Saadiyat Island

Blending hospitality and leisure with education, culture, and the arts, Saadiyat Island represents a year-round destination for all comers.

Billing itself as the Middle East’s premier beach destination, the 25-sqkm Saadiyat Island has much to back up the claim. For starters, its location on the Arabian Gulf promises warm waters and sunshine. Indeed, it has picked up the World Travel Award in this category each year since 2012. No wonder then it sees visitors returning time and time again. However, there is more to this destination, which is also setting itself up as a beacon of education and culture. Albert Camus once said “Any authentic creation is a gift to the future,” and this very much rings true with not just how Abu Dhabi views Saadiyat Island, but the Emirate overall. Saadiyat Vision 2025 aims to give Abu Dhabi a more prominent voice in the artistic and educational arena to match its industrial and economic and prowess enshrined in Vision 2030.

The UAE Tourism Strategy 2031 intends to attract around USD30 billion in additional tourism investments by 2031, with hotel guests numbering an estimated 40 million and the sector’s overall contribution to GDP earmarked at USD122.5 billion. The outlook is rosy; even when factoring in the rebound from COVID-19 restrictions, hotel guests in the Emirate totalling 1.84 million were up YoY by 22% in 1H2022.

When the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) along with Miral—the Emirate’s agency tasked with dreaming-up immersive destinations and transformative experiences—revealed Saadiyat Island’s vision, strategy, and brand the message was clear. The island sets to be a preeminent beach, nature, and cultural destination of fundamental importance to economic diversification. Saadiyat Vision 2025 seeks to win domestic and global acclaim, with the island forecast to attract 19 million visitors and contribute USD1.14 billion in direct tourism revenue by 2025.

Saleh Mohamed Saleh Al Geziry, Director General for Tourism at DCT Abu Dhabi, promises a destination “unmatched anywhere in the world for its stunning natural beaches, world-class arts, cultural, educational, wellness, sporting and F&B experiences.” It makes sense then, for the island’s slogan to be “One Island. Many Journeys.” A year-round destination, Abu Dhabi’s Island project caters to comprehensive lifestyle, sporting, and wellness needs. It boasts five prestigious waterfront resorts bearing the Park Hyatt and St. Regis livery, in addition to leading regional brands such as Jumeirah, Rotana, and Rixos delivering international cuisine in a glorious range of accommodation settings. Of note, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club features the region’s first ocean golf course.

Saadiyat Island is already graced by the Louvre’s overseas presence. But when visitors arrive at the completed Saadiyat Cultural District in 2025, they will behold a plethora of museums and galleries that pay tribute to mankind, culture, and science in spectacular new settings. When its doors open, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will extend the institution’s dedication to championing contemporary art. While global in outlook, its collection is set to showcase the creative output of West Asia, North Africa, and South Asia. Elsewhere, and home to “Stan” the T-Rex, the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi will also serve as a scientific research and teaching institution and an academic resource center for the disciplines of zoology, paleontology, marine biology, molecular research, and earth sciences. Appropriately, the facility’s facade will be a fluid interplay of water and vegetation. teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi promises to celebrate the world in flux; this fresh arts arena and “home of infinite curiosity” will feature rotating art and technology displays by Tokyo-based art collective, teamLab.

Zayed National Museum, the namesake of the late Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and created in the shape of a falcon’s wings by celebrated UK architects Foster and Partners, showcases the natural and human history of the UAE contextualizing it in regionally and globally. Moreover, an agreement with the British Museum will see many artifacts on loan for special exhibitions. And meanwhile, Abu Dhabi has chosen to celebrate cultural commonalities and knowledge sharing among the faiths at the Abrahamic Family House. Featuring a mosque, a church, and a synagogue, the institution will symbolize the quest for peaceful coexistence and fraternal communion.

Saadiyat Island is also being positioned as a stronghold of higher education, having already welcomed the international wing of renowned institutions. And while the UAE may be actively billing itself as tomorrow’s global high-tech hub, like its economy, the diversified nature of its education system has not been neglected. And so alongside the Emirate’s future entrepreneurs and tech start-ups, graduates of the liberal arts are destined to contribute to the Emirate’s vibrant cultural tapestry.

New York University Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, represents an ideal guest institution to advance such goals. Meanwhile, the celebrated Berklee College of Music, a leading light in contemporary composition and the performing arts, fosters creative excellence at its 3,900-sqm dune-shaped building known as the UAE Pavilion. Students at this institution specialize in dance, music, or theater, making use of facilities second to none on the international stage. The events staged by Berklee Abu Dhabi will continue to attract artists of international standing, as well as the output of its own student body.