Abu Dhabi watched and took more than a few notes during neighbouring Dubai's meteoric rise. Not only have they now bailed out their profligate neighbours to the tune of $10 billion, but Abu Dhabi has learnt lessons and plotted its post-petroleum future far more strategically. So what does this strategy involve? Well, for starters, far more emphasis on culture. Yes, there are plenty of shopping malls flogging luxury goods, just as in Dubai, but also immaculate architectural outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, slated for openings this year, and a spanking new mosque that cost a cool $545 million. The good news is that Abu Dhabi has even more to offer the luxury traveller, from cultural attractions to some extremely beautiful landscapes making it great for a short(ish) haul hot holiday destination.
Ponder the concept of 'first mover advantage', ie: that there is innate benefit in embracing boldness and being first out of the blocks. There are plenty of examples where this proved the correct strategy, but occasionally it can prove a costly mistake.
Exhibit A - Dubai. Of all the United Arab Emirates, Dubai was the first to realise that oil was a finite resource and that life after fossil fuel revenue would be pretty bleak unless they diversified. Admittedly, the fact that they had considerably less of the black stuff than neighbours Abu Dhabi might have forced their hand, but in the blink of an eye Dubai morphed from a sleepy fishing town into a major tourist centre, investment property centre and serious transport hub. Then, as we all know, the bubble burst in spectacular fashion.
And who came riding on a magnificent arab stallion to the rescue? That's right, neighbouring Abu Dhabi, who bailed out their profligate neighbours to the tune of $10 billion, but Abu Dhabi has learnt lessons and plotted its post-petroleum future far more strategically, with far more emphasis on culture.
Abu Dhabi is also blessed with a far more interesting natural landscape than its neighbour. Where Dubai has had to build islands, Abu Dhabi has over 200, none built from scratch, nor obviously man-made when viewed from space. In addition, where Dubai has scrubby desert, Abu Dhabi features part of the fabled Empty Quarter, the largest dune sea in the world, where Thesiger experienced the harshness and beautiful simplicity of Bedouin life.
Add a fast growing clutch of seriously luxurious hotels for families and couples alike, and some excellent restaurants, and we suspect Abu Dhabi might become a serious player in the holiday stakes in the none too distant future.