Yas Island, which has come into being in the last decade, is fast becoming one of the hot-selling places of interest for Indian tourists. It attracts a large number of leisure and MICE travellers. The island, however, is looking at an image makeover from being just an excursion site to a destination in its own right.
With the island offering seven international hotels, from affordable to luxurious, all within close proximity to numerous attractions, it is looking to increasing night stays. The Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, which is the only hotel in the world that straddles an F1 track, is one of its key highlights. Yas Island is also home to attractions such as Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Links Abu Dhabi and much more.
In an exclusive interview to India Tourism Review, Clive Dwyer- Director, Destination Management at Miral Asset Management, which manages all the assets on the island talks about his plans to further promote the destination in the Indian market.
Q. Yas Island is a multi-purpose leisure, shopping and entertainment centre. What sets it apart from destinations like Dubai, Singapore or Hong Kong?
The island has got pretty much everything that you could need in one destination. We have an F1 racetrack and the Ferrari World is right next to it. I can’t think of any other destination where you can find a theme park beside a race track and then a nightclub to explore afterwards.
Ferrari World has the fastest roller coaster in the world; Yas Waterworld has a number of rides which are first ever in the world. Yas Island’s golf course was designed by Carl Philips and is ranked among the top golf courses in the UAE. The newly built shopping mall is now operational.
There are magical moments created on the island. And the best thing is that you don’t have to travel much because everything that happens on the island is literally within 2-3km.
There is a bus which shuttles through the island on two routes and picks up tourists from the stop every thirty minutes. Whole looping of the island takes no time. So, say, from a hotel to YAS mall is about a 4-5 minute ride.
Q. How does the destination fare in terms of price-competitiveness? Which is the best time to visit the island?
It depends on the time of the year and also the duration of the trip. The summer campaign was a particular hit because it’s a lean period when it comes to sourcing visitors from the traditional European market, but the Indian and Saudi markets love it. So that’s the most competitive time.
You can also go in November which is the peak period when all the concerts and other such activities are on. The experience is premium during that time.
Generally the advice is to have a look at what the agents have got and what do you want. Jet and Etihad are putting up some aggressive promotional campaigns, fare packages etc. It can be cheaper than Dubai.
But generally speaking, it is very price competitive. One of the key reasons for this is the fact that it’s in an environment which is designed for international tourists in the UAE. It’s a tax free environment.
Another point is it is recently built. It is in the last ten years that the blueprint of Yas Island has come to life. Abu Dhabi Government decided to build an experience island for international visitors. There is great economy of scale. The hotels are owned by one company and this allows them to run things systematically.
The two theme parks are run by one company as well. There is a very good range of 3, 4 and 5- star hotels. The cost of air lifts is going down so the prices of flights as compared to ten years ago are cheaper. That’s also because the capacity with the Jet-Etihad partnership has been increasing.
So it’s a very cost effective destination as well as very modern: very efficient systems, everything very state of the art.
Q. Which is the best way to reach the island?
We are only 7 minutes from the Abu Dhabi airport and also with the partnership between Jet and Etihad, that’s becoming a more logical route. Dubai can be crowded; you need to negotiate with the traffic. Yas is more of a holiday destination.
We have a strategic alliance with Etihad Airways and Jet has a strategic alliance with Etihad. So for example, in the 23 countries they fly to, they will be aggressively recommending YAS Island on their long haul flights. Etihad is encouraging people to visit the island, get refreshed and fly ahead.
Q. What is the average duration of stay in the island?
A: There are two types of travellers who are exploring the island, if we leave apart the MICE segment for the time being. But when it comes to leisure travellers we get people who are using it as a destination and staying for 4 days or more. Because, really, they have got at least 4 days of choice of activities on the island. But then the other important thing is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a stunning piece of architecture, which is a must do and is only 10-15 minutes away from the island. You can also hit the downtown of Abu Dhabi. So 3-4 days minimum on the island is recommended with a day trip to Dubai which is only a forty minute drive from the island.
But people are also using it as a layover destination on long-haul flights. If they are flying to Oceania, Australia or Europe, they leave India and land here for two days. We see a lot of Indian visitors who are heading for a long haul flights to Europe or other such destinations stopping over for a couple of days by breaking that long flight to enjoy the island.
Q. What do you have to say about the traffic you receive from the Indian market?
Exponential is the easiest word to describe it. Between this market and China we are seeing double digit growth. India is our No.1 source market for international visitors and growing at over 20% every year. It’s really exciting and what we are seeing is good length of stay at the island. So if we have 250,000 Indians staying in Abu Dhabi hotels, there is a solid traction in Yas Island hotels too. They stay here for 3-4 nights. The other thing that we have noticed is that there has been an exponential growth in the VFR market- people visiting friends and relatives. There is a strong expat community of Indians in the UAE; they have friends coming over whom they take to the island. So they may not be utilizing the hotel rooms, but they are certainly enjoying other attractions on the island. There also, we are witnessing double digit growth.
And the other thing that has seen exponential growth out of the Indian market is the MICE traffic. So through companies like Cox & Kings, we are seeing really significant bookings of itineraries for large incentive (800+), corporate and association groups because where they meet is where they stay. It is popular because the delegates can attend meeting, enjoy their dinner and also go and enjoy the activities in Ferrari World or amusement parks or play golf. We were excited in the last 12 months to see bookings after bookings of not just small corporate groups for little board meetings, but of 300-500 people to 1200 delegates from India.
Leisure, MICE, VFR- these 3 top the traffic. It is because of good bilateral relationship between the UAE and India that we get visitors not only from top cities, but also Tier-II and III cities
Q. Please tell us more about the MICE facilities at Yas.
We can host up to 20,000 people for dinner, events and celebration and while one group is enjoying one activity, the other can go to some other part of the island. It’s a very exciting proposition.
Corporate India is looking for something new and different to celebrate their achievements and entertain clients. We are seeing really good MICE growth. We have 600 meeting rooms of all shapes and sizes. We also host a number of exciting competitions for team building activities.
Q. Which city supplies the maximum traffic?
Delhi is the prime city. We have received encouraging response from Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad also.
Q. How was your experience with travel trade at SATTE?
At SATTE, we had a lot of wholesalers wanting to contract multiple nights at Yas Island in addition to multiple nights in Dubai. They said that they have been selling Dubai for 10 years but Dubai plus 2-3 days at Yas Island makes a better holiday package. It’s only 40 minutes from Dubai. It’s a bit like coming to Delhi and going to Agra. If you come all the way to Delhi, why won’t you go to Agra and see the Taj. But the moment the traveller says No, I have been to Dubai I want to go to someplace else and explore Yas and other parts of UAE, only then does the UAE come alive as a touring destination.
We come year every year to SATTE as part of Abu Dhabi trade mission. We were at the Abu Dhabi stand, like a space dedicated to YAS Island. But we got a very strong message of discovery and energy. Two years ago, when the travel agents walked up to us they would say they have heard of this place and wanted to know more about the destination. But this year they called on us saying that they have got clients asking for YAS Island.
Two years ago our story was about awareness, today it’s about conversion, and promoting it as a destination where people look for spending room nights on the island.
Q. How are you engaging with the Indian travel trade fraternity to increase footfalls at the island?
We are doing a lot of strategic partnerships with the travel industry, focusing specially at packaging. For quite some time the travel industry has been selling Dubai and Abu Dhabi and an additional ticket to Ferrari World. Now what we are seeing is that they are not approaching Yas Island as an excursion component but as a destination component. We are looking for wholesalers and retailers who are looking to sell an experiential 4-5 day holiday on Yas. We are introducing them to our hotels, helping them to get into contracts them with theme park.
We are working very closely with our priority partners in India like Lama Tours, Bonton Tours, Cox & Kings and also on digital partnership levels. We are also forming relationships with high volume retail networks. We just appointed Think Strawberries, which is a company in India, to be our on-the-ground marketing taskforce..
Q. How exactly are you related to the UAE tourism board?
We are like a regional destination within Abu Dhabi. The UAE has Dubai and Abu Dhabi and we are within Abu Dhabi. But the most interesting part about Abu Dhabi is that we get a large number of people visiting from Dubai because it’s iconic. We have a bigger brand recognition for our Ferrari World or Viceroy hotel than some popular markets in Abu Dhabi.
We are going through a journey with the travel ministry which is a three point plan- awareness, intent and conversion. We need to make people aware and we do that through specialist programmes, FAM trips. The product plan is physical in terms of documents. We are starting our training programme on the digital platform and that is one of the reasons why we have appointed Think Strawberries in India to help train and educate, to generate awareness. Once we have made people aware of the product, we work with the industry interested through trade and educational FAMs. We have conducted multiple sales and trade missions from India. We are also getting key travel agents identified. And we also facilitate special rates and packages highlighting different campaigns. In the conversion bit, we, in the travel industry then help bring the customers to experience something that is totally new.
Q. Do you see a lot of repeat visitors?
It is a cycle that recently started. Obviously it’s not as if a hotel at Yas Island can claim that it has been for many years and has generations coming. The entire island has been there for not more than 10 years and in that small cycle we have been getting regular repeat visitors. And also with our VFR programme we see a lot of families uniting regularly on Yas.
Q. Since Yas is such a small island and you are gaining popularity, will you be filtering the kind of tourists coming to the island?
No, we won’t be filtering. But the economics will. We have seven international hotels at the island and there is a cluster of them in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So guests in Yas Island hotels are mostly those who want to spend a relaxed vacation here, others generally come here for a day trip and so on.
But we are building more hotels and there is one more theme park coming up. That’s part of the master plan. We will have 600 key hotels close to the stretch of 2-km beaches very soon. So this is going to be bigger than Disneyland. In fact, it is Disneyland and Movie World and more put together, plus a day of shopping and a golf course and race track.
Q. Please share with us some of the challenges you have been facing in the Indian market.
The biggest challenge that we have been facing in the Indian market is getting them to understand the difference between excursion market and destination market. The travel industry has been used to selling Dubai, they have annual contract with Dubai hotels and they have been selling Ferrari World ticket as an addendum, putting the guests on a bus for a day trip to Yas. We want the travel agents to shift their understanding of the island and get their guests into staying for longer duration on the island.
We are looking at increasing the number of night stays. So we are helping the wholesalers get into contracting with Yas Island hotels. So we will be aggressively promoting it because the guests are putting pressure on the travel agents who are not aware. It will take 3-4 years to get this going.