Dubai Iron Maiden and K-pop concerts will likely still happen: the future of Coca-Cola Arena

Chief executive Guy Ngata says the City Walk venue will return with revamped safety measures, but not before the spread of the virus abates

Dubai’s Iron Maiden show could be back on, according to Coca-Cola Arena’s chief executive.

In news to soothe the hearts of the region's metal community, The National can report that discussions are underway to bring back the British group’s Legacy of the Beast tour to the venue. This comes after the original Wednesday, May 27, date for the stage show was cancelled because of Covid-19.

The same goes for the K-pop concert, Super Concert, which was set to feature Super Junior, NCT 127, RGP, LABOUM and Jun. This South Korean music spectacular remains officially postponed after the Friday, March 20, date was also cancelled amid the pandemic.

Rescheduled shows by former One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson (Thursday, October 1) and rapper Russ (Friday, November 27) are still scheduled to go ahead, subject to government approval.

Guy Ngata is chief executive of Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena. Courtesy: Coca-Cola Arena.
Guy Ngata is chief executive of Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena. Courtesy Coca-Cola Arena

The glittering City Walk venue celebrated its one-year anniversary on Saturday, June 6, under the shadow of a pandemic that saw the international live music industry shut down. Yet the venue's chief executive Guy Ngata tells The National that work is already underway to ensure the public's safe return once the spread of the virus abates.

We won’t rush back without taking all the necessary steps in ensuring it is absolutely safe to do so

“We haven’t stopped planning and there are many conversations about shows and dates, and we are looking forward to announcing those when it is right to do so,” says the New Zealand national.

“For the shows that were cancelled, such as Iron Maiden and K-Pop Super Concert, we look forward to welcoming them back and those are ongoing conversations as to when new dates work for all parties and in line with public health guidance. Other shows, such as Louis Tomlinson and Russ, have been rescheduled for later in the year and we very much hope the world is at a stage where they can go ahead.”

New health and safety measures in place

When the time comes to reopen the gates, fans should expect revamped public safety precautions conceived in consultation with venue developer Meraas, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and the UAE Ministry of Health Prevention.

The centrepiece of the safety drive is the VenueShield hygiene protocol designed by Coca-Cola Arena's international venue management operator ASM Global.

AR Rahman at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena. courtesy: Coca-Cola Arena.
AR Rahman at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena. Courtesy Coca-Cola Arena

This means the arena is one of 325 venues worldwide that will benefit from new and extensive hygiene and safety measures, ranging from physical and social distancing spaces, health monitoring systems, temperature checks, thermal cameras, hand sanitisers, reduced touch points and contactless transactions.

Going that extra mile is essential for all major event venues in order to appease an understandably worried public, Ngata adds.

“There is a real desire across the industry to grow confidence in the market,” he says. “That way, fans and artists can enjoy live entertainment safe in the knowledge all precautions and safety measures are being met.”

A pleasing first year

Over 12 months, which saw 20 ticketed shows and 14 private and corporate events take place, the venue was a hit in both the UAE and abroad.

Not only has it placed the country firmly on the international music map in the eyes of artists and promoters, but it was also the catalyst for cementing City Walk's reputation as a major tourism and cultural destination in the emirate.

WESTLIFE 'TWENTY TOUR' at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena. courtesy: Coca-Cola Arena.
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins at the Achieve the Unimaginable seminar on September 3, 2019. Courtesy Coca-Cola Arena

Ngata, who previously oversaw Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz Arena in China and Vector Arena in New Zealand, says he was "very pleased" with Coca-Cola Arena's first slate of performances, from the first show by Canadian comic Russell Peters on June 6, 2019, to the Valentine’s Day concert by Colombian heart-throb Maluma.

Leading this has come with its share of challenges, however.

We have all missed the sound of live music, the roar of an audience sharing a laugh with a comedian and witnessing the drama of live sport

Ngata says launching the first indoor multipurpose arena in the region required a double-pronged approach involving both industry and community outreach to explain the venue’s capabilities.

“Whereas previously, the region may not have been seen as a viable touring market, we feel very determined about changing those perceptions and seeing the entertainment opportunities for the region grow,” he says.

“Being the first venue of its kind in the region has also meant changing habits of attending live entertainment. Fixed seated tiers, in-house food and beverage concessions and hospitality suites have all been new additions to the region for large-scale shows, but those challenges have led to positive change and variation in the industry within the region.”

The success of the arena’s 'don’t drive' strategy

More than the spellbinding performances, including those by the likes of RnB singers John Legend and pop group Maroon 5, perhaps the Coca-Cola Arena’s biggest achievement happened away from the concert stage.

Most major UAE event venues are located outside of the cities' centres (such as Abu Dhabi’s du Arena and Dubai’s 117 Live Arena), and many concert-goers have a habit of driving there, which often leads to terrible traffic jams and many angry fans. Coca-Cola Arena, however, has successfully managed to steer us away from that behaviour through limited public parking and providing public transport options, from shuttle buses to well-organised taxi ranks.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Latin superstar Maluma performs at the Coca Cola Arena in Dubai. Friday, February 14th, 2020. Coca Cola Arena, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Latin superstar Maluma performed on February 14, 2020. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The arena’s ‘don’t drive’ strategy was key to the rejuvenation of City Walk, which has benefited greatly from the regular arrival of thousands of music fans.

“Traffic flow to the arena was a key component in our preparation plans pre-opening and how we could make that journey to and from the arena as easy as possible,” Ngata explains.

“City Walk is also a key component of how people travel to us. Having the huge array of leisure and food and beverage options pre and post-show enables ticket-holders to add to their experience, meaning staggered arrivals into the area.

"The ‘don’t drive' message continues to be at the forefront of our communications.”

Jo Koy loves the arena

Equally as important as the audience feedback, Ngata says, is the response from the performing artists. This has been nothing short of positive, with acts such as Peters and Maroon 5 marvelling at the venue’s comfort and design.

In particular, American-Filipino comic Jo Koy’s January show was a standout, Ngata says, adding that “Koy really took to the venue”.

“Not often do you see the artists mixing with the audience after the show but Jo came straight off stage and walked to the public concourses, foyer and plaza to spend time with fans, which added to the whole experience.”

It is memories like these that Ngata hopes to rekindle soon.

Like the fans themselves, he looks forward to the times when it’s safe enough to reopen the arena.

“We have all missed the sound of live music, the roar of an audience sharing a laugh with a comedian and witnessing the drama of live sport,” he says.

“But we won’t rush back without taking all the necessary steps in ensuring it is absolutely safe to do so ... We will continue to work tirelessly to be fully ready to provide that as soon as possible”

Updated: June 7, 2020 04:31 PM

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