Low-cost airlines a 'game changer' for Abu Dhabi tourism

Attracting more visitors from a wider group of cities in India, Saudi Arabia, Europe and Africa

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Fareed Rahman: Mohammed Al Zaabi, chief executive of Miral. Monday, January 20th, 2020. Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

The introduction of two new budget airlines will be "a game changer" for tourism facilities on Yas Island, the chief executive of master developer Miral said.

Announcements by Etihad and Air Arabia for the formation of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi in October and by Europe's Wizz Air to set up an Abu Dhabi airline in December will encourage tourists from a broader range of cities to visit the emirate and the theme parks and other tourism attractions at Yas Island, Mohamed Al Zaabi said.

"I think Air Arabia with their experience to access second- and third-tier cities in source markets like India, KSA, Russia and having Wizz Air with access to second-tier cities in Europe, that will just improve our position as an attractive destination on Yas Island particularly and generally Abu Dhabi," he said.

We're very, very excited for this year and for what's coming

Abu Dhabi Development Holding's investment of €100 million in Germany's FTI Group — Europe's third-biggest travel agency — in December will also "help us to have more tourists coming to Yas and Abu Dhabi", Mr Al Zaabi said.

He also said it is looking to attract more customers from Africa.

Speaking at a media event at the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park operated by Miral, he said the company had achieved a number of milestones last year, including the completion of infrastructure along the waterfront at the Dh12 billion Yas Bay development at the southern end of the island.

He said the company signed deals with four investors to take residential plots at Yas Island, but did not disclose where the plots were. Three more deals are "in a very advanced stage with potential investors" and discussions are taking place with both local and international investors, he said.

This year will see the opening of a new 550-room Hilton hotel at Yas Bay, with the property currently 85 per cent complete. The 18,000-seat Etihad Arena, which is 88 per cent complete, will also open this year.

The world's first Warner Bros hotel is almost 40 per cent complete and is set to open next year, while SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is "at a very advanced stage of design and we are on track to finish the construction by 2022".

Overall, Yas Island is now about 55 per cent complete. Mr Al Zaabi declined to comment on whether more theme parks would be developed, but said more development could be expected on the island overall.


16 mega-projects and attractions set to open in 2020


"For us as Miral, we will always look at any opportunity to bring more tourists to the island," he said.

The island's theme parks are profitable, and this "has been always the case".

"We put reasonable business plans and we work towards that. We are extremely happy with the result."

He indicated that more hotels were likely on the island, citing a 2015 study that indicated the island needed 1,500 more rooms "to cater for the current and future demand of our theme parks and entertainment". Some 800 rooms have been added via the new Hilton and Warner Bros properties, which means there is "still more to come", he said.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has its 10th anniversary this year, and a new 10-year licensing agreement was signed with Ferrari last year, Mr Al Zaabi said.

The attraction, which began with 24 rides, will see seven new rides added this year, bringing the total to 44. These include a new Mission Ferrari ride, which he describes as having a "very unique experience". "We call it 'tilt and drop' and that will be a surprise for the customer," he said. Other attractions will include a zip line running through the park and an ability to walk on the building's distinctive red roof.

"We're very, very excited for this year and for what's coming," he said.

A report by consultancy STR earlier this month said demand for rooms in Abu Dhabi fell marginally in December, with occupancy 0.6 per cent lower at 77.1 per cent. Revenue per available room was 5.8 per cent higher at Dh392.64 per night, but this was due partly to the fact that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix took place on December 1, boosting room rates at the start of the month when compared to 2018 when the race took place a week earlier.