The fourth and final of our 2009 quarterly briefings focuses on hotel licensing in Abu Dhabi. There are certain key stages involved in the licensing process for hotels in the Emirate and this updater outlines the elements involved in each.  


No hotel can conduct activities inside the Emirate of Abu Dhabi without an appropriate licence. Hotel licences are awarded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), a statutory body with wide ranging responsibilities for building Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry.

There are three key licensing stages before a hotel opens to the public:

  • obtaining an Initial Approval for the construction or transformation of a building to be used as a hotel;
  • obtaining a Tourism Licence Certificate on completion of construction or transformation of the hotel building; and
  • obtaining an approval to operate a new hotel establishment.

Initial Approval

A hotel building may either be constructed or an existing building may be transformed to become a hotel building. In both situations Initial Approval must be sought from ADTA in relation to the proposed hotel before proceeding to the construction or transformation phase of the project.

ADTA normally grants the initial approval within seven days of the date of the application provided that the application meets the requirements prescribed by ADTA. A fee is payable in connection with obtaining the Initial Approval.

The Initial Approval will set the term required to complete and furnish the hotel. If the term needs to be extended for any reason, a renewal of the Initial Approval will be required and another fee will be payable. It is important to note the Initial Approval becomes invalid if there is a failure to commence building or preparing the building for its intended use within six months of the date that the Initial Approval was issued.

Tourism Licence Certificate

Prior to the expiry of the original term of the Initial Approval (or a later date if the term is renewed), it will be necessary to apply for a Tourism Licence Certificate. ADTA will grant the Tourism Licence Certificate upon confirming that the hotel is ready for its intended use. This stage will involve a site visit by ADTA to ensure that the building is in a suitable condition and meets the classification standard set for the hotel.

The Tourism Licence Certificate is normally issued no later than 30 days from the date of the application provided that the application complies with ADTA’s requirements. As for the Initial Approval, a fee is payable to ADTA for the Tourism Licence Certificate.

Operation Approval

At least 30 days prior to the hotel becoming operational (i.e. the date which the first customer stays at the hotel), it will be necessary to apply to ADTA for an Operation Approval in respect of the hotel. There will be a final inspection by ADTA before an Operation Approval is issued.

This final inspection allows ADTA to ensure that the all requirements for operation of the building as a hotel have been complied with, including for example installation of the applicable police information system.

Again, a fee will be payable for issuing the Operation Approval.

Ongoing obligations

The term of the Tourism Licence Certificate is issued for a maximum renewable term of five years. The renewal application must be presented at least 30 days prior to the expiry date of the then current Tourism Licence Certificate. ADTA will inspect the hotel on an annual basis. It may additionally inspect the hotel as part of a sudden inspection or upon receiving complaints that the hotel has violated any applicable laws or regulations. ADTA may cancel or refuse to renew the Tourism Licence Certificate where ADTA discovers that a violation of the laws or regulations has taken place.

The hotel will also need to comply with an extensive list of continuing obligations such as maintaining accounting books and records, ensuring that every guest receives a bill and receipt stamped by the hotel and ensuring that personnel wear a special uniform according to the nature of their respective duties.

Hotel apartments

Hotel apartments are subject to substantially the same regime as the hotel but it is important to be aware that a separate classification is applied to hotel apartments.

Entertainment and Alcohol licensing

There are additional laws and regulations applying to the provision of entertainment or alcohol in the hotel premises. We have not sought to cover these laws and regulations in this updater but this licensing regime should be addressed in good time as part of the overall preparation of the hotel for opening.