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From strength to strength

Lee Tabler, CEO Tourism Development Investment Company (TDIC), explains the remit of the organisation, and the socio-economic factors it takes into consideration when driving forward.

INTERVIEWS, Projects

Lee Tabler, CEO Tourism Development Investment Company (TDIC), explains the remit of the organisation, and the socio-economic factors it takes into consideration when driving forward.

TDIC has announced a number of key projects as Abu Dhabi has grown in its investment - what exactly is your remit?

The Crown Prince wished to create a private company to develop assets within Abu Dhabi. We call them assets, whether they are dilapidated theme parks or islands. TDIC was tasked to make these assets perform.

 

So I tell people ‘we exist to find the best and highest use of raw pieces of land'. That depends upon the socio-economic of the region. So we look at these, and say ‘what are the environmental conditions, ecological conditions, traffic or weather? What is the socio-economic environment like?' Does it make sense and does it make economic sense?

In the case of Saadiyat Island, it took several iterations and masterplanning to determine that high-end resort tourism and cultural tourism would be two primary drivers.

How much influence do you get from the top to your vision of the assets? Do they give you suggestions of what the Crown Prince would like to see done with these assets?

Yes, we exist at the pleasure of HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nayhan. It is a very specific direction - cultural tourism - as Sheikh Nayhan has a very clear vision of what they want to do.

It may not be in the details - they may not know they want six museums, they just know they want cultural tourism. So we fulfil their vision.

When you talk about cultural tourism - is it a direct reaction to Dubai and the rapid pace of development creating a cultural vacuum?

The development of cultural tourism assets is not a reaction to what is happening in Dubai. It is a broader, qualitative vision by the Crown Prince as to what type of tourism he wants for Abu Dhabi and is complementary, not competitive to what Dubai is doing. We are really strengthening each other.

Of all the projects TDIC is involved with, the Qasr Al Arab development in the Liwa Oasis stands out. What was the thinking - especially as you had ‘assets' such as Yas and Saadiyat Island to turn inland and away from such natural resources? Is it illustrative of your resort tourism?

Abu Dhabi as an emirate covers 87% of the landmass of the entire UAE. It stretches from the Arabian Gulf, to Qatar, to Saudi Arabia andOman. HH Crown Prince Sheikh Nayhan would like to extend their development of assets beyond the centre of Abu Dhabi.

So they would like to develop some areas in the eastern region for tourism. We also have plans to develop the western region, which is all the way to the Qatari-Saudi border as well. It creates an economic base, jobs, and will stimulate outlying regions. Besides, the Empty Quarter is absolutely, spectacularly beautiful. So it is an asset, but is also a national treasure, that if developed in a responsible manner, could be highly valuable for
Abu Dhabi.

What concerns are there operating in the region, do you have to ensure the existing Bedouin tribes are not affected?

TDIC's regulatory demands far exceed the Ministry of Environment requirements. We need to be careful as a company how much water and energy consumption we enter into, how we treat waste, and how energy efficient it will be. As a company, part of our philosophy is to be responsible for energy consumption. Whatever our footprint on the environment is, be it a mangrove, the Empty Quarter or Saadiyat Island. We are sensitive to the coral reefs, to the natural topography of the mountains, to the energy required to keep these resorts going.

When you refer to developing the Western region near Saudi, what exactly are you looking at?

We are just studying the region, we don't yet have any designs. We are looking at the socio-economic factors and establishing what would be the most appropriate way to develop the economic base, which wouldn't negatively infringe on the environment. There are no plans, it is more a thinking process. We are speaking to environmental engineers, marine biologists, ecologists and so forth because whatever we do we cannot upset the natural ecological balance.

The process you describe - how long does it take before you come up with a concept?

For the western region, probably February next year. It's very interesting, the desert islands are also hugely exciting - you have marine environments, the reefs, the wildlife and migratory birds.

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