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How Abu Dhabi Is Building A Legacy Of Leisure


Sunday November 11, 2018
By Christian Sylt


Leisure is at the heart of Abu Dhabi's growth strategy YAS ISLAND

The Middle Eastern city of Abu Dhabi only has a population of 2.9 million but it has big ambitions. Around 50% of its $215.5 billion Gross Domestic Product currently comes from oil but it has set a target of diversifying this by 2030 and is banking on leisure to do it.

The latest jewel in its crown is Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the biggest indoor theme park ever built. “Three years ago when we announced that we are going to open this theme park in the summer of 2018 it was a target and we have hit that target. Not a lot of people do that,” says Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the park’s developer, government-owned Miral Asset Management.

As we have reported, the Abu Dhabi government covered the $1 billion cost of building the blockbuster park and for most countries it would be their endgame. Not Abu Dhabi as its bold plans are still in top gear.

Its leisure developments are clustered on an island called Yas and are all developed by Miral. Next door to Warner Bros. World is the high-tech Yas Waterworld water park, a group of deluxe hotels, an 18-hole golf course, a sprawling shopping mall, a Ferrari World park with the world’s fastest roller coaster and the race track where Formula One’s season-ender will take place later this month. It weaves around a man-made marina with a center-piece hotel which looks like an alien mother-ship as it is covered in color-changing LED lights.

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It isn’t possible at any other resort to take a short walk from a hotel to a major studio’s park and on to a mega-mall, water park and yet another park. It solves common conundrums like what to do if you realise in the park that you’ve left something in your room. Just walk back. Want to go shopping whilst the kids are on the rides? Just walk over to the mall where there are more than 370 shops and 60 restaurants so you’re not limited to the choice of eateries in the parks either. That’s just the start.

Over the next year the doors will swing open to Clymb, a $100 million angular structure on Yas that is home to the world’s widest indoor skydiving chamber as well as the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall. Miral has also begun appointing contractors for the $3.2 billion Yas Bay waterfront development which will include more shops, hotels and restaurants as well as a new media city, residences for more than 10,000 people and an 18,000-capacity indoor arena.

It very rarely rains in Abu Dhabi and in winter temperatures average at around 75 degrees which are ideal conditions for the stroll between the attractions. However, it’s a different story in summer when the temperature soars to more than 95. Miral has thought about that and is building an innovative cable car system to connect all of the key attractions on Yas.

“We are in discussions with our partners in regards of the system itself. It is being tested and trialled right now and very soon we will see some movement on that,” says Al Mubarak. “It is kind of like a cable car. It will connect you from point to point so if somebody at Ferrari World wants to get to Warner Bros. they can or if somebody wants to get to the water park they can. It also works as an attraction because you are zooming over these fantastic developments.” They are already bearing fruit.

In May Miral’s chief executive Mohammed Al Zaabi told Arabian Business magazine that “we saw 27 million visits to Yas Island in 2017. This year we’re on track to grow that by 10 percent to just under 30 million.” It isn’t resting on its laurels.

In July Abu Dhabi’s government slashed hospitality-related fees in a bid to boost investment in its travel sector. Municipality fees were cut by half to 2% whilst tourism fees fell from 6% to 3.5%. The municipal fee for each hotel room was also reduced from AED15 ($4.10) to AED10 ($2.70) which “encourages investments across Abu Dhabi’s tourism and hospitality sector” according to Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture & Tourism. “It will also help us attract more visitors and increase occupancy rates, revenues and the average length of stay, and thus increase the tourism sector’s contribution.” It has a huge catchment area.



Abu Dhabi is only a short flight away from some of the world's most densely-populated countries (AFP/Getty Images)GETTY

Abu Dhabi’s airport is just a ten minute drive from Yas Island and within a flight radius of only around four hours is a population of around 1.5 billion people in India and Russia alone.

Al Zaabi says that the target is 48 million visitors to Yas Island by 2022 and it has a clear plan of how to enchant them. In a recent interview, Peter Van Roden, Senior Vice President of Global Themed Entertainment for Warner Bros. Consumer Products, said that the annual attendance target for Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is between 1.5 and 2 million.

In preparation for this influx, the first-ever Warner Bros. hotel will be built beside the park over the next two years as we recently revealed in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. A ‘City Walk’ entertainment district of yet more shops and restaurants is also expected down the line.

Despite being fully enclosed, the park can still expand as real estate around it has been kept clear for the construction of new buildings. “Absolutely we can extend the building to add lands,” says Al Mubarak. “In the theme park industry, every couple of years you want to re-invest and bring in a brand new ride or a brand new world and that’s how we work in our economics.”

The quality, innovation and uniqueness of the facilities on Yas is such that Abu Dhabi could become a serious challenger to current theme park leader Orlando. However, it will take a few years for word to spread widely and that will be just in time for the next première on the island.

In 2022 the first SeaWorld park outside the United States will open on Yas and is expected to be another indoor attraction. In addition to rides and a world-class aquarium, it will feature up-close animal experiences but no killer whales which are found in other SeaWorld parks. Crucially, it will also include the area’s first dedicated marine-life research, rescue and rehabilitation centre with facilities and resources for the care and conservation of local marine life. As we recently reported, this is the most spellbinding aspect of SeaWorld and it generates tremendous outreach which will in turn boost exposure for Yas.

“What we are trying to do is create a place where families or individuals can come and spend four, five or six days, truly enjoy the sunshine of Abu Dhabi, enjoy shopping, enjoy quality food and beverage and of course the theme parks,” says Al Mubarak. It is a whole new world for Abu Dhabi and by 2030 we will find out whether it has had the magic touch.



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