Close to a year-and-a-half ago, Abu Dhabi’s leisure and entertainment destination Yas Island had the same bunch of amazing assets – Ferrari World, the Yas Marina circuit, hotels and more – but they were all working individually. What was required was for an entity to come and coordinate all these activities. Seven months ago, Experience Hub, which is the trade and promotion arm of Yas Island Abu Dhabi, was given this mandate to lead Yas Island in terms of business and to drive more visitations from all the key markets as well as the UAE.
The strong result in 2018 speaks for itself. The number of people visiting Yas Island went up 3 percent year-on-year to 28 million in 2018 and is expected to grow a further 5 percent in 2019, Miral Asset Management confirmed at the Arabian Travel Market. Targets for 2022 are upwards of 48 million visitors. Furthermore, the number of tourists to Yas Island from Russia rose 49 percent, with other leading global source markets such as India, the UK, Germany and the GCC countries showing double-digit growth.
This speaks well to the initiatives taken up by Experience Hub including new representative offices and numerous trade partnerships in their key markets of China, India, Russia, Europe, and the GCC.
“If we look at India, which is the first market after the UAE that has picked up for Ferrari World – we used to see a lot of people traveling in groups and as families, and it was easy to attract them through good deals with DMCs [destination management companies], local partners and others. Today, things have changed a lot due to the growth in technology, the direct connect with consumers and the development of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) in these key markets. Social media has also become extremely relevant to capture the attention of those young, 20+-year-old people who are now looking to travel alone and enjoy experiences as individuals rather than as big groups,” said Bruno Wiley, Vice President Sales at Experience Hub.
The focus on digital transformation sweeping across the UAE has further helped Experience Hub sell the destination through online training modules for wholesalers and agents, gamification, and fine-tuned packages for specific markets.
“There’s a big change coming. If you see the DMCs [destination management companies] that were controlling the leisure business in the UAE five years ago, are almost not here anymore. Those who haven’t moved online are not here anymore. Moving digital has given us access to a lot of new companies and businesses that are very far away from us,” Wiley said.
Things have moved far from the days where a contract was given to a UAE agent and then waiting for the business to come. Not only has technology enabled a connect with new emerging markets such as the Philippines and Pakistan, but it has also enabled a connect directly with clients and consumers.
“We had a number of intermediates between us and the clients that could not even be counted. One after the other, these intermediaries are being cut out, making our path to the client a lot more direct. This can also be frightening because we are now receiving so much data. If you treat it right, it can be great; but if you use it wrong, it can be terrible,” Wiley added.
New attractions such as Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi and the World RallyCross Championship are adding to the destination’s appeal and creating immense volume, while add-on offerings at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Qasr Al Watan palace and the Louvre Abu Dhabi are boosting sales as well.