Welcome to Destination Arabia. It’s not just sand and desert!
Once upon a time in 1962, Peter O’Toole starred as Lawrence of Arabia in desert lands, fashioning robes to guard against sand storms, sitting high between the humps of his camel. Desert-scapes formed the backdrop, sand dunes high, dotted with camels and cacti interrupting the vast expanses of terrain.
Today, Arabia offers a somewhat different scene and has a new and more glamorous story to tell. Oil has fuelled the transformation of these barren lands creating a new kind of tourism which is testament to the fruition of visionary plans for these exotic and mysterious lands.
Established in December 1971, the United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates which include Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The country is located at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. It borders Oman to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, and shares sea borders with Qatar and Iran.
Dubai is the most visited emirate and boasts the tallest structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which stands at 829.8m, Glitzy and architecturally rich, it also accommodates the top three tallest hotels in the world which includes the six-starred Burj Al Arab, its sail shape now an iconic symbol of modern Dubai. And it seems fitting that it is also the place to host the annual Arabian Travel Market, which showcases all that is established, new and planned in the region when it comes to tourism.
During this 4-day event, it was announced that a staggering 14.2 million overnight visitors were drawn to Dubai in 2015, up 7.5% on the previous year, making it the fourth most visited city in the world. Also hitting headline numbers is Dubai’s International Airport, which has retained its status as the world’s number one hub for international passengers at 78 million with around 100 airlines connecting through it to 240 destinations. Another world first and opening soon is the world’s largest indoor theme park, the size of 28 football pitches, located fifteen minutes from the airport, and ideal for entertaining transit passengers.
With a focus on leisure, business, global events and tourism, the UAE have attracted intrigued travellers from around the world and carved a niche for themselves to broaden their appeal. Ras Al Khaimah promotes its adventure tourism and has adding a 5-star mountain camp and viewing deck on Jebel Jai, the highest mountain in the UAE. Eco-tourism defines Sharjah with a number of impressive projects underway. Ancient signs of civilization, including findings that date back more than a million years, have been unearthed in Maliha, famous for its treasure trove of archaeological sites. This will form the first-of-its-kind eco-tourism and archaeological attraction in the UAE, featuring tours of these ancient sites
Having a number of museums at its doorstep, Abu Dhabi boasts a cultural angle, with The Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim. In this emirate, there is also the wondrous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest in the world while on Yas Island is Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 racetrack and Ferrari World, the first theme park dedicated to the brand.
There are still vast areas of sand and desert which continue to play their part in tourism development, especially in Dubai. Sand dredged from the ocean has created artificial islands such as The Palm Jumeirah, adding 78 kilometers to the coastline. With more plans in the pipeline, Dubai and the rest of the UAE are welcoming more travellers to Destination Arabia.
The Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2016 took place between 25-28 April at Dubai World Trade Centre. ATM has grown to become the largest event of its kind in the region and one of the biggest in the world. The 2016 event accommodated 423 main stand holders representing 86 countries, 64 country pavilions and over 100 new exhibitors making their debut.