By Gavin Gibbon
Yas Island is already a hotspot for thrill-seekers, with Ferrari World Abu Dhabi set to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year, as well as Warner Bros World, Clymb and Yas Waterworld. Mohamed Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral Asset Management is keen to add more attractions and cement its position as a number one tourist spot in Abu Dhabi and the UAE
I’ve attended press conferences where questions have been met with anything from laughter to anger and derision – but loud screams was a first for me in my 20-year career as a journalist.
To clarify slightly, the media event was being held in the heart of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and the screams may have been coming from thrill-seekers on a nearby rollercoaster and not the subject of the press conference, but it was still disconcerting all the same.
In between the cries of terror, Mohamed Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral Asset Management, is able to reveal the ongoing successes of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island and the bold plans for the destination going forward.
Miral was set up in 2011 to manage and develop a collection of government assets in Abu Dhabi – including Yas Island.
The island is already home to Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which opened in November 2010 - last year saw Miral renew its lease with Ferrari for a further ten years; while last year they welcomed Warner Bros World, as well as Clymb, which boasts the tallest climbing wall at 43 metres and, at ten metres, the widest wind tunnel.
Al Zaabi says: “Our next attraction will be Sea World. We’re at a very advanced stage of design and we are on track to finish the construction by 2022.”
He added that all the theme parks are making money. “We are very happy. All our theme parks are profitable and that has always been the case,” he says.
However, he wouldn’t be drawn on whether further theme parks would be added to the destination, which is currently 55 percent developed.
This includes through the addition of two new hotels to Yas Island, a 550-room Hilton hotel, which is currently 85 percent complete and is due to open its doors this year; and the first Warner Bros Hotel in the world, boasting 250 rooms, which is 40 percent complete and scheduled to open in 2021.
“It will be home for Bugs Bunny and superheroes. Our customers will have the chance to meet and dine with the Warner Bros characters as well as enjoy staying in the themed first Warner Bros Hotel,” says Al Zaabi.
He also reveals plans were in place for more hotels. “We’re very much focussed on the entertainment and tourism sectors, that’s our focus and it will always be our focus. We did a study in 2015 and we decided to add 800 more rooms, that’s 550 in Hilton and 250 rooms in Warner Bros Hotel.
“Actually, when we announced the plan in 2015 we said we need 1,500 rooms, so still more to come. That is to cater for the current and future demand for our theme parks and entertainment sector.”
This demand is set to increase with the launch of two new budget airlines from Abu Dhabi International Airport, which Al Zaabi describes as a “game changer” for the emirate’s tourism industry.
A partnership between Etihad Airways and Air Arabia to create Air Arabia Abu Dhabi was announced in October last year, while European low-cost carrier Wizz Air signalled its intention to set up an airline in Abu Dhabi in December.
“Having two more low-fare airlines coming to Abu Dhabi Airport, that will be a game changer as well for the tourism market in Abu Dhabi,” Al Zaabi says.
“I think Air Arabia, with their experience to access second and third tier cities in source markets like India, KSA, Russia and having Wizz Air, with access to second tier cities in Europe, that will improve our position as an attractive destination, Yas Island particularly and generally Abu Dhabi.”
Al Zaabi says he was “very excited” by the €100m ($108.3m) investment by Abu Dhabi Holding in Germany’s FTI Group, the third biggest travel agency company in Europe.
“I’m sure with their collaboration that will help us to have more tourists coming to Yas and Abu Dhabi,” he says.
Of course, Yas Island is about more than theme parks, tourists and entertainment.
Al Zaabi says talks are at a “very advanced stage” with potential investors to sell three plots of land.
Al Zaabi reveals four plots were sold last year, including two in the $3.26bn, 130-hectare Yas Bay waterfront destination on the southern edge of the island.
Although he didn’t give exact details in terms of location, he says the three more sales were “in serious discussion with other investors”, both local and international, on Yas Island.
There are currently 35 plots available on Yas Bay, a 14 million square feet development is comprised of three distinct areas: The Waterfront, Residences at Yas Bay, and twofour54.
“We have just finished the infrastructure, so now you can go and drive in Yas Bay,” says Al Zaabi.
“Once the investor buys the land they can start immediately the design and construction. It’s a very unique masterplan.”
Once complete, the project will encompass the 18,000-seat Etihad Arena, which is currently 88 percent complete and due to open this year; Residences at Yas Bay – which will be home to 15,000 residents – a boardwalk and pier with 37 cafés and restaurants, 19 retail outlets, beach club, and two hotels, as well as being the new hub for twofour54.
Miral signed an agreement in 2016 with Skytran to explore introducing the suspended transportation system on Yas Island. The memorandum of understanding launched the study and implementation of Skytran.
The initial phase of the system, which will connect Ferrari World Abu Dhabi with Warner Bros World was reportedly scheduled to be launched this year.
But Al Zaabi says: “It’s still at an interesting stage in the US. Once they have done with that, then we will take the next step and study more from a business point of view and a maintenance point of view.
“It’s still under testing and commissioning in the US.”
As the decibel levels increase at regular intervals, Al Zaabi reveals plans are in place to add to the attractions at the theme park.
This includes visitors being able to walk across its iconic red roof and take a 400-metre zipline through the award-winning theme park.
He says: “For the first time people will be allowed to walk on this nice red roof as well as enjoy a zipline experience. It will be a very unique experience.”
From March, guests will be able to follow over 600 metres of installed walkway over the roof, while the zipline takes them through Ferrari World Abu Dhabi (FWAD) and across the Flying Aces rollercoaster.
As well as the two new attractions Al Zaabi says a further five would open at the theme park in 2020, including a Family Zone and an indoor rollercoaster.
Al Zaabi says: “This year is set to be another one of growth and success, helping cement Yas Island’s position as a top global destination for leisure, entertainment and business. We are delighted to introduce new attractions to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.”
Planned to open in March, the design of the Family Zone features decorated tracks and contributes to the park-wide animation and dynamism through a diverse collection of rides and experiences the whole family can enjoy.
Mission Ferrari will be the newest rollercoaster at FWAD and will integrate the best features of a dark ride and a high-speed launch coaster with the performance of a high thrill looping coaster.
Set to open this year, this ride, which affords a unique, world’s first ‘tilt and drop’ experience for thrill-seekers, will be an immersive media-based attraction that combines cutting edge systems, stunning scenic show sets and various special effects.
Al Zaabi adds: “As we celebrate Ferrari World Abu Dhabi’s ten-year anniversary this November, we are excited to continue to evolve and expand on the theme park’s unmatched experiences that promise our guests unforgettable memories.”For all the latest Travel & Hospitality news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.