From the traditional souks to the super luxurious hotels and malls perched between the desert and crystal-blue seas, the United Arab Emirates offers a range of attractions unlike any place on earth. Liesl Venter spoke to the tourism authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are fast becoming a major player in the incentive space, to find out what travellers can expect.
Fancy some Formula 1 racing as an incentive for your top achievers? Maybe a night under the stars in the middle of the desert is more what you’re looking for, or some high-speed adrenalin-rush activity like bashing your way across a dune? Or perhaps something less intense is more suitable – like a luxurious spa experience or high tea at an Arabian palace.
In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, corporate incentive organisers are spoiled for choice. These two desert cities have been working hard to capture the MICE market and efforts are paying off as incentive travel is on the rise.
TAM asked the two tourism authorities to put together a typical incentive itinerary to showcase what can be expected on a trip to the region.
Four days in Abu Dhabi
Hop aboard a quick eight-hour overnight flight on either of the UAE airlines. After arriving early morning, take a two-hour transfer to the breathtaking Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. This is not only a desert oasis resort, but also a museum where authentic Arabian artifacts are on display. Take part in sand sports, dune bashing and traditional falconry. Have cocktails on the Royal Pavilion under the stars and indulge in Arabian cuisine Bedouin style, yet in five-star luxury.
Experience camel trekking at dawn and watch the sun rise over the Empty Quarter dunes. After breakfast, make your way back to the city where you will have the opportunity to take in the culture of Abu Dhabi by visiting the Heritage Village, Date Market and the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Finish the day off with dinner at Saadiyat Beach Club, an Ibiza-style private beach club.
Assault your senses by visiting world-class theme parks, including Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Legoland, Legoland Water Park, Motiongate, Bollywood and Riverland.
Alternatively, explore the history of the world at the Louvre Abu Dhabi or simply relax on Yas Beach, one of Abu Dhabi’s most popular beaches. Have dinner at the landmark Emirates Palace and round off the evening with a gold-leaf cappuccino featuring your company logo.
End your experience with a magnificent Arabian Gulf cruise on the sophisticated Belevari catamaran. Enjoy an on-board dinner and sundowners after frolicking in the warm Arabian waters. The Abu Dhabi skyline at night is a unique experience in itself with magnificent views of the Presidential Palace and Emirates Palace.
Three days in Dubai
Fly into Dubai International Airport with Emirates, Dubai’s flag carrier, which operates daily flights from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, arriving early morning.
Dubai is home to over 104 000 rooms across its expanding hotel and hotel apartment inventory, which plays a key role in supporting the growth of meetings, incentive travel, conferences and exhibition bookings in the city. Room options range from five-star luxury to pocket-friendly mid-range options.
Don’t waste too much time checking in to your hotel, as there is much to explore. The first stop for the day is the tallest skyscraper in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which stands 160 storeys high, followed by lunch at the Dubai Mall, officially the world’s largest shopping destination, where virtually everything you could possibly want to buy is available.
Spend the afternoon at the Dubai Autodrome feeling like a Formula One driver with some exhilarating on-track experiences on the 5,39km motorsport circuit before heading to the Viceroy Palm Jumeirah for dinner. Here you will find five unique dining venues where you can explore a mélange of tastes and aromas.
Kick off the day immersed in Dubai’s rich culture and heritage by visiting the Al Fahidi historic district, which seeks to encapsulate what the city was like in the past. Experience a traditional stone building and walk through the narrow alleyways before visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The Centre aims to reach out to and educate expats and visitors about the traditions and customs of the UAE, and is a must-visit.
From there, head to the Golden Souq, a bustling traditional market that is home to over 300 gold and jewellery retailers before ending the morning at the Spice Souq, where your senses will be invigorated.
After lunch, venture from the old to the new by taking in Dubai’s diverse skyline while relaxing on a yacht cruise in Dubai Marina.
Why not step back in time for some traditional Arabian food and hospitality for dinner? Located in the desert and one of Dubai’s newest venues, Qasr Al Sultan gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy the ‘life of a sultan’. It features a grand food bazaar, live cooking stations and an authentic Arabian souk, as well as live performances from traditional dancers.
Take a different perspective on Dubai by taking a trip with Seawings Seaplane Tours, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the city and its beautiful coastline. If seaplanes aren’t your thing, there is always the option of a helicopter tour or, better yet, explore the scenes from a hot-air balloon ride.
An authentic Dubai-styled ending to the trip is a must by going on a desert safari.
No trip to Dubai is complete if you haven’t been on a desert safari. Enjoy dune bashing, camel riding, and sand skiing throughout the afternoon, and end the day with a delicious Arabic barbecue dinner as entertainers put on a fantastic show under the stars.