What’s your background?
I run global-themed entertainment at Warner Bros, which includes all theme parks and attractions, live entertainment, travelling exhibits, location-based entertainment and virtual reality.
Why did you choose Yas Island for this project?
This is a 10-year venture inspired by our CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, who thought about Warner Bros and themed entertainment as something we could do bigger.
We started to think about that journey and potential partners around the world, reaching out to different regions. In that reach, the Middle East came up. We spoke to Miral and quickly formed a partnership.
How has it been working with Miral on the project?
You can partner in all kinds of different ways. The most successful partnerships are not about writing a cheque. It’s about the value the partner brings. In terms of Warner Bros, we bring our characters, our content and our storytelling. Miral brings this unbelievable vision in terms of an Abu Dhabi masterplan. They also bring excellence in execution in terms of design and construction.
Mohamed Al Mubarak – chair of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, and chair of Miral – is a visionary leader of entertainment, attractions, leisure and construction. He is a force of nature and has become our mentor and partner there.
How were the plans affected by the recession?
If you look back at that time, everyone who had a project going in 2008 had a hiccup. Many around the world and in the Middle East stopped and never got going again. Every project at that period of time had a moment. The same thing happened with us. We said ‘let’s reset, let’s stabilise’. It wasn’t about our project, it was about the world economy. It was not a stop, it was a moment in time where the world took a pause. We very quickly got the project back on track.
How was the project funded?
This is a license relationship. Warner Bros licenses our IP and our expertise and our participation to Miral. Miral is the owner/operator of the project.
Are there future plans for Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi?
There are discussions about expansion but our main focus has been getting this wonderful thing up and running.
Are there plans to roll this model out?
It’s certainly possible. We have lots of discussions and we have a number of plans in the works. The indoor element is really interesting for us. It gives it some stability in terms of environment with an air-conditioned place to go, making it a year-round prospect. Because it’s all inside, you have full control over noise, lighting, sound and that general feeling of immersion. That’s the beauty of this park. It feels like you’re in these worlds. The wonderful box that was created is really paying off in terms of the product we’re presenting.
How do you see the Middle East market?
We believe in the vision of the Middle East. There’s a vision for Abu Dhabi that our partners in Miral and across the territory have, which is that the Middle East – specifically the UAE and Abu Dhabi – will become a world-class leisure destination. That has been in the works for the last 10 to 20 years and we think we’re a major part of that story. Inside the themed entertainment area for that region, we’ve set the bar. You can put Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi up against the best of the true theme parks in EMEA in terms of quality and immersive experiences, rides, F&B, merchandise and operations. We had remarkable responses from our visitors since launch. If you look at attractions capable of drawing visitors from across the world, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi represents a big player in the Middle East.
How does the Middle East compare to Orlando?
I don’t want to compare in terms of scale and scope of park. Orlando has a massive size in terms of that. I don’t compare it that way yet, but I think that’s the vision – a critical mass of quality attractions. If you see what our partners are doing with Yas Island and in Abu Dhabi, it’s absolutely amazing. From Ferrari World to Yas Waterworld, to the Yas Mall, to the Amazing Louvre. With Warner Bros coming to the region, it becomes this centre of real quality destination travel and I think there’s more to come. The level of vision and execution that Abu Dhabi is pulling off is really making it a destination.
How do you feel following the opening?
We’re absolutely over the moon. I think this is a huge accomplishment. The work and dedication that has gone into it is absolutely world class.