Monday, April 28, 2008

From desert to destination

A model of the Desert Islands project at the Presidential Palace.

One is the realisation of a vision began by Sheikh Zayed. Another will bring jobs and new opportunities to some of the most distant parts of the country. A third rises like an ancient palace among the massive sand dunes of the Empty Quarter.
Together they represent not just an investment of billions of dirhams but a plan to make the Western Region one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
The full scope of the projects is now revealed following a review by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Within a decade they will transform what, historically, has been a region long overlooked despite its astonishing natural beauty.
Already the first tourists are getting ready to book their rooms on Sir Bani Yas Island, the wildlife reserve created by Sheikh Zayed for his people nearly 40 years ago. When they step off the ferry from the mainland, they will find an adventure camp and luxury hotel surrounded by some of the rarest animals in the Gulf, including the largest herd of Arabian Oryx in captivity.
Sir Bani Yas is just one of a number of islands being opened to the world along the coast. Marketed as the “Desert Islands” by the Tourism Development and Investment Company, they could eventually attract 250,000 visitors a year.
On Dalma Island, already home to about 6,500 people and nearly 40km from the mainland, a new hospitality education centre will be built to fully exploit the career opportunities of the Desert Islands.Other smaller islands – which are uninhabited at present – will be transformed into centres for ecological tourism where visitors can observe wild turtles and birdlife while escaping from the pressures of mainland life in private beach houses.
Deep in the desert, the walls of the new Qasr Al Sarab resort are already rising from the sand near Liwa. Due to open by the end of next year, it will feature a five-star hotel, villas, a spa with hammam healing baths and an observatory to examine the clear night skies.
Visitors will also be able to visit a tented village to ride camels and watch traditional desert occupations like falconry.
In the long term, there are even more ambitious plans for Al Siwa, just a few kilometres from the western border with Saudi Arabia, near Qatar. Still in the initial planning stages, the Government is considering everything from malls and golf courses to a port for cruise ships and new housing communities.
Source : The National

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