The Gulf States may be surrounded by sand but a cultural desert they are not. The rapid expansion of regionally-based airlines such as Etihad, Emirates, Oman Air and Qatar, coupled with massive infrastructure development, widespread hotel, mall and resort development and the introduction of major sporting events and cultural initiatives, has completely transformed the region.

“Send clients with an appetite for culture and design to Abu Dhabi, as well as attractions like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, at the end of the year the long-awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi will open for business. Drawn from civilisations from all around the world, its 600-plus artworks will tell the story of shared human experience from ancient times to the present day”


Perfect 10

  1. Abu Dhabi mangroves: Kayak tours provide a guide to explain the eco-system

  2. Bed down like a Bedouin: Authentic reproductions of Bedouin life in Ras al-Khaimah’s desert include The Bedouin Oasis Camp and Bassata Desert Village, where you can live in the desert amongst the camels

  3. Theme park central: Dubai is awash with theme parks, including Wild Wadi, IMG Worlds of Adventure, Aquaventure, Legoland, Motiongate, Al Nasr, Wonderland, Fantasy Kingdom and KidZania

  4. Marvellous mosque:: Abu Dhabi’s huge Sheikh Zayed Mosque has 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns and extravagant gold-plated chandeliers. All faiths are welcome

  5. Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort: This new art-inspired luxury resort is nestled amongst the hidden valleys of the Al Hajar Mountains in the coastal region of Dibba, the second largest town in the emirate of Fujairah

  6. Shoppers’ paradise: Qatar’s impressive range of malls include Villagio, Landmark and City Center Doha, one of the biggest in the region. Or try Souk Waqif for traditional craftwork

  7. Wildlife wonderland: Get close to the region’s animals in Oman, with whale-, bird-, turtle- and dolphin-watching

  8. Culinary delights: Ras al-Khaimah has a wide range of culinary experiences, from international five-star cuisine to Arabic cafes for local specialities accompanied by a sheesha

  9. Cultural Qatar: Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art is not to be missed. Culture vultures will also love the modern art museum and recently-built opera house and ampitheatre

  10. Crystal clear waters: You’re never far from water in Oman, whether a glorious empty beach, a refreshing wadi or luxury pool. If Only… offers the six-night Wonders of Oman tour which includes a visit to the deep blue waters of Wadi Bani Khalid

Breaking it down

Once a small trading hub, Dubai is now a major entertainment destination, known for its huge shopping malls, high-end hotels and restaurants, and numerous resorts and malls.

Abu Dhabi has been positioning itself as a cultural centre, with notable projects including the upcoming Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum, as well as a family destination, with attractions such as Yas Waterworld.

A relative newcomer on the tourism scene, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is focusing itself as a centre for heritage and culture. In one day here you can experience deserts, beaches, mangrove swamps and spectacular mountain ranges. RAK is seeing an increased uptake of adventure tourism, not least thanks to the Jebel Jais Via Ferrata in the Hajar Mountains range. Sustainability underpins the emirate’s Destination 2019 strategy, which aims to attract a million tourists a year.

Without the gloss of spanking new skyscrapers and shopping malls, Oman has the laid-back feel of a more traditional Middle Eastern destination. There are numerous historic buildings, souks and outstanding natural features including dramatic wadis, canyons, mountains and lush greenery.

With a growing reputation as a sporting destination and a more proactive airline, Qatar is attracting those looking for stopovers and short breaks. It is less ‘bling’ than Dubai and, without an overwhelming choice of things to do, very manageable. There are numerous museums, galleries and souks, an impressive range of luxurious hotels and restaurants, a dazzling skyscraper skyline and superb watersports.

What the experts say

“Forging strong relationships with the trade is hugely important to us, and we’re constantly looking for new ways to assist UK agents and tour operators. We have joint marketing programmes planned with 17 different tour operators. In September we will fly 36 agents from London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin to Abu Dhabi to explore the city, desert and attractions of Yas Island. We also plan to tour the country delivering destination training. As an incentive to agents, we’ll be giving away tickets to Manchester City home games, as well as Yas Island theme park passes ”

What’s new

Accommodation: Coming up in Dubai: the 304-room Aloft Dubai City Centre Deira, the region’s first cinema-themed hotel; the quintessentially British Dukes Dubai is synonymous with sister property Dukes London and offers a golden sandy beach with views over the Dubai Marina skyline; and The Retreat Palm Dubai MGallery by Sofitel, which describes itself as the first holistic welling resort in the Middle East.

Centara Hotels and Resorts recently opened a new 152-room hotel in Muscat, Oman. Located in the bustling Ghala Heights business district it features three restaurants, a spa and a rooftop pool and terrace. Centara is also opening a new hotel in Qatari capital, Doha, later this year.

Airlines: Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism Authority have a free Doha stopover initiative until September 30, giving transit passengers free hotel stays and complimentary transit visas. It’s part of a bigger campaign called +Qatar, seeking to encourage transit passengers to add Qatar to their itineraries.

Emirates will be introducing a second daily A380 service between Dubai and Birmingham, beginning October 29.

Attractions: The foundations have been laid for The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour, the world’s tallest building, set to become an iconic landmark when it opens in 2020. It will feature The Pinnacle Room and VIP Observation Garden Decks.

Cruise: Luxury lines Celebrity Cruises and MSC Cruises are seeing record-breaking demand for cruises originating in Abu Dhabi. The emirate is forecast to welcome more than 300,000 passengers from 148 calls made by 18 ships from 15 different cruise lines during the 2017/18 cruise season – around 10% up on last year. Oxford Economics predicts that Abu Dhabi cruise tourism will see 450,000 passengers by 2020, rising to 808,428 in 2025.

Where to book it

Lusso offers five nights at The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi, from £1,215pp based on two people sharing a Superior Room on a half-board basis, plus private transfers and flights with British Airways. This is a saving of £255pp. Valid until September 20 2017.

A week at the five-star Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, Dubai, flying economy from Heathrow, is from £1569pp half-board with Etihad Holidays.