Abu Dhabi poised for larger slice of golf tourism’s US$17.5 billion cake
The travel, tourism and leisure sectors in the Arabian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi are poised to seize a potentially large slice of the US$17.5 billion global industry in golf tourism.
A world-class championship golf course, new courses planned for landmark property developments, and the worldwide attention attracted by the annual, Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, a PGA European Tour-sanctioned event, combine with excellent airline connections, a choice of luxury accommodation, culture, heritage and unlimited sunshine to “significantly boost” golf tourism in the UAE’s federal capital in the short to medium term, according to industry experts.
“In the United States alone, golf contributes an estimated US$60 billion to the economy, which is around six per cent of GDP (gross domestic product), while the global market for golf tourism is worth more than US$17.5 billion. As an international destination with a major European Tour event, world-class facilities and infrastructure, Abu Dhabi is perfectly placed to capitalise on this global trend and enlarge its share of the billions of dollars spent on golf tourism worldwide,” said His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
ADTA, which seeks to attract up to three million visitors a year to Abu Dhabi by 2015, a three-fold increase from the current annual average, has identified golf tourism as a key area for growth. ‘Golf tourists’ – those who go on holiday primarily to play golf, or who play golf as a secondary activity on a business trip or vacation, or who attend tournaments as spectators – are well known for generating significantly above-average per capita revenues in destinations.
Playing a major role in attracting these affluent, high-value-adding tourists to Abu Dhabi is the US$2 million Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, which was won by American star Chris DiMarco in 2006, its inaugural year.
DiMarco returns to defend his title at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club when the 2007 tournament tees off there on January 18th. Joining him in the four-day event will be an A-list line-up of golf stars, including European Ryder Cup heroes Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie, as well as South Africa’s Retief Goosen, who recently led his Rest Of The World Team to victory in the inaugural Goodwill Trophy.
“While the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship draws spectators from overseas, it’s the awareness the event creates among the global golfing community through live television broadcasts and print coverage that is expected to significantly boost golf tourism in Abu Dhabi,” said Mubarak Al Muhari, Director General of ADTA.
“Last year, 17,500 spectators followed the stars around the National Course, but live TV coverage reached more than 120 million homes in 28 countries, and millions more viewers via recorded highlights on news and sports bulletins. The tournament places the international media spotlight on Abu Dhabi, and what the international viewing public sees is a star performer – a destination that’s as attractive as, and in many ways more attractive than, those in highly developed and mature golfing markets.”
Competing with Abu Dhabi for tourist bucks are established golf tourism destinations such as California, Florida, Ireland, Scotland and Spain. Seeking to join Abu Dhabi on the golf tourism leader board are other emerging destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, China, Mexico and, closer to home, Egypt.
Golf courses are an obvious beneficiary of the attention a major tournament attracts. Ghassan Mayo, General Manager of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club By Sheraton, where preparations are under way to host the 2007 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, said, “We’ve witnessed growth since the inaugural tournament in January 2006 and are receiving enquiries on a daily basis. The inaugural tournament definitely put Abu Dhabi on the map, exposing the emirate to the international golfing community. The result of this exposure is that golf tourism will increase in Abu Dhabi in the years ahead. Most golfers want to experience the challenges of a course the pros have played. That’s definitely part of the appeal to international golf tourists.”
The success of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship builds on the growth in visitor rounds at the host club over the past five years, from 3,305 rounds in 2001 to 8,680 rounds in 2005. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Golf Club By Sheraton has developed a comprehensive marketing strategy, which includes participation in international trade shows such as the World Travel Market (WTM); familiarisation trips for members of key media overseas; advertisements in leading golf magazines; and promotions with tour operators, airlines and hotels.
“We’re seeing visitors from Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, Japan, America, Korea, Malaysia, France, Canada, Belgium and Austria,” said Mayo. “This has definitely contributed to the UAE economy.”
Airlines, hotels, restaurants, car rental firms and even taxi companies also stand to gain from the increased revenue that golf tourism is set to bring to Abu Dhabi.
“The profusion of excellent golf courses in the UAE has brought the country to the attention of golfers the world over,” said Ian Ferguson-Brown, Head of Brand Management and Communications at Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airlines.
“Abu Dhabi is a growing destination because it has an ideal combination of culture, heritage, sun, sea and sand, and the Championship course, which is both challenging and visually attractive. Our guests want to know they’re playing the very best courses and the fact the world’s best have played in Abu Dhabi is part of the appeal.”
The development of two new courses on the landmark, 27 square kilometre Saadiyat Island (Island of Happiness) project in Abu Dhabi, which is being developed in three phases between 2006 and 2018, will further enhance the emirate’s appeal to golf tourists, said Ferguson-Brown. “As the national airline of the UAE, we’ve noticed that golfers come to experience a variety of courses. The more variety and more quality, the better served our golfing guests will be,” he added.
Ghassan Mayo welcomes the planned courses on Saadiyat Island. Rather than viewing them as potential competition, he said they will add to the emirate’s appeal. “The development of more golf courses will definitely add value for golf tourists, who like to travel to a destination with more than one golf course,” he added.