How to make tourist attractions fit for the post-Covid age

Cutting-edge tech is key to reviving the sector, but so is embracing intimacy and connection

The reasons why we love to travel are limitless. In the ancient past, it served a functional purpose, either to facilitate trade or discover new lands for resources. Now, it is so much more. Across the world, wonderfully diverse destinations have emerged, providing visitors with an eclectic mix of magical and memorable experiences.

In Abu Dhabi, an ambitious and relatively young emirate is rapidly becoming a world-class tourism destination, rivalling Singapore and Hong Kong, even providing an attractive alternative to traditional tourist hubs such as Orlando, Florida for those in the region who like to stay closer to home.

In the two decades to 2019, the UAE saw phenomenal growth in tourist numbers, rising 532 per cent to 21.5 million. Abu Dhabi accounted for more than half of that figure. Although visitor numbers understandably have decreased due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the future looks promising. Recently, the emirate eased health and safety measures for international tourists, whether they were here for leisure or business. In any case, the cooler months ahead have always signalled an influx in visitor footfall.

Keeping this in mind, companies that are tasked with accelerating the leisure and entertainment sector in Abu Dhabi, play a central role in diversifying the emirate’s economy to attract investment and spur growth. As part of this strategy, Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island has been transformed into a global tourist destination, featuring some of the emirate’s most visually appealing and immersive attractions.

As the chief executive of Miral, the company tasked with developing Yas Island’s attractions, I believe “change accelerators” are vital ingredients in keeping up with the pace of change in response to the global pandemic.

Change is essential, but rarely easy. Staying competitive and agile amid constant disruption requires a commitment to continuous transformation. Identifying change accelerators in Abu Dhabi’s leisure and entertainment sector should be a high priority for everyone in the industry. Three core areas deserve the most attention.

One is embracing a greater role for technology, ranging from facial recognition to gamification, in developing the sector. Failure to build the necessary digital infrastructure to accommodate this shift will hamper progress. Consumers have high expectations for leading destinations to offer a truly integrated experience, requiring reliable infrastructure that is constantly reviewed and improved. The pandemic has also forced the adoption of innovative technologies to ensure that healthy and safety measures are implemented across tourist attractions. Contactless solutions, for example, deliver a seamless and experience that promotes guest safety and optimises well-being.

And visitors want this. Miral, for example, has implemented a technology called Facepass to improve the digital ecosystem and experiences available on Yas Island. Facepass is enabling our theme parks and attractions to offer advanced, contactless technology that address both digital innovation and safety concerns that stemmed from the pandemic. We have seen greater demand from visitors for this type of technology, clearly demonstrating that they are ready for innovative tools to add another dimension to their overall experience.

Next, there needs to be an increased focus on meaningful connections. Following the emotional isolation created by early measures to fight the pandemic, consumers seem to be re-evaluating their priorities and focusing on activities that provide fulfilment. The entertainment industry needs to concentrate on how its products and services are serving guests’ values, not only through traditional means of entertainment but also connection and well-being. Unlocking growth for the industry is rooted in delivering lasting memories for visitors and tourists. Creating what we think of as customer value is, in essence, about generating joy.

It can happen in little, unexpected ways. One of the most defining moments for us was seeing a truly collaborative effort across multiple entities in Abu Dhabi to host a six-year-old American boy, Bridger Walker, and his family on Yas Island. Bridger made headlines in 2020 after bravely protecting his younger sister from a vicious dog attack and sustaining numerous injuries to his face. We wanted to reward him for his bravery and invited him to spend some time in the UAE capital. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, and one that demonstrated the purpose and impact our industry can generate. It also highlighted that tourism and entertainment is a deeply personal experience that reaches out to people, however far away they may be.

Finally, we need to understand that new policies surrounding entry requirements for visitors from overseas are key to delivering efficient access to wider audiences. We are currently operating at a crucial juncture, where the current regulations are rapidly progressing and the future of tourism is in the process of being determined. Following the decline in the number of Covid-19 cases, Abu Dhabi recently eased entry requirements for both international and domestic travellers, and we continue to support this with safety measures. Operators need to do their part by providing a sense of consistency and act as a source of information to help guests navigate any areas of concern.

At the same time, those who work in the tourism and entertainment sector are facing unprecedented trials. Forecasting obstacles has never been more challenging, making it all the more important for companies to evaluate new opportunities and seize them wherever possible. Ours is now celebrating its 10-year anniversary, and looking ahead to the next decade we are already pivoting to become a data-driven organisation and invest in the digital foundation needed to harness big data and predictive analytical solutions. That is key to the customer-centric approach.

The future is ours to create, and it will inevitably be a brave new world. But whatever shape it takes, at its core will be a combination of memory and experience. How we bring those things alive is what travel, tourism and entertainment are all about.

Published: November 18th 2021, 4:00 AM
Mohamed Al Zaabi

Mohamed Al Zaabi

Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi is chief executive of Miral