The sports industry is set to grow 8.7% by 2026 in the Middle East, compared with 3.3% globally, according to the World Economic Forum. With international sports events shown to attract foreign direct investment, an increase in sporting events is a powerful addition to an ambitious tourism strategy.

Abu Dhabi in 2022 welcomed 15.9 million visitors, and tourism is a key part of its vision for economic growth. Spearheaded by organisations including the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and Miral, Abu Dhabi’s leading curator of experiences, the emirate is developing a world-leading tourism proposition. For businesses, Abu Dhabi offers the financial incentives, strategic vision and market growth that will allow them to capitalise on the opportunities which come with an ever-increasing flow of international visitors.

Playing the game: sports mean investment

The Value of Events report 2022, commissioned by UK Sport, showed that major sporting events have significant economic benefits for a country, as well as boosting reputation and conferring social benefits. Moreover, according to a 2021 paper in the Journal of Sport Management by Lertwachara et al., countries that hosted mega sporting events experienced beneficial effects on foreign direct investment. The degree of benefit varied depending on the country, with host countries in the Middle East and North Africa seeing some of the biggest improvements.

Abu Dhabi hosts some of the world’s greatest sporting events including NBA games, the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the world-renowned Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In 2021, Abu Dhabi Sports Council signed an agreement with Miral to sponsor three international sporting events hosted by Abu Dhabi. In 2023, the emirate will hold Abu Dhabi Showdown Week UFC 294, the 2023 FIBRA Men’s World Cup and NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023, among others. Tennis continues to be popular in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The second season of the World Tennis League will be held on Yas Island this year and the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open is set to return to Abu Dhabi in February 2024.

A calendar of large-scale sporting events promises to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s global reputation as an outstanding destination for visitors, as well as attracting international investment.

Global sporting events have found a comfortable home in Abu Dhabi due to the emirate’s sports culture. Sports enthusiasts of all levels will find something in Abu Dhabi.

For cycling fans, the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club launched an initiative in March to attract sports tourists. The club will provide tour packages and programmes to attract cycling athletes and world champions to the UAE.

Homegrown cycling and e-commerce company Wolfi has partnered with the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club to open a cycling café that serves specialty coffee and inspires group rides. Wolfi has received support through Abu Dhabi Investment Office’s (ADIO) $545m Innovation Programme to increase cycling access and participation in events.

Growing tourism in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s impressive sporting calendar is a part of its commitment to becoming a leading global tourism destination as the emirate works towards a long-term vision to become a premier location for leisure and entertainment. Miral is one stakeholder that has transformed the tourism sector in the emirate over the past decade and continues to establish Abu Dhabi in the region and internationally, with the ambition to create a sustainable, diversified and globally integrated economy by working with real estate partners, investors and the best brands from across the world.

Miral aims to make Abu Dhabi a premier destination for entertainment, leisure and business by 2025. To that end, it has spearheaded numerous projects to develop unique attractions and world-class infrastructure, with landmark undertakings on Yas Island. The island is already the region’s top destination, known as “the Middle East’s Leading Tourism Development Project”, and is home to the Yas Marina Circuit and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Beyond sporting events, Abu Dhabi is rounding out its tourism experiences so visitors who come to take in boxing, F1, golf or any other sporting event have plenty of options to consider during their trip.

Abu Dhabi is home to the fastest-growing theme park market in the world, with Miral contributing to the development of attractions including the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, Yas WaterWorld and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. As Abu Dhabi’s tourism offering continues to develop and become world-class, the market opportunity for businesses in this sector will continue to grow.

Investment opportunity

The Abu Dhabi Government has been actively enhancing its tourism sector, diversifying its offerings from hosting international sporting events to establishing a variety of theme parks. This strategic development has successfully attracted millions of visitors each year, capturing the attention of global investors. With an annual investment of approximately $7bn, the tourism sector is poised for a growth trajectory exceeding 5% annually over the next ten years.

This robust expansion positions Abu Dhabi as an attractive destination for international investments. A key player in this growth is Miral, which is actively developing vast areas of land on Yas Island. These developments are focused on creating year-round destinations for leisure and entertainment, and Miral is continuously forging partnerships with globally renowned brands. This provides unparalleled investment opportunities for those looking to capitalise on Abu Dhabi’s flourishing prospects.

Moreover, ADIO places a strong emphasis on tourism, offering comprehensive support to companies eager to establish and expand their presence in the emirate. As Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry continues its upward trajectory, backed by influential entities and a supportive government, it presents a lucrative and dynamic market for businesses operating within the tourism sector.

To find out more about opportunities to grow your business in Abu Dhabi, download the whitepaper.