CEO Interview: Mohammed Al Zaabi explains the business of fun

Miral Asset Management CEO Mohammed Al Zaabi explains how the best in leisure tourism in Abu Dhabi is yet to come, with the new developments set to bring visitors to the UAE as a whole

Miral Asset Management CEO Mohammed Al Zaabi.
Miral Asset Management CEO Mohammed Al Zaabi.

On Tuesdays, at 12.30PM, you’ll often find Mohammed Al Zaabi — the CEO of Abu Dhabi theme park developer Miral Asset Management — enjoying a meal at Mamma Rossella, the Italian restaurant at the heart of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

“It’s my favourite restaurant and you’ll always find me eating my lunch here either alone or with my guests on Tuesday,” Al Zaabi says to Hotelier Middle East while on a private tour of the popular theme park.

According to Al Zaabi, Ferrari World is, without a doubt, the crown jewel on the crown of Yas Island, with plans afoot to further increase the number of rides on offer. “When we opened Ferrari World we had 24 rides, today we have 37 and we are adding two more next year,” Al Zaabi adds.

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The adventure-loving CEO is nothing if not attentive to detail — for example, he takes care to personally inspect bathrooms and is the first to experience new rides.

Al Zaabi tells us that when he opens a new rollercoaster, he is the first person to go on it. “I want to be the one to test it for my customers,” he says.

A number of planned new attractions are part of the growth strategy, including Warner Bros. World theme park and the Middle East’s first SeaWorld marine park. The parks are slated to open in 2018 and 2022, respectively.

Al Zaabi says he is “super excited” about the new Warner Bros. World theme park, noting that it will be the largest indoor park in the region at 1.56 million square feet, with six different worlds under one roof.

“Once you enter Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi you step into a different world and you are disconnected from reality.” Al Zaabi adds. Visitors will be able to go to Bedrock and see Fred Flintstone or visit Cartoon Junction or Gotham City.

Additionally, plans to almost double Yas Island visits to 48 million within six years have sparked a surge in the hotel room pipeline.

The 641-room Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island resort will be built as part of Miral’s US$3.3bn (AED12bn) development on the southern end of Yas Island. Due to open in 2019, the new hospitality project will be located on a three-kilometre stretch in Yas Bay. The resort’s facilities will include a multi-purpose conference centre, seven dining outlets and an urban beach concept with an infinity pool suspended above the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

“By 2022 we want 48 million visits and to achieve that you need to have full strategy and plans. People want an end-to-end experience from theme parks, restaurants and hotels. So I believe there’s still demand on the island for more rooms,” Al Zaabi answers, when asked if he thought there would be an oversupply of hotel rooms on the island.

He also plans on pushing the MICE business on the island soon. “The new Hilton will have amazing facilities for MICE. We want 100,000 visitors on the island just for MICE by 2022,” he adds.

Al Zaabi says he isn’t at all fazed by developments in neighbouring Dubai, which is launching new Dubai Parks and Resorts theme parks.

“UAE overall is becoming a more attractive destination. The more the UAE has to offer in a while, the more visitors will come,” he noted.

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