New Sea World attraction site slated for Abu Dhabi

New Sea World attraction site slated for Abu Dhabi | Courtesy of Shutterstock
In partnership with a company called Miral Asset Management LLC, Sea World Entertainment now has plans to open its first attraction outside of North America.

According to press releases this month, Sea World will install a marine life theme park on Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Yas is an inland part of the Abu Dhabi metro area with its own mall and other attractions.

Island planners are expecting up to 48 million visitors by 2022. The setup of the new Sea World is part of an effort to increase the island's appeal for travelers in the region. Other amenities already on the island include Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World and a selection of hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues -- as well as a championship golf course.

The new Sea World is going to look a little different than what those familiar with past Sea World venues would expect.

The facility will involve a marine life research, rescue, rehabilitation and return center, as well as up-close animal experiences and aquarium spaces.

What it won't have are orcas: after much controversy and criticism of Sea World's traditional model -- some of it generated by the 2013 movie “Blackfish” -- planners have decided that the Abu Dhabi Sea World will not feature performances by orcas kept in captivity.

How does the new Sea World play into the greater model of leadership in the UAE to develop tourist opportunities there?

“The UAE’s development strategies are bold and forward-thinking,” David DiRusso recently told Gulf News Journal.

DiRusso is an assistant professor of marketing at Millersville University in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

“They understand the growing trend of offering tourists a wide array of truly different entertainment options,” he said. “This is similar to what big retailers all across the U.S. have been doing over the past decade. There’s so much competition, it’s harder to get someone to go drive to a single retail store these days, so they decided to band together to create mega-malls and lifestyle centers that combine several different offerings to people to draw them in. The UAE is trying to do the same thing with tourism. Instead of just having one offering like a nice beach or historical site, they can offer an experience where each day the visitor can experience something different and be lured in by a package of offerings.”

In addition, DiRusso talked about how to build on this type of marketing.

“Tourism is a service experience sold to consumers who have massive numbers of well-established options and limited budgets in mind,” he said. “The UAE should make use of firms with experience marketing tourist destinations and start now to introduce their new image through aggressive advertising with abundant visuals.”

Furthermore, he said, Dubai’s offerings will face stiff competition from places like Paris, the Caribbean and Africa, each with its own traditional appeal.

As for the orca-free move, DiRusso suspects the movie had an impact.

“‘Blackfish’ has seemingly become to SeaWorld what ‘Supersize Me’ was to McDonalds years ago,” DiRusso said. “It has inspired some fundamental changes in SeaWorld, and I suspect that UAE leaders are making this decision more because of the positive attention that comes out of it … what they are doing is a good decision from both a PR and environmental perspective.”
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