'Sex and the City' and the Tourism in Abu Dhabi
By Jo Piazza Posted May 29th 2010 07:00PM
More than 50% of 'Sex and the City 2' is set in the desert oasis of Abu Dhabi, a beautiful and exotic locale where every wish and command of the four ladies is met by a team of charming Middle Eastern butlers. Well, not every wish. Samantha is detained for inappropriate sexual behavior on a beach, and the women consistently feel stifled by the mores of the religious country, often making a joke about it, but still creating an image of Abu Dhabi as beautiful and exotic but utterly foreign and perhaps even dangerous for Americans.
So it remains to be seen whether or not 'SATC2' will be a boon or a bust for Abu Dhabi's emerging international tourism industry. When Peter Jackson filmed the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy in the picturesque mountains and rolling hills of New Zealand, interest spiked as audiences were introduced to the beautiful island country. The success of the films even launched a cottage industry of 'Rings'-related tourism, where tour companies focused on the creation, locations and process of making the films. The 'Harry Potter' series has had a similar effect on tourism in the United Kingdom.
Obviously, seeing a beautiful location on screen helps to tempt travelers to visit. But there's a problem for Abu Dhabi -- the movie wasn't filmed there. It was filmed on location in Morocco, and for that reason, Abu Dhabi's tourism bureau doesn't think the film will do much to boost their tourism economy, and in fact, it is trying to distance itself from the film altogether.
When asked whether the movie would bolster tourism in the region, Barbara Saunders, a senior communications adviser with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said, "Not really, as it was not shot in the emirate but in Morocco, and that now seems to be widely known."
The film is now so inextricably linked to Morocco that the luxury travel company Abercombie & Kent has developed a 'Sex and the City' "cinema-cation" to Morocco based on the film.
Tied into 'Sex and the City 2' is A&K's Splendors of Morocco, which will take travelers to the soon-to-open Mandarin Oriental Hotel Jnan Rahma in lush Palmeraie in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, where many of the 'SATC' exteriors were shot, and on a camel ride at sunset, which will allow them to spend the night under the stars in a Bedouin-style tented camp surrounded by the largest sand dunes in the world.
So it is Morocco's rolling dunes of sand and beautiful beaches we see in the film. Maybe Morocco's tourism will see a boost. But beyond the landscaping, the 'SATC2' movie definitively portrays the Middle Eastern emirate as an "other," a place that is vaguely dangerous for American travelers, especially women. In one scene, the four ladies are accosted by a horde of men in an Abu Dhabi market and are only able to escape after a group of women loan them their head coverings. For this reason, among others (one of which is the word "sex" in the movie's title), Abu Dhabi isn't terribly psyched to be introduced as a fifth character in the film.
"We do not view it as aligned to our brand. We are aware of the powerful impact that the film industry can have on visitor generation and will support other projects in the future that perhaps more accurately portray the destination and are better aligned to our target audience of the high-end traveler who is a cultural seeker looking for unique experiences and destination engagement," Saunders said.
Abu Dhabi has been investing money to attract foreign tourists, but it is positioning itself as the antidote to the nightlife excesses of fellow emirate Dubai and trying to build itself as a cultural destination.
"They are going forward with an arm of the Louvre and the Guggenheim and developing an entire island that is a cultural complex," explains Heather Hardwick Rhodes, a vice president with Menlo Consulting Group, a company that provides strategic consulting for the global travel industry.
While film has obviously made a major impact on tourist travel, it is hard to say, given the circumstances, what effect 'SATC2' will have on Abu Dhabi, if any.
"Since so many people think that the film takes place in Dubai and then they know it was shot in Morocco and the mixed messages it sends out, I just don't know what the movie will do for Abu Dhabi tourism," Hardwick Rhodes explained. "It boosts awareness on a base level, but beyond that I can't see it doing very much."
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