Catching up with the entrepreneur behind Simply Abu Dhabi

Simply Abu Dhabi, which is currently celebrating its 20th edition, takes luxury buying to a whole new level.

Arnie Hira, Simply Abu Dhabi’s chief executive/co-founder, his wife Jordana Lynch Hira and their 10-month-old son, Harvey. The publication was conceived on a family holiday in the UAE. Anna Nielsen for the National
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It can be hard to know what to buy someone who has everything.

But a publication printed in Abu Dhabi and delivered on an invitation-only basis has a few ideas.

Simply Abu Dhabi, which is currently celebrating its 20th edition, takes luxury buying to a whole new level.

It prints and distributes 7,000 copies, 5,000 of which are delivered by hand in the UAE. The rest are sent to other high-net-worth individuals around the world.

It introduces the Cites-­certified python Apple Watch strap, opportunities to buy property in some of the world’s most luxurious buildings, information on the latest designer gowns, pointers to the best Patek Philippe watch, and guidance on designing a private jet.

More importantly for the emirate, it showcases luxury on home soil, profiling some of the country’s most important and influential people, as well as looking at high-end events or launches around the emirate.

Arnie Hira, the chief executive and co-founder of Simply Abu Dhabi, came up with the idea for the publication – which, at more than 300 pages, he says is more a coffee-table book than a magazine – while holidaying in Dubai in 2010.

At that time, he says he had lost all his wealth after a failed restaurant venture, and in his own words, was feeling ­“empty and lost”. His wife, Jordana Lynch Hira – with whom he has a 10-month-old son, Harvey – cashed in her Premium Bonds savings, and booked them a ­holiday.

The Icelandic volcano ash clouds grounded them in the UAE for an extra two weeks, giving them a chance to explore neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

“I wanted to know what it was about,” Hira says. “I’d heard so much about it. Manchester City had been bought by Sheikh ­Mansour [bin Zayed].”

As a businessman, he also knew how lucrative the ­Middle East market was to foreign ­companies.

After a few knock-backs, Hira, 42, secured funding, and published the first edition of Simply Abu Dhabi in March 2010. As the city has grown since then, the publication expanded with it, building up a fan base across the country.

It has also become a useful tool for some of the world’s biggest brands to infiltrate the market here.

“We’ve become a portal and gateway to the UAE, specifically Abu Dhabi,” says Hira. “There are brands around the world that, without exaggeration, contact us daily. Some with budgets, some without, saying: ‘How do we access this person?’

“We have developed such a unique network [with these people], it enables us to leverage someone. We can act as facilitators now – that’s what we’ve become. Our ethos hasn’t changed – we’re still going to promote Abu Dhabi. A lot of the high-net-worth individuals are travelling so much they don’t know what is happening in the emirate.”

The UAE is home to one in five of the Middle East's super-rich, each with net assets of more US$30m (Dh110m) or more, according to 2015 figures.

The most recent Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report last year placed the UAE 16th on a list of countries with the most dollar millionaires.

For those without the high-net-worth label, meanwhile, Simply Abu Dhabi offers a peek into how the wealthy live.

One 2015 edition contained a lengthy feature on the One57 building, also known as New York’s most expensive building, featuring an aquarium and a swimming pool that plays classical music under the water, and contact details for the sales team.

The brand relies heavily on social media to create contacts, attract fans and market the brand to companies wanting to sell to the UAE’s millionaires.

The publication is printed four times a year, delivered free of charge, and is also available in electronic format.

A large chunk of revenue is from advertising sales. The price tag for sponsoring the gift box the publication is delivered in, for example, is $65,000. The 20th edition box was sponsored by the American jewellery firm Harry Winston.

Hira, who’s still based in the United Kingdom to be close to his elderly parents, says he wants to continue creating something that Abu Dhabi can be proud of.

“Something that hopefully creates a positive effect on people. I know some people say: ‘How can you say that about luxury?’. It’s not just about luxury, it’s about promoting a city that has so much to offer.”

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