Ferrari World, on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, is undergoing the single biggest expansion in its history.
Four new attractions are already in place: Flying Aces, Karting World, Driving Experience and Benno’s Great Race.
With a further three in the pipeline, the completed development will boost the park’s capacity by 40%.
Jesse Vargas (left), Ferrari World’s General Manager, talked to Blooloop about the success of the world’s only Ferrari-branded theme park. He also spoke about the challenge of blending a mass-appeal business model with an iconic, exclusive IP.
The Perfect Partnership
Vargas has been in the leisure business for over twenty years. He has worked in theme parks, water parks, animal parks, edutainment facilities, public parkland and resorts. He joined the industry as a university student, working as a ride operator and lifeguard. From there, he progressed to executive level management positions, spending fourteen years with Six Flags.
“I’m greatly appreciative of Six Flags, ” he says. “I learned so much. It was a very valuable experience for me, coming up through the ranks.”
He started at Fiesta, Texas in San Antonio, as part of their opening team. He also helped open Sesame Street Park in Monterrey, Mexico. In addition, was sent on a special assignment by Six Flags to be part of the opening team at Warner Brothers Madrid.
“I also spent time working at the Atlantis in the Bahamas. And, of course, I am now at Ferrari here in Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.”
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the result of a shared vision by both Ferrari and the UAE. This vision was to create an experience that would embody the iconic brand.
“The park is a premium yet accessible experience, ” says Vargas. “It’s family entertainment, a venue where friends and family can come and share their time with one another in a special place.
“And, perhaps what makes it most special is that both Ferrari and the United Arab Emirates are known for their heritage and their innovation, and I think that’s at the heart of what they have in common.
“They’re also both known for their relentless aspirations – trying to create bigger, better world-class attractions. In that respect it’s the perfect partnership.”
Ferrari World is in an area where summer temperatures routinely soar to 38 °C. However, the world’s largest indoor park is climate-controlled to 23°C all year round.
The current expansion programme is a response to the consistent rise in visitor numbers year on year since the park opened in 2010.
The first new attraction to open was Karting Academy:
“It’s an indoor electric karting circuit inspired by Ferrari and intended to give our guests the opportunity to show what they can do on our go-kart track, ” says Vargas.
Budding drivers certainly have some stiff competition, since the kart track circuit records have been set by Formula One stars, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen. If ever a guest does manage to beat those records, Ferrari World has pledged to fly them to Maranello for a factory tour of Ferrari.
If they don’t quite manage that, visitors have a further opportunity to hone their skills with the added benefit of expert tuition.
Driving Experience, the park’s second new addition, was something guests had been requesting since the park opened.
“In essence, it is an attraction that allows guests, for a nominal incremental fee, to drive a Ferrari. They have a Ferrari-trained pilot alongside to guide and teach some of the particular aspects of being a pilot for Ferrari, ” explains Vargas.
“You actually take the car and drive it around Yas Island along the main freeway that runs in front of the park, and back into the park.
“The entire experience lasts about 45 minutes.”
Flying Aces – a Record-Breaking Coaster
The third attraction is something different again – a record-breaking roller coaster, Flying Aces, which launched on February 24th 2016. Vargas is in no doubt that it’s a world-beater:
“This ride, simply put, is the most dynamic new roller coaster on the planet at the moment.”
Flying Aces certainly breaks several world records: it is the tallest looping coaster in the world at sixty-two metres and it has the steepest, fastest cable link lift at 30kph. At roughly twice the speed of a normal lift, it has been designed to give the feeling of a biplane taking off.
The ride has ten zero gravity moments, two inversions and numerous banks and turns.
“It’s an Intamin coaster, and the theme around the ride is actually one that’s near and dear to the very heart of Ferrari.
The theme has a turn-of-the-century biplane design to it.”
When Enzo Ferrari was a young man, he admired the famous Italian pilot, Count Francesco Baracca (right), partly as an international hero, and partly because Ferrari’s ambition was to develop a car that could travel as fast, or faster, than a plane. Baracca’s personal insignia, painted on the side of his biplane, was the Cavallino Rampante (prancing horse).
When Baracca died, his mother gave her son’s insignia to Enzo Ferrari, to bring him good luck and to inspire courage. Every Ferrari that comes out of Maranello to this day bears the symbol of the prancing horse – instantly recognisable the world over.
“So, on the one hand (Flying Aces) gives you the back story to the logo of the esteemed brand, but it also gives you some insight into how Enzo Ferrari became inspired to develop his cars to begin with, ” says Vargas.
Benno’s Great Race
The very latest attraction to open is a family dark ride, Benno’s Great Race.
“Benno’s Great Race is a dark ride. It tells the story of a mouse that lives in the walls of the Ferrari factory. It aspires to be a pilot one day. He collects bibs and bobbles from around the factory to decorate his little home. Then at night he races around the factory in these makeshift race-cars that he builds himself.
“This ride allows guests – small children and their parents – to take a ride in these cars as they make their way around the Ferrari factory walls, shooting at targets and racking up points to compare with other families.”
The park has two more world-class attractions in the pipeline for the very near future. In addition it has what Vargas tantalisingly calls,
“…one very special and unique attraction that can only be done by Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. You will hear about it soon.”
Vargas clearly enjoys his job. He admits that running the park is an enormous challenge. However, it is one that is both interesting and a lot of fun.
Blending Mass Market Appeal with an Exclusive IP
What makes the park’s IP so different from other key players in the industry is that it is an exclusive, aspirational icon. This is as opposed to the more usual mass market brand.
“Every other player in the industry has a brand that is based on mass consumption, whether it be movies, toys, whatever, ” agrees Vargas.
“That’s very much congruent with how a theme park operates. Because theme parks are also based on mass consumption – you want millions of people to come to your park.
“We have the theme park model, which does speak to high volume in terms of attendance and consumption. But our brand is in fact the exact opposite.
“Ferrari actually limits the supply of their product because it is an exceptional. It is an exclusive brand that is not available to everyone. That is, by far, the single biggest challenge. Reconciling the two differences in how the business model and the brand are positioned.”
Vargas sees this not as an insurmountable obstacle, but as an opportunity.
“We see ourselves as a premium, yet accessible, family experience. We want people to feel they’re somewhere special.”
“The brand communicates that to the public, ” he says. “Our challenge is to create an experience that matches the exclusivity of the brand yet is just as accessible as any other theme park in the world.”
To this end, Ferrari World has enlisted key designers and service-providers from the outset. Jack Rouse Associates were the lead designers responsible for rides and attractions; British architectural firm, Benoy, were responsible for the building itself and its facilities.
Vargas: “We’d be remiss not to mention groups like Thinkwell and AECOM. And, of course, ride manufacturers like Intamin. They have been intimately involved in our two biggest roller coasters – Formula Rossa is still the fastest roller coaster on the planet, and will be for a long time, and Flying Aces, which is the most dynamic new coaster on the planet.”
Making Attractions Scalable and Renewable
Of the current and future development of the attractions industry over the next decade, Vargas says:
“From a technical standpoint, I think we’re all beginning to realise that rides and attractions nowadays need to be much more scalable than they were in the past. They need to be renewable. They also need to be refreshed because people now more than ever have a lot more leisure and entertainment options. Unless you’re constantly refreshing and renewing your product, you run the risk of falling behind to the competitors.
“The second thing is that people are very keen on quality and value for money. So your value proposition has to be very strong. Not simply because people are focused on how far their money goes, but because, more than ever before, people’s time is in high demand.
“There are only a certain number of days in any given year to spend time with friends and family, and we want to make sure that they count.”
Vargas is not alone in this. Leisure and entertainment facilities worldwide are increasingly putting a high degree of focus on delivering that value for money.
High-level Guest Service and Value for Money
“Beyond all that, I think that the one thing that will always and forever remain of paramount importance is the level of guest service and the people that deliver it, ” he says.
“In many ways that is the huge differentiator between one facility in one location and another. I’m very proud that Ferrari World Abu Dhabi delivers, in my opinion, the highest level of guest service of any theme park in the world.”
Many of the park’s visitors agree with him. Ferrari World has enjoyed two record-setting years, back to back, both in attendance and guest satisfaction.
The park’s expansion, equivalent to what other developers might spend on creating a mid-sized theme park, is a testament to this success.
“We see ourselves not just as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, but as part of the growing world-class destination attraction of Yas Island, ” says Vargas.
“On top of that, we’re helping to build the tourism industry for an entire country, the UAE. This is a country that has high aspirations and a proven track record of delivering world-class attractions.
“We’re proud of the fact we’re a part of it.”
Images: Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Intamin
DEAL live by blooloop:
George Walker is Creative Director for Ferrari World and Vice President of Creative Development at Dynamic Attractions. He will be speaking at DEAL Live by blooloop on April 18th 2016 in Dubai. Don’t miss out – book your ticket now: