By 2022, it is hoped that Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island will have become one of the top 10 leisure destinations in the world. This ambition, years in the making, is being pursued with the help of several large-scale and high-profile projects.
In general, tourism numbers are growing rapidly in the UAE, with the sector in Abu Dhabi and Dubai showing a 3.6% increase during the first three months of 2018, compared to the same period last year, according to recent statistics issued by the tourism departments of the two emirates.
In addition, the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 highlights tourism among the 12 sectors that it outlines as priorities for the emirate as it strives to achieve the economic growth and diversification it requires for future security.
And now, thanks to a number of entertainment, hospitality, and cultural developments taking shape across Yas Island, the UAE capital has become a serious player in the tourism game, one that is even giving Dubai a run for its money.
Abu Dhabi-based Miral, the island’s developer, considers itself an instrumental part of this growth, creating now-iconic projects such as Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld. It is currently in the process of finalising another major theme park attraction.
Chief executive officer of Miral, Mohammed Al Zaabi, details the island’s rapid development and explains how his company it striving to ensure the island achieves its goal of becoming one of the most sought-after tourism destinations in the world.
“The number of people that stayed in Abu Dhabi has risen [since last year],” he tells Construction Week.
In fact, a record 4.88 million people stayed in Abu Dhabi’s 162 hotels and hotel apartments during 2017, meaning the emirate recorded a 9.8% year-on-year rise.
“Yas Island is a vision we are very proud of. It is a dream that keeps us busy and excited every single day,” Al Zaabi says.
Along with expansion plans for Ferrari World and the island’s flagship water park, this July, Miral will be opening Abu Dhabi’s first indoor theme park in partnership with Warner Bros.
“It has been a great success. [The project will have taken] about 39 months by the time we open the park, and [has logged] 32 million man hours so far, with more than 6,800 engineers working on the project,” Al Zaabi says.
The park was almost 96% complete in April. At that time, the testing, tuning, and alignment of the park’s digital and media systems were being finalised.
Estimated to be worth approximately $1bn (AED3.67bn), the Warner Bros indoor theme park will comprise 29 rides, in addition to dining options and retail units. Six zones – dubbed ‘immersive worlds’ – have been created throughout the park, each incorporating a different theme, such as Warner Bros Plaza, Gotham City, Metropolis, Cartoon Junction, Bedrock, and Dynamite Gulch. Commencement of construction on the project was announced in July 2015.
“There will always be challenges when building a theme park. Having rides with integrated media and content, sound, music, and audio-visuals is not easy,” Al Zaabi says.
He goes on to share details of the progress of another of Miral’s highly anticipated projects, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, a first-of-its-kind marine-life attraction on Yas Island.
The theme park will include the UAE’s first dedicated marine-life research, rescue, and rehabilitation centre, with facilities and resources for the care and conservation of local marine life, and will also be the first SeaWorld in the world not to display orcas, commonly known as killer whales.
The park will integrate up-close animal experiences, attractions, and a world-class aquarium, boasting the latest technology in visitor engagement.
Miral partnered with SeaWorld Entertainment at the end of 2016, and Al Zaabi says that the developer is very happy with the design of the park, so far. He also reveals that a major contract for the park will be awarded later this year. The attraction is scheduled to complete by 2022.
Another megaproject taking shape on the island, Yas South, comprises an almost 600-key hotel plus an 18,000-seat indoor arena. The arena is set to be completed by the end of 2019, with the hotel to be delivered by 2020.
“On Yas Island, the way we master-planned this project [always put the] customer experience first. We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and then we think about their experience and how we can tailor [something] truly immersive,” says Al Zaabi.
“We have been trying to connect all our assets physically and digitally, and that is what we are building now,” he adds.
Indeed, improving the physical connectivity on the island it a significant element in the creation of a distinctive experience for visitors. One way in which Miral hopes to achieve this is by building a cable car system to connect all of its existing and future assets, making it easier for visitors to access and explore the island, especially during the hot summer months. The developer says it will be the first system of its kind in the region.
“We are [working] with an LA-based company called SkyTran to build a new cable car solution,” Al Zaabi says. “The good thing about this is that it is faster than the average cable car [system] and it is a one-stop trip – it takes you directly to you destination.”
Miral signed a deal with the US-based SkyTran – a NASA Space Act company – in 2016, to develop a high-speed, low-cost, elevated personal rapid transport system based on magnetic levitation. The computer-controlled, two-person vehicles will have cars zipping along magnetic lines from one destination to another across the island, and will be designed to allow for easy expansion of the network at a later date, so that more tracks and additional vehicles can be added when needed.
“There are many phases to this project, as well as a plan to possibly connect further into Abu Dhabi in the future,” Al Zaabi says.
To date, the developer has outlined Phases 1 and 2 of the SkyTran project, but with the concept still in the design phase, Miral has yet to specify a deadline for the completion of the cable car implementation.
Miral’s extensive digital strategy, which was launched last November, is another way in which the developer is bolstering connectivity on the island. The company rolled-out the first phase of its digital transformation project this year, striving to connect the island’s major destinations through the development of digital services. The infrastructure for the project was developed in early 2017, to enable the launch of the platform’s digital assets across Miral’s attractions on Yas Island.
“Digital has become a challenge for everyone. The customer has become more knowledgeable, everything is at their fingertips, and they know their options before they even leave their homes,” Al Zaabi says. “But now the customer can virtually visit Yas before even stepping foot on the island.”
In a statement last year, Miral said its digital strategy aimed to deliver a “wall-less resort vision” across its hotels, malls, and theme parks, in order to create “a fully connected experience for customers visiting the island”.
Al Zaabi tells Construction Week that the developer will award at least three construction contracts for projects on the island this year. “We are going to award one contract in Yas South, one for SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, and one for another project that is to be announced,” he explains.
“For this year, we are very busy with SeaWorld and Yas Bay, which are very big projects, but we have one smaller project that we will be launching soon,” he adds.
Although the chief executive is still not ready to reveal any further details about this “smaller project”, he confirms that an announcement will be made in the second half of this year.
“[Developers] have to be smart in their marketing, and they have to be flexible in the way they promote their destination,” he says.
“You also have to pick the right market. My team was smart enough to be active in different countries […], which has helped us sustain our business and grow year-on-year.”