abu Dhabi’s 2009 Grand Prix, which is rumoured to boast a Monaco-style street circuit. And in case you have the feeling that all this is not enough, then the famous Emirates Palace Hotel, where it can take 10 minutes to
walk from your room to reception, is to have opposite it what is expected to become a local landmark. The Emirates Pearl Gulf View Resort will dominate the coastline with a 240m-high tower that will sit atop a 22m-high podium designed in twisting glass. Inside, the hotel will be sculpted according to a theme that is inspired by the sea, sand and pearl fishing heritage of Abu Dhabi.
This is just a glimpse of what is happening in this most bustling of emirates. It’s like
pulling aside a curtain and snatching a quick glance before having to draw the curtain once again. The investment is gigantic, the commitment huge. Saadiyat Island is not due to be fully completed until 2018 although its golf course opens in two years’ time. In both cases, you can bet your bottom dollar it will have been worth the wait.