By Gavin Gibbon
Ali Al Shaiba, executive director, DCT-Abu Dhabi, believes historic event will act as a catalyst to welcome tourists back to emirate post-Covid-19
Whoever walks away with the belts at the end of UFC’s inaugural Fight Island is of little consequence to Ali Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism. He's confident Abu Dhabi will be the ultimate winner from the showpiece event.
Millions of viewers from around the world are set to tune in on Saturday (Sunday in the UAE) for UFC 251 as Max Holloway eyes revenge against Alexander Volkanovski in the featherweight championship bout; reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will defend his title against late replacement Jorge Masvidal, while Petr Yan and Jose Aldo collide for the vacant 135-pound strap.
Beamed live from the Flash Forum on an 11km stretch of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island that has been locked off to the public as part of a ‘safe zone’ for the showcase, the area is currently home to more than 2,500 people for the four events, including the Pay Per View UFC 251 and three ESPN Fight Nights, from July 11 to 26.
The zone contains the fight venue and training facilities as well as several hotels and restaurants, and access is strictly controlled.
Despite no fans being allowed in the ‘safe zone’, Al Shaiba revealed the exposure for the UAE capital is priceless.
He told Arabian Business: “For Abu Dhabi it’s definitely very important. It will increase the awareness of Abu Dhabi in different ways and different channels. It’s not just one fight, there’s four or five fights, but the main one is watched by millions of people around the world, especially in the source markets that we are targeting and we consider the main source for us.
“I think the reach, the media exposure that we are getting for this, is big and we are taking it in different ways, through the media, the social media, the fighters talk about Abu Dhabi.”
The source markets Al Shaiba talks of includes the UK, US, Germany and Russia, while the popularity of the sport is increasing among audiences in China and India.
DCT-Abu Dhabi signed a five-year deal with UFC last year with the promise to bring top class fighters to the emirate for regular events.
Although Abu Dhabi is yet to welcome back international visitors, despite neighbouring Dubai throwing its doors open to tourists earlier this week, Al Shaiba hopes the event will act as the ideal marketing tool for when the lockdown measures have eased.
He said: “People want to know, they want to dream about things, post Covid-19, where to go and where to travel and I think putting the name of Abu Dhabi in front of everyone today, showcasing the health and safety measures that Abu Dhabi can provide to everyone and also telling everyone that Abu Dhabi is safe for travel, Abu Dhabi is safe to come and enjoy every single part of it, Abu Dhabi is safe to go to the pristine beaches and enjoy the time there, Abu Dhabi is safe to enjoy the swimming pools with your family, to enjoy the attractions, the golf courses, and these are some of the areas which are open in the safe zone.
“You will see in the next few days, videos from fighters, they are enjoying the beach, they are enjoying the other facilities within the island. That will bring the confidence in the travellers to choose Abu Dhabi as a destination to travel to post Covid-19 once the travel restrictions are lifted.”