Abu Dhabi: On the fairway of leisure tourism
It will be a hectic weekend for Faisal Shaikh, Events Manager for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the organisers of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championships. Even though the tournament tees off on Thursday, Shaikh was at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club course from the early hours yesterday morning — fine-tuning the nitty gritty of such a big showpiece as some of the biggest names of the course hit the driving ranges.
While the ADTA has leveraged the golf championship quite successfully to boost leisure tourism in the emirate, they are also big on niche sports like triathlon and take pride in the manner the capital has made giant strides as a sporting hub in the Middle East. This weekend will see two major international events vying for attention in Abu Dhabi — the golf championship and the second cricket Test between England and Pakistan.
While Shaikh is banking on the Tiger Factor to act as a major boost for the upcoming edition, he also takes pride in the depth and breadth of the field. “We have not sacrificed this ethos just to get Tiger,” he adds. Following are excerpts of an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
Gulf News: After six editions of the Abu Dhabi Championships, how do you look back at your association with the event?
Faisal Shaikh: As the Championship enters its seventh year, I believe it is fair to say that the six previous editions have established this tournament as a key stop on the European Tour. This would not have been possible without the annual endorsements of the players, many of whom return year after year because of the warm hospitality and welcome they receive in Abu Dhabi. Our partnership with HSBC has also helped take the Championship to a new level and I thank the bank for its support and commitment to improving all aspects of the Championship in 2012 and in coming years.
Do you think it has worked to give the right boost to leisure tourism for you?
Most definitely — the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has been invaluable in establishing the emirate on the international golf tourism map. Now, seven years on, our golf tourism proposition is being driven by the diversity of our offering; we have three stunning championship-ready courses within a 25-minute radius of the capital city, as well as an 18-hole country course in our heritage heartland of Al Ain, a unique sand golf course at Al Ghazal Golf Club, and a floodlit, nine-hole challenge at Abu Dhabi City Golf Club. Golf tourists can now come to Abu Dhabi and play a different course daily for six consecutive days — that is diversity.
Do you think Tiger Woods’ participation is going to take the tournament to a new level altogether?
We certainly hope so! More than 40,000 spectators visited the Championship last year and we are aiming to double gate numbers for this week’s event.
Inevitably, the Tiger factor will play a huge role in this. Tiger has undeniable appeal as one of the most successful and famous sportsmen of any generation. However, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has always prided itself on the depth and breadth of field and, vitally, we have not sacrificed this ethos just to get Tiger.
Your decision to pull out the team from the World Rally Championship came as a bit of a shock in local motorsport circles. How do you explain the decision?
We believe we made significant progress in raising brand and destination awareness during our four-and-a-half years in the WRC. However, we have re-evaluated all our associations in line with new business imperatives and the need to convert awareness into visitation. As more hotels, resorts and attractions open in the emirate, it is important to focus on partnerships and events that realise three governing criteria: attracting inbound visitors, promoting Abu Dhabi internationally and engaging the local community.
The ADTA also spends considerable time and energy for the triathlon which, at the end of the day, is a niche sport. How do you explain it?
Triathlon is believed to be the world’s fastest growing individual participation sport and its global popularity is being continually boosted as more and more clubs set up in major cities around the world and help organise thousands of international races.
We got in on the act in 2010 with our own event, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, which is also an official qualifier for the annual World Championships on Kona Island in Hawaii. As always though, we want the public to get involved in our events and that is why the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon is split into various âunique’ distances to heighten its appeal to professionals and amateurs alike.
Finally, when can we expect ADTA to be involved in more spectator sports like cricket or football?
ADTA in spearheading the emirate’s tourism agenda will continue to explore major event opportunities that inject vibrancy and diversity into the destination’s product portfolio. Don’t forget that Abu Dhabi has already hosted two successful Fifa Club World Cup tournaments, and English and Pakistan cricketers will be competing in the emirate in a series of Test, ODI and Twenty20 matches. If more opportunities arise in cricket or football, we will utilise our robust evaluation criteria to judge our potential involvement — nothing is being ruled out!