By Beth Greenfield
The seductive red glow seeping out of a massive white tent at Duffy Square in Times Square drew a steady stream of curious visitors this afternoonâ¿¿part of a free, four-day pop-up visitors center, A Taste of Abu Dhabi, set up by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. Operating from 10am-9pm daily now through May 19, the pop-up is meant to signal the arrival of a New Yorkâ¿¿based Abu Dhabi tourism office (in Trump Tower) and to raise awareness of this United Arab Emirates capital as a beautiful, cultured, cutting-edge travel destination.
Though the splashy gimmick confused some tourists (who stood on the tent-entry line thinking they were queuing up for Broadway-show tickets at the nearby TKTS booth), most seemed to know where they were, and were curious to learn more about a far-flung destination they knew little about. Inside, guests were shuttled through various stations, treated to platters of dates, tiny cups of strong coffee, henna tattoos, dabs of essential oils like frankincense and sandalwood, and photos of themselves (to be posted online) posing in traditional Arabic garb along with a rather timid-looking falcon. A final stop featured a promotional video about Abu Dhabi, chock full of images including architectural wonders, wide sandy deserts, beautiful beaches, the iconic YAS Hotel and the world's largest theme park, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, with the world's fastest roller coaster.
Upon exiting, folks were given coupons from Etihad Airwaysâ¿¿offering $500 off a first-class ticket, $300 off a business-class seat and $100 off an economy flight. Still, it wasn't enough to send many visitors home to pack their bags. "We can't afford to go to Abu Dhabi, even with the discount," said a pair of women from Buffalo. (Round-trip flights from New York to Abu Dhabi average $2,000 over the next couple of months, according to the Etihad booking site.) A man from Yonkers echoed the sentiment, wishing that he could see that part of the world, while a New Jersey woman added that she wasn't heading there anytime soon. "It looks beautiful, but no," she said. "Actually, where is it?"