Q&A: Destinations Double Down on Nature and Culture to Attract Luxury Travelers

Skift Take

​​As the luxury travel landscape becomes increasingly competitive, destinations are thinking more strategically about how they can showcase the diversity of their nature-based and cultural offerings. For Abu Dhabi, this means spotlighting Saadiyat Island, a vibrant leisure, residential, business, and cultural hub.

Series: Megatrends 2023

Megatrends 2023

Discover the top trends that will define the travel industry for the coming year.

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As travel continues its ferocious return in 2023, consumers are looking for new, authentic, and luxurious experiences that enable self-fulfillment. Now more than ever, luxury means providing travelers with the opportunity to be surrounded by nature, immersed in a region’s culture, and offered bespoke, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In 2023, leading luxury destinations are expected to respond to this demand by doubling down on developing and marketing elevated nature-based and cultural offerings.

Abu Dhabi is leaning into this trend by strategically elevating Saadiyat Island, a glamorous island rich in natural wonders, high culture, and luxurious beaches. SkiftX spoke to Abdulla Yousuf Mohammad, director of travel trade and markets development, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), to learn more about Abu Dhabi’s approach to destination development and marketing in 2023 and how it’s broadening travel leaders’ and influencers’ awareness of the natural and cultural experiences available in the Emirate.  

SkiftX: Luxury travel is booming, but today’s landscape looks different than it did pre-pandemic. What types of experiences are luxury travelers looking for today, and how have preferences shifted over the past year or two? 

Abdulla Yousuf Mohammad: We’ve seen increased interest in unique and authentic experiences, which is what helped inspire Abu Dhabi’s new destination campaign, “Experience Abu Dhabi. Find Your Pace.” The campaign shows the incredible variety of unique experiences that can be discovered, with attractions and activities that appeal to every type of visitor.

From Saadiyat Island to Yas Island and everything in between, Abu Dhabi has unique experiences tailored to luxury travelers. A 700-kilometer shoreline ensures you’re never far away from a pristine five-star beach resort, not to mention the Michelin-awarded restaurants and luxury retail experiences.

With five luxurious waterfront resorts comprising global brands Park Hyatt, Rixos, and St. Regis, as well as regional pioneers Jumeirah and Rotana, Saadiyat Island is the destination of choice for discerning travelers. 

For those seeking an even more exclusive experience, a boutique villa retreat is located on Nurai Island which can be reached in 15 minutes by speedboat from its private pier on Saadiyat Island.  

SkiftX: In 2023, the DCT Abu Dhabi is putting a strategic marketing focus on Saadiyat Island. What is unique about this destination, and why was it important to elevate it at this particular moment? 

Yousuf Mohammad: Saadiyat Island is filled with living culture and is home to Louvre Abu Dhabi, with its inspiring collections and iconic architecture. Nearby, beaches and avenues are lined with cafes and dining options at Mamsha Al Saadiyat to enjoy over a sunset.

Located at the heart of the island, Saadiyat Cultural District hosts community events and exhibitions at Manarat Al Saadiyat, alongside Berklee Abu Dhabi, the pre-eminent institute of contemporary music and the performing arts. 

The district is also the future home of the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, the new local Guggenheim, Zayed National Museum, and the art of teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi. 

As we understand travelers’ growing desire for authentic experiences, Saadiyat Island is uniquely positioned to celebrate Abu Dhabi’s inspiring cultural offerings.

A family enjoys the beaches of Saadiyat Island.
A family enjoys the beaches of Saadiyat Island. Source: DCT Abu Dhabi.

SkiftX: Can you talk a bit about DCT Abu Dhabi’s partnership with Miral Destinations and how you’re collaborating on Saadiyat Island’s marketing strategy?

Yousuf Mohammad: The partnership established a new benchmark for destination management. Miral and DCT Abu Dhabi are working together to elevate Saadiyat Island’s position as a global destination for culture, leisure, and business tourism by creating new assets, products, and services for local and international visitors.

As we are focused on shaping a compelling visitor proposition and enabling growth opportunities for Saadiyat Island, Miral and DCT Abu Dhabi will promote Saadiyat Island across global markets, manage several cultural attractions, and develop significant assets and projects.

We’re also working towards driving integration and connectivity between Yas Island and Saadiyat Island to ensure an even more compelling experience for visitors.   

SkiftX: Authenticity, uniqueness, and bespoke experiences are increasingly important considerations for luxury travelers today. Why is Saadiyat Island uniquely positioned to showcase the Emirate’s diversity of offerings? 

Yousuf Mohammad: Saadiyat has a bit of everything — from cultural wonders like Louvre Abu Dhabi to world-class beaches and marine wildlife, there’s truly a diverse experience offered. 

Saadiyat is home to the first international outpost of the iconic Louvre Museum, with three more world-class museums set to open in the coming years. The forthcoming Abrahamic House, a future global beacon for tolerance and understanding, will cement the island as one of the world’s leading cultural centers.   

A couple looks at art at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
A couple explores Louvre Abu Dhabi. Source: DCT Abu Dhabi.

Visitors with a keen interest in sustainability, conservation, and responsible tourism can experience Saadiyat’s diverse ecosystem of protected wildlife and marine life which includes endangered hawksbill turtles, humpback and bottlenose dolphins, the native Arabian gazelle, and over 300 species of birds.   

Saadiyat also hosts a year-round program of cultural, lifestyle, golf, wellness, and culinary events and activities, all within one unique, secluded location.

SkiftX: As traveler preferences change, so too do destination marketing campaigns. Can you describe DCT Abu Dhabi’s strategy for 2023 and the thinking behind those choices? 

Yousuf Mohammad: We have a long-term vision to grow and position the emirate as a global events hub and further grow our leisure travel sector. We are seeing positive growth signals that travelers will continue to return in growing numbers from across multiple markets, and we have strong long-term projections on the future of tourism in Abu Dhabi. In 2019, we received a total of 11.35 million visitors, and we are expecting this number to grow significantly by 2030.

Through our strategic partnerships and ever-expanding tourism and culture offering, we are achieving our vision of becoming a world-leading destination offering travelers diverse, thoughtful, and enriching experiences to discover at their own pace. This has been brought to life through our new destination campaign “Experience Abu Dhabi. Find Your Pace,” which shares the variety of experiences that inspire, excite, and restore, welcoming the world to come and enjoy memorable moments that matter — in their own way, and at their own pace. 

Experience Abu Dhabi shows the seamless connections between a wealth of cultural heritage, alongside exciting experiences. We will continue to highlight the unique breadth of offerings that awaits international travelers in Abu Dhabi throughout 2023 and beyond.

SkiftX: How is DCT Abu Dhabi leveraging its brand positioning of “Thoughtful experiences, at your own pace” to highlight the natural and cultural attractions luxury travelers are particularly seeking in 2023? 

Yousuf Mohammad: Abu Dhabi is further cementing its position as a cultural capital in regional and global tourism. The Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, teamLab Phenomena, and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi are global attractions set to build on the destination’s already established cultural offering by 2025. 

Whether you’re looking for culture or nature, Abu Dhabi offers authentic moments that inspire, excite, and restore visitors in a way rarely experienced. 

Louvre Abu Dhabi just recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and has announced it will be showcasing the most comprehensive Impressionist exhibition ever seen in the region — Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity, running until February 5, 2023. Additionally, Abu Dhabi Louvre is also home to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, Saint John the Baptist, which is on loan from Louvre Paris for two years. 

We invite visitors to ignite their curiosity by visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites in Al Ain — just half an hour from Louvre Abu Dhabi — to experience adventure and tranquillity among the desert dunes and to embrace the emirate’s fascinating past with iconic museums and ancient forts. 

No matter what you’re interested in exploring, our new positioning showcases there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Abu Dhabi, at their own pace. 

SkiftX: What implications do you anticipate luxury travelers’ desire for unique, authentic experiences will have for destinations long term? 

Yousuf Mohammad: That desire for unique, authentic experiences is a core focus of our new destination campaign and of Abu Dhabi’s broader tourism offering. This is demonstrated by our Emirati hospitality which sits at the heart of every moment that matters, and our living culture that leaves visitors with a home-away-from-home feeling. 

It’s important for destinations to offer travelers enriching experiences that foster and enable life-long memories and show them the real side of the place they are visiting, to help them immerse themselves fully into the local culture. Long-term, this is a positive thing for destinations to focus on. 

Plan your visit to Abu Dhabi and discover the incredible experiences that await you.

This content was created collaboratively by Abu Dhabi and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Tags: abu dhabi, international luxury travel market, megatrends 2023, Saadiyat Island, united arab emirates

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