The sponsorship strategy of a tourism destination – how Abu Dhabi increases visitor figures with sports sponsorship

March 7, 2011

Investment in sport has been a foundation strategy to help Abu Dhabi meet its targets of attracting 2.3 million hotel guests a year by 2012 and 7.9 million staying in 80, therapy 000 hotel rooms by 2030.

ADTA’s (Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority) strategy is to utilise high-visibility sporting events to globally promote the emirate. It has proved effective in internationally highlighting the emirate’s pedigree as a world-class destination of distinction and a major events hub.

For example, the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2009 was televised in more than 180 countries, reaching 600 million viewers. The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship 2010 – which celebrated its fifth anniversary – had a combined viewership of more than 400 million. These events bring significant gains both in terms of building awareness and exposing visitors to all that Abu Dhabi has to offer.

Abu Dhabi furthermore signed on to become the Official Destination Partner Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) in the English Premier League. Through this, Abu Dhabi’s name touches a TV viewership of over 2 billion. Abu Dhabi’s brand appears on perimeter boards around the City of Manchester Stadium at every home league and domestic cup game, ADTA has exclusive naming rights to the club’s Carrington, Trafford training ground and is the sole title sponsor of all pre-season tours.

Abu Dhabi has furthermore recently opened two new world-class golfing properties in the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and the Kyle Phillips-designed Yas Links, as well as the newly-upgraded Palm Sports Resort Golf Course in the emirate’s Oasis City of Al Ain. These courses have already garnered strong interest internationally and continue to attract high-end tourists, which are of great interest to the emirate. For example, on average, golf visitors spend more than double than any other type of holiday maker, and notch up about US$26.1 billion a year on golf travel, 75 percent of which goes to the hotel, transportation and food and beverage sectors. By building a strong golf proposition, ADTA taps into this buoyant market.

The emirate’s staging of the FIFA Club World Cup Abu Dhabi 2009 was also a major highlight and showcased the Emirate’s facilities to an international audience. The Zayed Sports City Stadium, which holds a capacity of 50,000, and the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, which holds more than 40,000, were key facilities for the FIFA Club World Cup Abu Dhabi 2009.

Of course, the Yas Marina Circuit, home of the Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, also plays host to some of the world’s top motor racing series year round including the GP2 Asia Series and Australia’s legendary motor racing series, the V8 Supercars. Top fuel dragsters recently made their Middle East debut at the International Drag Racing Festival and the world’s top sports car series, the FIA GT Championship, has also taken place.

ADTA also supports the “President of the UAE Cup”, an annual series devoted to the racing of Arabian thoroughbreds which raises awareness of this distinct equestrian breed which places a huge role in the heritage and culture of the United Arab Emirates. Taking place throughout Europe and in the US, the series gives a key platform to entertain guests and media. ADTA mounts ‘Arabian tent’ style promotions for visitors at races in France, Ireland, the UK, Russia and the US where they can engage with Abu Dhabi’s warm and rich heritage through a number of initiatives such as falconry and henna demonstrates and award-winning photographic displays.

For ADTA, the sports tourist to Abu Dhabi may be described as someone travelling to the destination for the distinct purpose of engaging in activities and/or events. As part of the spectator experience for Abu Dhabi, the vibrant sports event calendar and diverse range of world-class facilities affords then a unique opportunity to capitalize on both segments. Research has demonstrated that the sports visitor has a high yield profile and is highly likely to return as a leisure visitor.

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