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Fri 5 Jun 2015 09:31 AM

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Yas man: Mohammed Al Zaabi

Yas Island is a major success story for Abu Dhabi. Having launched in 2006, developments have come thick and fast, ranging from a world-class racing track to a state-of-the-art mall. Mohammed Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral Asset Management, which maintains and promotes the island, discusses its rapid growth and plans for the future

Yas man: Mohammed Al Zaabi

The rise of Yas Island has been nothing short of remarkable.

Since the project to develop the man-made island in Abu Dhabi was initiated in 2006, the $40bn dream has turned into a reality.

In less than a decade the multipurpose leisure, shopping and entertainment centre has become a must-visit destination for tourists and residents alike, featuring such high-profile events as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, numerous concerts and events, fine dining, top-class hotels, and much more.

And there’s plenty more to come, with the multi-staged project expected to continue unfolding up to 2018.

Hordes of visitors are flocking to the numerous attractions, including Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, Yas Marina Circuit — home of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Links golf course, du Arena, numerous cafes and restaurants, and more.

Such is the popularity of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, it was recently named the Middle East’s leading tourist attraction at the World Travel Awards. And its stock continues to rise with the announcement of plans to build a new record-breaking rollercoaster — Flying Aces.

The new ride was revealed during May’s Arabian Travel Market and is billed as the world’s fastest rollercoaster. It will feature a 51 degree inclined hill and a 52 metre loop, also making it the world’s tallest.

It will be another feather in the cap of a project which has continually impressed over the past nine years.

The company behind the management and promotion of Yas Island is Miral Asset Management. Established in 2011 to manage and develop a group of government-owned assets in Abu Dhabi, Miral is focused on building Yas’ service and portfolio and turning it into one of the most desirable destinations in the world.

And so far, CEO Mohammed Abdalla Al Zaabi, is pleased with progress, especially as people recognise the Island and more than arguably its most famous draw — the annual grand prix.

“We’re getting more and more tourists to Yas Island now,” he says.

“It’s no longer just a Formula 1 place — there’s much more of a buzz about it, with events all year round, and people are understanding that more and more.

“Yas Island continues to grow all the time, and it means an increasing number of people are coming to explore what’s on offer. It means more people are coming to Abu Dhabi as well, which makes us very happy.

“People have understood that Yas is a place to live, work and play, and that’s helped us to increase our market share.”

With the project initially scheduled to roll out in phases until 2018, Al Zaabi is excited by what’s on the horizon, though he’s reticent about revealing what new attractions we can expect to see.

“We have a lot more coming up soon,” he admits. “But at this stage I can’t discuss them. There will be some major developments though — that much I can say.

“We do have plans to develop the remaining parts of the island. Only 30-40 percent of the island is developed at the moment, so there is 60 percent still to work with.

“It’s a very exciting time. And not just for Yas, but for Abu Dhabi as well.”

One project that’s out in the open is the recently announced Ansam residential development — currently the first and only residential development on

the island.

Featuring a quartet of Andalusian-style apartment buildings comprising more than 500 apartments overlooking the Yas Links golf course and Yas Island waterfront, construction began in April after all units were sold out on the first day of sales in June last year.

Expected to be handed over to owners in 2017, the apartments, built by developer Aldar Properties, signal a leap into a new era for Yas Island.

Al Zaabi is enthusiastic about the impact the development will have: “The apartments were announced last year, and all 540 units were sold out straight away. We’re hitting target with those and will look to develop other areas of the island soon.

“Having people live on the island really changes things — it takes it to a new level.”

The new level Al Zaabi mentions will bring greater variety to the island, offering a range of attractions for tourists and residents alike.

“We have things here to appeal to every audience,” he says.

“Where else in world can you experience the fastest rollercoaster? See the [Rolling] Stones live in concert? Be in the driver’s seat of one of the world’s most famous cars?

“It used to be a thrill-seeker’s playground but now it’s much more. It’s a family haven too.

“We have a number of hotels that cater for all types of travellers, more than 100 cafes and restaurants, and more.

“Yas Mall has added a lot of value to the island, and we have a lot more frequent visitors now. We’re very proud of that.”

Yas Mall was opened to great fanfare in November 2014, at which time it was described as the ‘missing piece of the Yas Island jigsaw puzzle’.

Despite opening nine months later than originally planned, the impressive 2.5 million sq ft complex was instantly praised by stakeholders and shoppers when the doors finally swung open.

With an expected 20 million visitors in its first year, the mall received a Two Pearl score from energy rating system Estidama, Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council’s equivalent of the US’s LEED sustainability rating.

With retail options boosted massively by the mall, Al Zaabi explains that there’s another area on which he and Miral will focus their attention.

“We want to increase events,” he says.

“We believe in their importance to the island and to the visitors. Community events, sports events, music events, and more. We want a year-round calendar and we believe that it will be key to the island.

“Entertainment is a key area in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, and we can make big developments in this area.”

The main entertainment venue on Yas is the du Arena, which has hosted an array of global stars including Justin Timberlake, Jose Carreras, Rihanna, Sting, Paul McCartney, Prince and many more.

The increase in entertainment will surely add to the number of tourists visiting Abu Dhabi –— something Al Zaabi is confident will continue to grow.

“Tourism is increased, and Abu Dhabi is adding more hotels, better infrastructure, and so on. Rooms are increasing by 18 percent year on year.

“This kind of growth will continue, no doubt about that. And Yas will be a big part of that growth. The island is still developing as a community and it will change a lot in the coming years, and that will add to the reputation of Abu Dhabi as a tourist destination.”

Leisure tourism may a big part of the picture for Al Zaabi and the Miral team, but it’s not the only part.

Business travel is also developing at pace, and it’s an angle the CEO is keen to take advantage of.

“The new business and leisure market is increasing year on year and that’s a really good sign.

“There’s an increase in the number of corporate and business tourist, and we’re in a good position to make the most of it. The du Arena hosts MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) events, and there is an increasing demand for this segment.”

Confidence in Yas Island is clearly high, and Al Zaabi momentarily betrays his calm and collected exterior when discussing the spirit within his team.

“Inside Miral it’s about fun — we have a really good time,” he says. “We work and play in that environment and keep the team in the same mood as the island itself. We know it’s an exciting time and we’re looking forward to what’s coming up.

“Yas Island is great now, but it is going to get even better.”

Did you know…

• Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park.

• Yas Links Abu Dhabi was ranked as the 24th best golf course outside the USA.

• Yas Waterworld covers the area of about 15 football pitches and features the world’s first, and largest, hydromagnetic-powered six-person tornado waterslide.

• Yas Mall is the UAE’s second-largest shopping centre, with 370 stores and a 20-screen cinema.

• Yas Island is a 25 minute drive from Abu Dhabi, a 45 minute drive from Dubai, and a seven minute drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport.

• Yas Marina Circuit welcomes 60,000 people for its annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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