x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Abu Dhabi out to make splash with Yas water park

Water parks are helping the tourism industry in the UAE make a splash and the capital expects to open its first major water attraction by the end of next year.

Build it and they will come: in a region with soaring temperatures, tourists are drawn into water parks such as the Wild Wadi in Dubai.
Build it and they will come: in a region with soaring temperatures, tourists are drawn into water parks such as the Wild Wadi in Dubai.

Water parks are creating waves in the UAE tourism industry. Abu Dhabi expects to open its first major water attraction by the end of next year as part of the US$40 billion (Dh146.92bn) Yas Island development programme.

Costing about Dh604 million the park is designed to have more than 40 rides and attractions including scuba diving, cable skiing - a form of water skiing - and a "lazy river" boat ride.

Aldar, the developer, is confident the new Yas attraction will be a major tourism draw.

"We will have four one-of-a-kind rides that have never been seen before in a water park," says the company. Development is well under way with "work on the substructures of the park's buildings nearing completion".

Yas Island will be banking on the water park to help pull in the tourists. Dubai has two and they have proved to be very popular.

Jumeirah Group's Wild Wadi is located between the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj Al Arab, while Aquaventure is part of the $1.5bn Atlantis resort on the Palm Jumeirah.

Last month, both were ranked in the world's top 20 most visited water parks in a survey conducted by Aecom, a support services company, and the Themed Entertainment Association (Tea).Wild Wadi attracted 690,000 visitors last year, while Aquaventure brought in more than 1 million, according to Aecom and the association.

"Water parks work very well for the climate here," says David Camp, the vice president for economics at Aecom in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. "They appeal during the hot summer because it cools people off.

"Water parks in other parts of the world can be a seasonal business - an industry that works when there's school holidays and so on," he says.

"Other parks such as the Orlando that topped the [top 20] list are more year-round, better climate. Dubai also fits into that year-round business operation."

Incorporating a water-themed park into a major hotel complex can also reap dividends and pull in tourists. Owners of luxury projects in the UAE have started to look for attractions that stand out from the crowd.

"A large proportion of [current] water park visitors are actually hotel guests and the two work well together," says Mr Camp.

"The hotel provides guests for the water park; the water park sets the hotel apart in terms of business model and encouraging people to come.

"With a significant number of hotel rooms for both of the [Dubai] parks, a good chunk of their visitors are effectively on-site hotel guests," he adds. "It's a slightly different dynamic to the American parks that are stand-alone and full fee-paying."

The Yas water park will be surrounded by seven hotels and will complement the island's two main attractions, Ferrari World and the Formula One racetrack.

In purely economic terms, water attractions make sense.

They are relatively cheap to build compared with theme parks, and their operational costs are highly attractive.

"If I can drive my volume I can drive profitability," says Scott Deisley, the vice president of Aquaventure at Atlantis, The Palm. "It doesn't cost me any more to have a 100 people in the park than it does to have 10."

The vast majority of Aquaventure's guest are tourists. This year the park launched a discounted rate for UAE residents of Dh140 for a ticket instead of Dh200. Its hotel guests get free access.

Even though Aquaventure is in direct competition with Wild Wadi, Mr Deisley believes the rivalry has generated increased demand.

"I think that we were all a little concerned about whether there was a market for both Wild Wadi and ourselves," he says.

"What we've done is actually created more of a market."

The other major water parks in the UAE are Dreamland in Umm Al Qaiwain and the WOW RAK Iceland in Ras Al Khaimah.

Others planned for Dubai, including a development called Aqua Dunya, which was supposed to be the world's largest water park and part of Dubailand, have been put on hold.

Aquaventure is now planning to expand attractions after Wild Wadi added two new rides at the beginning of this year.

"We all know that we need to invest in the park to keep it interesting for people," says Mr Deisley.

"My fingers are crossed that we could get something started next year."

rbundhun@thenational.ae