The opening of the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park marks a significant turning point in the emirate's plans to transform itself into a leisure destination.
The attraction, which opens on Wednesday, has more than 20 rides including the world's fastest roller coaster and a G-force ride that shoots thrill-seekers to heights of 62 metres. It has the capacity of 10,000 visitors a day.
Ferrari World has been more than three years in the making. More than 6,000 labourers worked on the site at any one time and it has gobbled up 185,000 cubic metres of concrete and more than 12,370 tonnes of steel.
Located on the US$40 billion (Dh146.92bn) Yas Island development next to the Yas Marina Circuit, the park was not ready for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year. But organisers were determined it would open in time for this year's Formula One race next month.
"It is one of the signature attractions of Yas Island and a major tourist attraction for Abu Dhabi," says Claus Frimand, the general manager of Ferrari World. "Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is a brand-new leisure concept in the UAE that will have a great impact on the way visitors and families spend their leisure time in the region."
Tickets cost Dh225 for guests above 1.5 metres, and Dh165 for those below that height. A pricier premium ticket gives guests priority access to the attractions and access to an exclusive lounge with refreshments. Premium tickets will be Dh375 for guests above 1.5m and Dh270 for those below.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) expects the attraction to primarily draw visitors from the UAE and the wider GCC region but it also anticipates attracting guests from further afield.
"Judging by the huge number of media enquiries the authority has received about the park, worldwide interest is intense," says Lawrence Franklin, the director of strategy and policy at the ADTA.
It is working with stakeholders including Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines and Ukrainian International Airlines and hotels on Yas Island to host some 86 media representatives from 21 countries for the official opening of the theme park.
Most of Ferarri World's attractions are indoors, housed within a sprawling air-conditioned structure that features a bright red roof inspired by the double-curve side profile of a Ferrari GT sports car and spans 200,000 square metres. Other attractions include a flume ride through a giant structure based on a 12-cylinder Ferrari engine. The park also has several Italian restaurants and the world's largest Ferrari store.
The theme park was developed and funded by Aldar Properties and is managed by Farah Leisure Parks Management, a joint venture between Aldar and ProFun Management Group, an international leisure facilities management and operating company.
Ferrari already has a strong connection with Abu Dhabi. Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, has a 5 per cent stake in the luxury car maker while Etihad Airways is a major sponsor of the Ferrari F1 team.
"The Ferrari brand enjoys a mass following all over the world," says Mr Frimand. "As the first attraction of this nature in the Middle East, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi fills a gap in the market for family-friendly tourist attractions which can be enjoyed all year round."
The ADTA says the theme park will help Abu Dhabi achieve its target of attracting 1.65 million hotel guests this year, up from 1.54 million last year. The capital aims to raise that number to 2.3 million annually by 2012 and is turning its attention to bringing leisure tourists to the emirate rather than remain primarily dependent on business travellers.
Other visitor attractions in the emirate are starting to take shape with the development of Saadiyat Island, which will eventually house the Guggenheim and Louvre museums.
Two new golf courses are due to be launched this year and, along with the opening of the luxurious Qasr Al Sarab desert resort a year ago, these projects further signal Abu Dhabi's intentions. The managers of the seven hotels on Yas Island anticipate Ferrari World will bring an increase in guests staying on the island. The hotels opened last year ahead of the Grand Prix but since then business has been relatively subdued.
"I'm sure we will see a lot of people coming from the UAE and other GCC countries and perhaps from beyond as well," says Torbjorn Bodin, the general manager of the Radisson Blu hotel on Yas Island. "I think it will be very positive for Abu Dhabi."
But he says with the increasing number of hotels across Abu Dhabi, competition for new tourists will be keen. "We have started to look at packages but it's not finalised yet," he said. "We haven't seen any big marketing campaign yet but I'm sure that will happen."
He says other Yas attractions starting to come together, such as the new links golf course, the marina and the race track, will also boost tourism. There are also plans to build a huge water park, more marinas and a vast shopping mall on the 2,500-hectare island.
"The opening of Ferrari World next to the Yas Marina Circuit . will help the Yas destination emerge and will have a positive impact on the performance of neighbouring hotels, provided that the marketing of the destination is conducted by the attraction points, namely Ferrari World, the Yas Marina Circuit and the marina," says Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the senior vice-president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels in the MENA region.
Ferrari also expects to benefit from the theme park. The car maker has not directly invested in it but says it has worked alongside Aldar to make sure its strict brand standards are adhered to. Ferarri says the theme park will help promote the company both in the region and all over the world.
"It's something that we believe will give a strong boost to the knowledge and awareness of the Ferrari brand, not only in the Middle East," says Enrico Galliera, the company's commercial and marketing director. He says the attraction will also help give the brand more family appeal.
Ferrari has said it might consider opportunities for further theme parks elsewhere but wants to see how successful the Abu Dhabi venture is before committing to another similar project.
"If things go well, it might be the first of others," says Stefano Lai, Ferarri's communications director.