Lying just off the coast of Abu Dhabi City, Yas Island is one of the world’s largest island developments and one of the region’s premier destinations. The ambition of its developer, Miral, is to make Yas Island a top-10 global destination for family fun, according to CEO Mohammed Abdullah Al Zaabi, who told OBG of the company’s plans to establish Yas Island as the leading destination for leisure, entertainment and business, all backed by a new destination brand, investment in projects and attractions, and a drive to increase hotel keys to 4000 and visitor numbers to 48m by 2022, nearly double the 25m visitors seen in 2015. With a cluster of major theme parks, malls, hotels, apartments and a racing circuit hosting Formula One (F1), the island’s considerable portfolio of attractions is set to grow.
Construction on Yas Island began in 2006, when Aldar Properties started work on a $50bn development plan. This involved the creation of a 25-sq-km site, with 17 sq km of that open for development. The site now boasts 227 berths and the nearby Yas Marina Circuit, home to the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The first F1 race was held there in 2009 and has taken place on an annual basis ever since, with the 2017 race scheduled to take place on November 26. Further expansion is in the pipeline, as Yas Island develops to become one of Abu Dhabi’s leading destinations in which to live, work, play and invest.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi now features the world’s fastest rollercoaster and a theme park that includes a range of simulator rides, four signature rollercoasters, a junior grand prix and a karting academy. In early 2017 Ferrari World was still expanding, with the third phase of its plans set in motion. Eight out of 10 rides were complete, with Turbo Track being the latest, and the remainder are due to open by the end of 2017. A total of 43 rides are expected by end-2018.
In 2013 Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi opened its doors with 47 rides, slides and other attractions, and stands as the only Emirati-themed waterpark inspired by the UAE’s pearl diving heritage. The site also has facilities for flowboarding, water rollercoasters and a wave pool.
At the end of 2016 it was announced that SeaWorld Abu Dhabi would become the first “no-orca”, next generation marine life park, featuring up-close animal experiences and other attractions, as well as an aquarium and technology-enabled visitor engagement. Its dedicated research centre will become the first facility in the country focusing on marine conservation and care.
A fourth park, the $1bn Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi project, with 29 rides, shows and attractions on 1.65m sq metres of indoor space, is set to open in 2018. It will be home to six immersive worlds with thrill rides; interactive, family-friendly attractions; and live entertainment. According to Mohammed Abdullah Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral, most models show that visitors travelling to the UAE and visiting one park will want to visit another. “If you are going to take the time to come, you will want to maximise the time, and this creates tremendous opportunity for package deals between amusement parks in Abu Dhabi, and even those of nearby Dubai,” Al Zaabi told OBG. In 2018 existing entertainment hotspots will be joined by CLYMB, the world’s widest flight chamber and tallest indoor climbing wall, a $100m investment next to Yas Mall.
Helping visitors get around the attractions will be a system of two-person magnetic pod transports, an idea unveiled following a deal signed in 2016 with SkyTran, a US firm headquartered at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Ames Research Centre. Helping to draw people in will be a more intensive events programme, with Miral’s innovation lab tasked with crowd-sourcing ideas for themes and activities. An Anime circuit and Winterland, a seasonal festival for December 2017, are good examples of this. “Events remain a centrepiece,” Al Zaabi told OBG. “We are increasingly trying to attract a full, year-round calendar, ensuring something big happens on Yas each month. The goal is to keep the island busy and draw a diverse crowd.”
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