x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Madonna gigs are music to Abu Dhabi's ears

What has "Her Madgesty" ever done for Abu Dhabi, asks Laura Collins

Madonna on her 2012 world tour which is coming soon to Abu Dhabi.
Madonna on her 2012 world tour which is coming soon to Abu Dhabi.

It is the sort of build-up that might give a lesser mortal performance anxiety - although it is unlikely to trouble Her Madgesty too much.

Four months after it was announced that Madonna would perform in Abu Dhabi as the Middle East leg of her MDNA 2012 World Tour, she finally arrives in town next week. To say that the concerts have generated some interest would be like saying it's going to feel a little warm when more than 20,000 fans squeeze into Yas Island's du Arena on both the 3rd and 4th of June.

Barely a business in Abu Dhabi has remained unmoved by the imminent visit. Spas offer Madonna packages promising to restore the "Ray of Light" to the "Material Girl", and so on.

Restaurants have created themed menus. All seven of the hotels on Yas Island were promoting their Madonna nights and weekends - which include Golden Circle tickets or Standard Entrance, with or without meals and a shuttle bus or limousine - well before the starting pistol had been fired on the actual sale of the concert tickets.

Etihad Airways offered fans choosing to fly into the emirate a string of flight and holiday deals with all 13 of their partnership hotels. For those who couldn't bear to risk losing out, they urged preregistration.

Magazines, shops, radio stations and television shows have run Madonna competitions. Facebook groups have formed and members chatter excitedly as they plan outfits and wonder to which version of Madonna they will pay homage. Desperately Seeking Susan Madonna, Jean-Paul Gaultier conical bra Madonna, cowgirl Madonna, kimono- wearing "frozen" Madonna - there is hardly a lack of choice.

A veritable industry bloomed, was sated and bloomed again when event organisers Flash Entertainment, the group responsible for bringing Madonna to the UAE, announced a second date - although with only a few days to go, many tickets and packages for the second night are still available.

Yet however enthusiastically Abu Dhabi has embraced Madonna's visit, the bigger question is what does the city gain from her visit?

The cost of bringing the singer here - plus her massive stage show and vast entourage - has not been made public but is likely to amount to tens of millions of dirhams.

Equally unclear is to what extent this cost will be covered by revenue from ticket sales that start at a modest Dh495 and run to Dh2,295 for a VIP package.

The rewards for Madonna are much clearer to see. It is estimated that this world tour will gross in excess of US$500 million (Dh1.86 bn). Even with deductions, the profits will deposit a healthy sum in the bank account of a star who has consistently earned between $40 and $50 million a year for the past decade.

So just what is in it for Abu Dhabi? What is the solution to the equation: Madonna + Abu Dhabi =?

Ken Dearsley, the group head of intellectual property and technology for the Dubai-based law firm DLA Piper, began his career working in the music industry representing recording artists and publishers.

"There are two ways of looking at this sort of thing," he said. "There are the direct benefits than come from an event like this and there are the indirect ones."

According to Mr Dearsley, when it comes to an artist as notoriously direct as Madonna, it is the indirect benefits that follow in her wake that really count. That, rather than gate receipts, is where her true value lies.

"It's all about showcasing," he said. "It's all about branding Abu Dhabi as a destination with lots to offer."

For the hotels, the spike of bookings is an obvious benefit. And, said Mr Dearsley's colleague Helen Hangari, a senior legal consultant in real estate and hospitality, since many hotels are partnered by the government or a local company, at least some of that revenue will find its way into the coffers of Abu Dhabi as well as those of the Hilton Group, Intercontinental and the other five-star hotels.

If the guests happened to fly in on Etihad, then more revenue stays behind after they leave. But even here, it is as much the prospect of return custom after that initial visit that holds the key to whether or not the Madonna packages, in all their variation, will ultimately be deemed a success.

Andreas Kohn, the regional sales and marketing director for Viceroy Hotel Group, said: "The Yas show weekends are an essential part of establishing Yas Island as a destination. Sade, Metallica, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder - we have seen that these artists really draw a crowd to the island and the Emirates.

"It is quite a different approach to anything you see in European cities, for example. Making a concert night a little bit more of an experience, making it a weekend and drawing people in and showing them what we have here.

"We actually ran a Madonna competition with a UK fashion magazine, with the prize of three nights here and two tickets to the show, because we know that the UK is a very important source market and Madonna's presence attracts attention."

As Mr Dearsley points out, "Madonna is a very clever choice because of the sheer volume of editorial she generates and the fact that she is so cross-demographic. There are fans from the 80s and new fans of her album today. She's an ideal icon of rebellion that's softened enough to not be a problem and she retains a currency."

According to Flash's own data, more than 45,000 fans will watch Madonna on one (or in some cases both) of the nights. In addition to a core of Abu Dhabi and Dubai residents, they will have travelled from Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. Some diehard fans are flying in from places as far afield as South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, Italy, America and Brazil.

Ronaldo Bautista, 40, an IT manager working in Jeddah, is a prime example of how Madonna's presence in Abu Dhabi means more than just one - or two - nights of spectacle for the city.

"It's one of my dreams to watch Madonna play live," he said. "That's why I was overjoyed when I found out that she is coming to Abu Dhabi. I booked my VIP Package ticket on February 21 and I paid Dh2,295. I got almost insane on that particular date, attempting several times to grab the ticket."

Mr Bautista chose not to stay on Yas but at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort - which will be music to the ears of tourism bosses keen to show visitors what Abu Dhabi as a whole has to offer.

He will stay there for three days, after flying in on Etihad, then spend three days in Dubai before travelling back via Saudi Airlines. While here, Mr Bautista said he plans to visit Ferrari World and hire a car to enjoy such attractions as Ski Dubai and Wild Wadi.

Add in meals and a little shopping and this one fan's Dh2,295 ticket could be worth a further Dh5,000 to the city and perhaps as much again to Dubai.

His visit, the money he spends and the return he may one day make are all indirect benefits and no less potent for it.

It is, after all, what so-called "mega-shows" and "mega-events" are really about to any host city. When the Volvo Ocean Race arrived in the city this year, the organisers' own figures put the direct value of the event to Abu Dhabi at €20.12 million (Dh92.5m).

The indirect benefits generated by the knock-on effect of increased sales in the food, beverage and hospitality industries - and the extra money spent by employees in these industries, whose earnings soared as a result - stands at a further estimated €15.09 million. Added to this is the fact that 89 per cent of the foreign visitors to the Race Village said they would recommend the city as a tourist destination.

As a spokesman for Flash Entertainment points out, "There are few artists in the world that have the global appeal and impact of Madonna.

"Her tours have broken all records. Her last tour, the Sticky & Sweet tour in 2008, was the most well attended of any female artist in the history of live music.

"This is a truly global event and the impact on the reputation of the city - and of course the du Arena, Yas Island and everybody else involved - is immeasurable."

"It would be great to be able to say, 'Madonna coming to Abu Dhabi is worth $50 million'," admits Mr Dearsley. "But the reality just isn't quantifiable."

So what is the solution to the equation, Madonna + Abu Dhabi = ?

As they used say in the credit card advertisement: Priceless.

 

lcollins@thenational.ae

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