Louvre Abu Dhabi Draws Tourists as Part of the Larger Branding Campaign
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has drawn more than a million visitors since it opened exactly one year ago. Situated on Saadiyat island, 500 metres off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the museum is part of the United Arab Emirates’ tourism-cultural initiative to “help transform the art and cultural scene in the Middle East.”
Upon completion, the island will additionally house a Guggenheim Museum dedicated to the founding president of the UAE, a maritime museum by a Japanese architect, and a performing arts center. The island will also have luxury hotels, a golf-course, a beach club, and shopping malls.
One of the museum’s exhibits, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia,” tries to convey “A crossroads of trade, culture, and religion. A path for merchants, travellers and pilgrims. A bridge for civilisations.” The contentious notions of “civilization”, which has in the past pit Islam against the West and promoted Orientalist visions of the Middle East, is clear in the language used on the museum’s website. Branding is becoming an important aspect of a country’s soft power as more countries seek international recognition and attempt to increase tourism, but it can also harm local populations and generally pander to wealthy tourists seeking adventure. Conversely, these branding efforts can reflect genuine attempts to highlight a country’s culture and can diversify its market while promoting new sources of income, which is especially important for oil-rich countries like the UAE.
The UAE exemplifies countries trying to draw in “the wealthy tourist”. Sheena Westwood, an academic from London, writes in Destination Brands: Managing Place Reputation that the UAE’s brand initiative’s “Research in the major source markets (UK, Germany, France) identified the key target audience as ‘Cultural Seekers’, that is, affluent early adopters who seek unique, meaningful, and high-quality experiences, and can afford to pay for luxury and exclusivity.” By emphasizing the importance of recognition and engagement from the UK, Germany, and France, Abu Dhabi is seeking to expand its influence in typically powerful and wealthy countries.
Abu Dhabi’s branding initiative has generally tried to engage the local population, by offering things such as a photograph competition called “Abu Dhabi Through Your Eyes,” and a research survey that found people from 45 different nationalities feel positive about the holistic nature of the UAE’s brand. The success of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the increase in global knowledge of the city indicates the more general success of the UAE’s branding campaign. As the UAE and other countries are continuing to brand or rebrand themselves, it is important to remain critical of the branding strategies used while also recognizing the importance of highlighting culture and attempting to give a more holistic view of a country.