ABU DHABI – Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the apex body which manages the tourism assets of the Arabian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi, has opened a representation office in Sydney, Australia to build destination awareness among the country’s increasing number of overseas travelers.

Australia joins an ADTA representative office network which already includes the UK, Germany and France, and which the authority hopes to expand to China and Italy by the end of this year as it looks to build international awareness of its standing as a world-class tourism destination.

Award-winning Hill & Knowlton Australia is now charged with raising the profile of Abu Dhabi, the largest of seven emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates and home to the UAE capital which is the Federal seat of government.

“The decision to open this office reflects the growing air traffic from the country to the UAE with our national carrier, Etihad Airways, planning to increase its services from Sydney to Abu Dhabi from 7 to 11 weekly flights beginning in November of this year,” explained His Excellency Mubarak Al Muhairi, director general, ADTA.

“The Australian market holds out huge inbound tourism potential for Abu Dhabi. Current figures show that, on average, more than 8,000 Australians are flying to or through Abu Dhabi International Airport each month. With the UK ranking among Australia’s top five outbound destinations, and with Etihad’s excellent onward connections via Abu Dhabi to Britain, the potential for stop-over business is obvious.”

Recent Australian Travel & Lifestyle Trends 2008 research ranked Australians’ top five travel criteria as to experience the world, to relax, for a unique cultural experience, for adventure and to meet new people – decisive factors Abu Dhabi believes it can more than adequately fulfil.

“Abu Dhabi is very much a new proposition for travelers from Australia, but one which we believe has much to entice a people noted for their love of nature, adventure and the great outdoors,” added Al Muhairi. “This emirate’s great natural assets – desert landscapes; warm, clean seas; picturesque oases and stunning islands – are attractions which will resonate well with the Australian adventurer. We also believe that Abu Dhabi’s recent naming in Mercer Consultant’s ‘The World’s Most Liveable Cities’ report as the Middle East’s safest destination will be another compelling factor.”

Australian Travel & Lifestyle Trends 2008 research shows that 61% of Australians rank travel as an important lifestyle element; half of them travel overseas every two years with 15% traveling outside the country at least once a year. Australians rank amongst the world’s longest-stay tourists with almost a third of overseas trips from the country being of between three to six weeks’ duration.

ADTA’s initial destination awareness campaign in Australia will focus heavily on the country’s travel wholesalers with industry leaders being invited to Abu Dhabi to sample the destination first-hand.

“There are currently a limited number of wholesalers featuring Abu Dhabi packages in their brochures, though more of them are beginning to package holidays to the Arabian Peninsula, so we would appear to be starting at the cusp of an upward trend,” said Michelle Hutton, chief executive, Hill & Knowlton Australasia.

Abu Dhabi features in the 2008 brochures of eight Australian travel wholesalers but some 26 have signaled their interest in featuring the emirate in their 2009 editions.

“Our research also shows that Australian interest in the Middle East as a tourism destination is increasing due to the efforts of Middle Eastern carriers such as Etihad in positioning the region as a ‘hub’ for people traveling to Europe. Travel agents we have talked to are certainly enthusiastic to learn more about Abu Dhabi,” added Hutton. “However it has to be noted that almost a third of travel agents canvassed do not promote the Middle East citing a lack of relevant available information, location of their branch, limited flight options and lack of awareness and interest from clients. Our primary task is to rectify the lack of awareness and stimulate trade and end-user appetites.”

Research amongst travel agents in Australia revealed the Middle East is primarily viewed as a stop-over destination.

“The majority of Australian tourists tend to spend between one and four days in a Middle East country and then travel on to London or Europe. There is also an emerging trend of retired clients and families using the Middle East as a stop over to break up long haul journeys. Lack of knowledge could be a reason the region is viewed simply as a stop-over destination, and our initial focus must be on addressing this by first educating the travel trade,” explained Ali Ahmed Al Hosani, director of Promotions, ADTA.

“In the coming year, Abu Dhabi will be featured in the brochures of Australia’s most prominent travel wholesalers, and we hope to welcome many of the country’s leading media to the UAE capital to report on our unique leisure and business tourism propositions.”

Al Hosani, however, believes news of Abu Dhabi will spread quickly once the education campaign takes hold.

“Awareness of Abu Dhabi is building gradually throughout Australia not least due to the substantial number of family and friends who now travel to the UAE to visit the many Australian expatriates working here,” said Al Hosani. “We believe as they return home, they will speak highly of a destination which is committed to delivering an experience like no other and to which many return time and again.”