A destination for everyone: Miral leads the way in Abu Dhabi
Miral is Abu Dhabi’s leading developer of immersive attractions and experiences. In October 2022, it revealed a new visual identity, along with a portfolio of projects under construction worth more than AED 13 billion ($3.4 billion), both on Yas Island and across Abu Dhabi.
A few weeks later, Miral also announced a new Harry Potter-themed land at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, a first in the Middle East. The expansive new land will join the six existing zones at the popular attraction, which are Warner Bros. Plaza, Bedrock, Dynamite Gulch, Cartoon Junction, Gotham City and Metropolis.
At IAAPA Expo 2022, where the company was a platinum sponsor this year, blooloop caught up with Miral Group CEO, Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi, to find out what these two key announcements mean and what we can expect for the future.
Changing the game
Miral was founded in 2011 and Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi has held the position of CEO since 2015. He attributes the company’s success over the last decade to the team’s clarity of vision:
“I’m privileged to be part of this company and this story. We have a small team, but we all share the same values and the same commitment to changing the entertainment industry in this region. Our focus is to develop Yas Island as one of the top family entertainment and leisure destinations in the world.”
On Yas Island, Miral operates several attractions, including Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, CLYMB, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld.
“We are gradually increasing the number of attraction facilities on the island and raising its profile worldwide,” says Al Zaabi. “Year after year, we have been striving to push the envelope and to deliver something unique and new. Our vision is to have more options for our customers to come and visit.
“You can come and enjoy your time at the theme parks, but then you also have our golf links, which is ranked top 34 worldwide and is one of the best outside the US, as well as the Formula One racetrack. We have ten hotels on Yas Island with more than 3500 keys and occupancy is one of the highest in the region. We also created Yas Bay Waterfront which has over 20 restaurants where you can enjoy time with your loved ones, either for lunch, breakfast, or dinner.”
Miral and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030
One key focus of the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 plan, which is aiming to diversify the economy in the region, is tourism. That’s where Miral plays a vital role. Pre-COVID, tourists coming to UAE spent around $200 million.
“By 2030, the plan is to reach $600 million and more than 30 million annual tourists,” says Al Zaabi. “That’s not easy to achieve! At Miral, by creating attractions and assets in partnership with our strategic partners, we are creating an international destination that people can enjoy for three or four nights, at least.”
Within the UAE, Dubai is often thought of as the main destination. Yet Yas Island offers more for visitors’ money, he explains:
“In Abu Dhabi, there are options for all customer segments and budgets. For example, on Yas Island we have 10 hotels; two are five-star hotels but we also have three-star hotels, four-star hotels, and apartments. At Miral, we always put ourselves in the mindset of the customer. If I am a customer, I have a budget, and I’m looking for the best way to enjoy my time with my family within that limit.
“With all Miral hotels, you get complimentary access to our theme parks. So, one night equals one park, two nights equals two parks, etc. That’s a unique proposition. My vision is that one day, you will be able to buy a package, and you will then have access to the whole island. Everything’s accessible, everything’s available and you can do everything through your mobile.”
As part of the rebrand, Miral renamed its subsidiaries. Under the corporate identity of Miral, there are three distinct subsidiaries.
Firstly, there is Miral Experiences, formerly known as Farah Experiences, which operates a portfolio of world-class experiences. Then, Miral Destinations, which used to be called Experience Hub, promotes unique destinations. Finally, Yas Asset Management, previously known as Miral Asset Management, operates and manages support facilities and attractions on Yas Island.
Talking about the reasons behind the rebrand, Al Zaabi says:
“We have the experience and the knowledge, and now by creating this ecosystem, we can expand and go beyond what we are already doing. Our focus for ten years has been Yas Island, and kudos to the team and what they have done there. We have now been appointed to manage Saadiyat Island as a destination and we’re trying to bring that to the same level.
“There’s huge potential here to create another destination in Abu Dhabi, with nice white sand beach, with a nice resort, with the Louvre and the number of other projects coming to Saadiyat Island. But also, there is potential for us to grow beyond that, in Abu Dhabi and beyond. We’ll always explore new opportunities and new ideas. We already manage a water park in Jordan, Saraya Aqaba Waterpark, and the team do a great job. Could we do something else? Why not.”
Effectively, the rebrand strengthens Miral’s position and its ability to expand beyond Yas Island and Abu Dhabi.
Another first for the Middle East! I am excited to announce the expansion of @wbworldad to include a brand-new, region-first #HarryPotter themed land, bringing magical experiences for fans, reiterating @yasisland as a top destination for entertainment and leisure.@themiralgroup pic.twitter.com/gOcqUBv5oc— Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi (@alzaabiofficial) November 10, 2022
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi
One of the most eagerly awaited new projects is SeaWorld Abu Dhabi. This is progressing well, says Al Zaabi, and is expected to open in 2023.
“Our focus now is to make sure that everything will be ready, and I’m confident that my team will do a great job. The level of finishing and the quality of the experience will be world-class.
“What my team did with Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is to show the world that this region can deliver something unique and great, something that is new to the world, and thus change the perception of the region.”
The new attraction will be fully indoor and is around a five-minute drive away from Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. The team behind the aquarium has created a filtration system that will bring water from the sea to feed the aquarium, which will then go back to the irrigation system.
“Energy sustainability is always a top priority. For instance, we have solar panels for renewable energy at Warner Bros., and we will do the same with SeaWorld. We’re also looking at where we can save water consumption, and how we can make it as efficient as possible.”
Getting the conditions right
The development also features some unique lighting solutions, meaning that it can provide the best conditions despite the animals being indoors and away from natural light:
“Indoor attractions will always bring advantages in that, regardless of how hot the weather is, or how bad, it will always be a great experience, and you will enjoy your time with your family. And in the last three years, it’s proved to be a very successful concept.”
Last year, for example, we had some hotels with an occupancy of 90 – 95% on Yas Island, and that is unique. You never have 95% occupancy in the summer in Abu Dhabi. But last year we did, and that was because of the proximity of the hotel to the park, and because the theme park is fully indoors.
“Now, with SeaWorld, the challenge is that animals need natural light. For the dolphins, we created one wall with glass that will bring natural light, but that’s not enough. What about other areas? So, we created a solution that will create a similar effect to the natural light from the sun, around the clock. It will give the right UV levels and light levels for the habitats.”
Conservation and animal rescue
When complete, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will be the biggest aquarium in the world and will include state-of-the-art research and conservation facilities.
“This is something we are passionate about. Abu Dhabi is home to the second largest population of dugongs in the world [a vulnerable species closely related to the manatee], for instance, yet no health facility accommodates these animals here. Now, for the first time in the whole region, we have a research centre for turtles and any marine animals, even birds. We can accommodate them; we can do full rehab and rescue and then release them again to the wild.”
“The centre is ready and will open soon. I think we will receive calls from neighbouring countries to rescue some animals, and we will be ready. SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is three minutes from the sea, so we created a ramp where we can have the boats coming and leaving with the animals. We will make sure that we will be ready for any request or call from anybody in the region.
“It’s fully equipped with all the medicine and equipment, and we will have doctors coming from SeaWorld, which of course has more than 30 years of experience in managing marine rescue, and they will be working alongside our UAE residents. Hopefully, there’ll be knowledge transfer to our staff to continue learning and developing these skills and know-how for the region.”
An all-new experience at SeaWorld Abu Dhabi
The Miral team have previously spoken about how the new SeaWorld Abu Dhabi attraction will offer a high-tech and immersive guest experience. Now, Al Zaabi adds that “It is something that you will not have seen before.
“We integrated the digital and physical together to create this immersive experience. It’s unique. I promise you that you say ‘wow’ 100 times in your visit! The minute you step in, you will say ‘wow’. With the theming and the details, the impact of the waterfall onto the stone rocks, and then natural light and green colours, it creates an instant impact, and then the digital content adds another level of immersivity.”
While several companies helped bring the vision to life, he adds that: “We went to the level that we customised things as much as we could, to give it the Miral touch. The content is made for us. The design is based on what we wanted and what is the Miral touch. That’s what I like about this project.
“The park is amazing, and I’m very proud of this project – I can’t wait to open the doors and welcome our guests.”
On the relationship with SeaWorld, he says that both teams are happy with how well the partnership has worked. One key decision that Miral made was that the new attraction should not feature orcas.
“We made that decision, and we appreciate that SeaWorld understands our point.”
Miral and Harry Potter
While further details and an opening date for Miral’s new Harry Potter-themed land at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi are yet to be announced, Al Zaabi shares the story of how this exciting next chapter for the park came about:
“Kevin Tsujihara, chairman of Warner Bros at that time, visited us when we opened Warner Bros. Abu Dhabi in 2018. One hour before the grand opening, we were in a meeting: myself, Kevin, Pam Lifford, president of WarnerMedia global brands and experiences, Peter van Roden, SVP of global themed entertainment at Warner Bros. and other members of the team. We were saying, ’Ok, what’s next? How can we make this one of the best theme parks in the world?’”
“One thing we said was that we would love to bring in a new IP expansion and that in two or three years we should sign off a deal.
“We hired consultants and conducted surveys in the local market, in the GCC, India, China, and in some other countries, including the UK. Harry Potter came top of the list, so we knew we needed to discuss this IP.
“It took us some time because there were third parties included and there were other commitments with other theme parks. But eventually, because Warner Bros. saw the outcome of what we had already delivered and the quality of our operation, they believed in us.
“Our promise to our customers and partners is that we will deliver something unique and next generation.”
Watch this space
With the expansion being indoors, there will be a lot of opportunities for new technologies to be utilised in the new Harry Potter-themed land, for instance, there is potential to control the soundscapes and design the ceiling. This will add something new to previous iterations of this much-loved IP.
“I don’t want to compete with others, but I think, in terms of what we do at Miral, this will be the next level of our projects. I always tell my team that every time we should deliver something better than before, and that is what we have done with Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld.
“It will certainly be a very immersive experience. I’d love to see new types of rides; I’d love to see more thrill rides. I want to push more.”
New cultural projects
Elsewhere, the team is also hard at work on the new Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, located in the Saadiyat Cultural District. Construction is now 25% complete.
“We expect to finish the project by 2025. Again, I think this is a result of what we have done before and the trust we built. The Department of Culture and Tourism appointed us, and we will develop this on their behalf. We are very happy with the progress. It is complex, it will be the largest museum in the region, and the chairman always wants to push the envelope to a new level, but I’m happy with the results. I don’t see any major challenges.”
One highlight will be a 67-million-year-old near-complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, known as Stan.
Miral and teamLab
Another cultural project that the team is working on is a collaboration with Japanese digital art collective teamLab, called teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi.
“Again, Miral wants to do something new, something different. We thought, why not merge education with entertainment? The idea is to stimulate kids thinking and make them more curious about science and about why things happen. We hope that they will leave the building, go back home, and try to read more about science.”
“There’s one place where you have a digital forest of flowers that you can smell, you can feel the wind and flowers all around. There’s another area where you go under a tree, and you see actual roots.”
This attraction, which is another partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism, is expected to be completed in 2024. It is already almost 25% finished.
“Those are the first two projects that we are developing on Saadiyat Island, which is a unique destination. It’s a 10-minute drive from Yas Island and has one of the best beaches in the region.”
Saadiyat Island is home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi.
“What’s coming to Saadiyat will make it another great destination. Where Yas Island has leading entertainment, Saadiyat will have leading culture. It will have the Zayed National Museum, the Guggenheim, the Natural History Museum and teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi all in one street. You can literally walk from one museum to another.”
Events from Miral
Over on Yas Island, the team is also celebrating the success of its events facilities:
“We’re very pleased with what has happened over the last three months, which is a result of long-term planning and working towards a clear vision.
“When we master planned Yas Bay, the southern part of Yas Island, first we put the arena in the right spot, and then thought about what else we needed, like hotels, restaurants, parking, access, and residential buildings. And today we can see the result of that vision. We had the first-ever NBA game, we had UFC for the fifth time, we had Disney on Ice for a second time, and we also had The Lion King for the first time in the region.”
“But what I’m pleased with, from the master plan, is the access to the arena and leaving. After the NBA game or UFC game, it took me five minutes and I’m out already on the highway.
“Interestingly, because of the awareness of Yas Island and where we present Yas Island today, we had good demand for conferences as well. This year, we have had six conferences so far, since September. The demand is unbelievable, compared to even before COVID. Again, that’s because of the master planning work, and the proximity of the arena to the hotel, which is the largest hotel in Abu Dhabi.
“Along with the waterfront restaurants, that has created a unique proposition, and I’m very happy with the results so far.”
New technology for Yas Island
In 2021, Miral announced that Yas Island was on track to become a totally contactless destination, thanks to its new facial recognition technology, FacePass. Later that year, FacePass won first place in the category of technology at the first-ever blooloop Innovation Awards.
“FacePass is a facial recognition solution. I think it was good timing, having that vision during COVID,” says Al Zaabi. “People became more conscious about touch, so we brought in a solution where they can enter using their facial recognition and pay in the park through facial recognition.”
“Eventually, you will be able to link your profile and your family profile through one app. You will be able to know what’s going on and even share the photos with your family members. With your kids, you will know where they’re spending, and even transfer money to them, so they can spend money without getting a credit card.
“At the moment, annual pass holders can use facial recognition, daily users, and our staff as well, and we’re trying to push the envelope. There’ll be always resistance for privacy reasons and security. But we give our clients or our guests the option for whatever they like to do. And we will always explore new ideas to make the customer experience as unique and as frictionless as we can.”
A personalised experience
This technology helps Miral to achieve its goal of allowing its guests to create an experience that is tailored to them, says Al Zaabi.
“We want to let our customers create their own experience in their own way, without us pushing the solution. We give them all the solutions; we give them all the ideas and it is their choice to create it their way, from a physical point of view and the digital.
“With our partner Bain & Company, we launched a new initiative called Noor. Today, we are sitting on a pool of data, a huge data warehouse. How can we use that data to personalise the experience and give guests a better product?
“We tested in phase one, which was very successful, and in September they started phase two. I think in a year, we will have a good outcome. Again, that is to create a unique experience for them.”
“For example, we noticed that when people buy Wonder Woman merchandise, they also lean towards buying Supergirl merchandise. What we’re doing now with our sales team, for example, we’re saying if you see someone carrying Wonder Woman merchandise, why not suggest they buy some Supergirl merchandise? And we saw an increase in our sales. That’s the power of data.
“We also noticed that we could package things for our customers for better value, but also increase our sales. But how do we do this effectively? What packages work? We tested the model with different merchandise to reach the right solution.”
Essentially, it’s a win-win:
“The customer gets a value for money. And we increase our sales by using data the right way.”
Miral and IAAPA
Speaking to blooloop during IAAPA Expo 2022, where the Miral team also presented an EDUsession called The Future of Entertainment & Leisure in the Middle East, UAE and Abu Dhabi, Al Zaabi says the two organisations enjoy a good partnership:
“Our relationship with the IAAPA team is very fruitful and we appreciate their support. The team supports us in many projects, and we like the healthy dialogue and discussion with them. So, we thought we should also play a role with IAAPA, therefore we decided to sponsor the show this year. For Miral, as a key player in this industry, it’s important to be here. We are one of the few developers that designs, builds and operates theme parks.”
“The advantage is that we work with many IPs. We’re not limited to one or two IPs, which is quite unique worldwide. So, we wanted to showcase that to the world and let them know more about Miral and what we do.”
What’s next for Miral?
While there are many innovative projects in the pipeline for Miral, Al Zaabi says more details will be revealed in due course. In the meantime, the team is not resting on its laurels when it comes to its existing portfolio either. Just this week, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is launching a brand new roller coaster. Mission Ferrari, which is described as the world’s most immersive ‘mega coaster’, offers an exhilarating and multi-sensory 5D experience.
“We will always try to tweak and tune the experience to make it better. Whatever customers ask, we’ll try to do. For example, in 2020, we opened a kid’s area at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi called Family Zone. That was a big investment, but the impact is four or five times more than the amount we invested. That’s because this area was based on customer feedback.
“One day, I saw a girl crying, she was trying to go to Flying Aces. I asked her why she was crying, and she said she wanted to go on a roller coaster. She was eight or nine years old and there was no roller coaster for her. So, I said, okay, we’ll make one. It took us several years, but eventually, we made it.
“That’s the case for listening to the customer and doing what they want. Sometimes you try to be smart, and you think you know more than what the customer wants, but you end up failing. At Miral, we ask for feedback, and we do surveys continuously.”
“Ferrari World started with 19 rides, and today we have 43 rides. With that same philosophy, with the same direction, we’ll keep developing all our other attractions as well, including Warner Bros. World, SeaWorld, and Yas Waterworld. We never stop working and improving.”
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