With over 40 unique rides and attractions – including the first interactive suspended roller coaster to be seen in a waterpark – the much anticipated Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi, which is set to open in the final quarter of this year, looks set to revolutionise the waterpark industry. The fully themed environment, based upon an original story inspired by Emirati heritage, means Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi is at the forefront of the new breed of waterparks, where the narrative and immersive nature of the experience are as important as the rides themselves.
At the helm of this iconic attraction is Mike Oswald (left), Park General Manager. Charles Read caught up with him to discuss the unique challenges faced with the project and what makes this waterpark so special.
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You took a business degree while you were at Raging Waters. How did this come about?
I worked for Raging Waters San Dimas for four years as a seasonal employee. I started out as a Lifeguard and worked my way up to managing the Admissions and Rentals Department. During this time, I was attending the University of Southern California. As I did not have classes during the summer, it worked out quite well.
You spent 6 years out of the attractions industry, working at EDS for Hitachi and Toshiba as well as a few Tech Startups. What benefits and insights did you gain from this experience and how has it helped you in your subsequent career?
It was an amazing experience working for these companies in San Francisco during the internet boom of the late 1990’s. The energy level, work pace and creativity were unbelievable. During this time, I was very fortunate to work with some dynamic leaders as well as some truly exceptional colleagues. This taught me the key to successful management. The key is to hire people that are the best and brightest, but to always ensure that they will fit the team dynamic. If they don’t gel well with the team, they will not be successful no matter how experienced or intelligent they are.
What brought you back to waterparks?
Working in the amusement business is like an addiction. Once you work in it and enjoy the experience, no other job can compete!
You joined Alabama Adventure in 2003 and stayed there for 5 years.
Working for Alabama Adventure was a great learning experience. I was able to learn more in those 5 1/2 years than many people learn in a lifetime. The owners and my mentors, Kent Lemasters and Alan Joelson, gave me the opportunity and guidance to grow at an exceptional pace. I was given new challenges continually with most outside my comfort zone. I was forced to “sink or swim” and to be creative in my approach to getting the job done.
Yas Island and Abu Dhabi
What do you enjoy most about life in the UAE?
What I enjoy the most are the unique opportunities that I have been able to provide my family. As a child, I always dreamed of traveling the world, seeing amazing things and meeting people from different cultures. In the UAE, there is a very diverse mix of people from all over the world to meet and interact with. We can travel to amazing places in a short period of time. My family and I have had so many great life experiences that will no doubt influence the remainder of our lives.
The new waterpark will be highly themed, how did this come about, what’s the story? Is it original?
From early conception we wanted the park to be built around an Emirati theme and commissioned WS Atkins, the park designer, to create an original story or ‘legend’.
The park pays tribute to Emirati culture and the country’s pearl diving heritage and is intricately themed to bring our ‘legend’ to life. The design and flow of the park are truly immersive, following the journey of our heroine Dana (left) as she seeks the lost pearl:
A long time ago in a pearl diving village known as Qaryat Al Jewana divers discovered the Mother Pearl lying amongst the oysters on the sea bed. The Mother Pearl brought prosperity and bountiful pearl harvests to the village.
One day, a fierce shamal blew in from the sea, for 3 days and nights the worst storm in living memory battered the village. On the fourth morning as the winds subsided the villagers came out from their homes to see the Mother Pearl had vanished.
Over the years pearls become more and more rare and the village fell on hard times. To make matters worse a gang of greedy bandits moved into the village and stole many of the precious pearls that were found by the divers.
Seeing how hard life was in the village a young girl named Dana asked her mother to tell her the story of the Lost Pearl again, so that she could set out to find the mighty pearl and bring prosperity back to the village.
Dana voyaged across the desert to find the missing pearl with the bandits in hot pursuit.
After meeting with several friendly animals along the way her journey brought her back to the oasis just outside the village where her innocent tears of sorrow touched the water and released the missing pearl.
What are the major rides and attractions and with which suppliers did you work?
There are several iconic rides and attractions in the waterpark providing a truly diverse guest experience. We have installed the first interactive suspended roller coaster in a waterpark utilizing water effects as well as special effects triggered by on-board laser guns, we have the world’s first 6 person hydromagnetic tornado and mammoth, the first AquaLoop in the region, an incredible maze of 6 slides which contain light, sound, and video effects and much, much more.
What were the challenges faced when constructing a park in a desert location?
The biggest challenges are environmental in nature. During the summer, temperatures rise to nearly 50 degrees Celsius. It is also very corrosive as we are next to the Arabian Gulf. This puts men and equipment to the test. I really respect the contractor, ALEC, as they are working tremendously hard under tough conditions to complete the park.
How are you mitigating any environmental impact?
In Abu Dhabi, there is a sustainability program named Estidama. This program promotes sustainable developments and is an important part of the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan. The park was designed utilizing the criteria outlined by Estidama and will be assigned a “Pearl One” rating upon completion.
Have you had to take into account any cultural differences?
We have included over 30 cabana’s to provide a sheltered and private space for some of our more conservative guests. We will also be launching a Ladies Only Evening in 2013 for the comfort of our female Muslim guests.
What avenues do you have for merchandise, food& beverage etc?
We have some really cool merchandise opportunities that are unique to our waterpark. Incorporated into the park is world’s first SplashQuest Interactive Game from Whitewater West. Our SplashQuest game takes guests on a journey to become a Pearlmaster, interactive screens, a treasure hunt and challenges will keep guests entertained while teaching them a little more about the pearl diving heritage of the United Arab Emirates.
Tell us a little about your social media campaign.
We will be launching our social media channels a couple of months before we open. Our primary strategy is to use the channels to support our brand pillars (excitement, adventure, fantasy, heritage, legend). We are poised to not only excite and entertain fans but to educate them as well. The heritage of the pearl diving industry is so rich that it is a fantastic platform from which to engage guests of all ages. We have a colourful cast of characters attached to the legend of the waterpark and of course so many rides and attractions to promote and build excitement.
Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi : what is its USP?
The best waterpark in the world!
The park is next door to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, are there plans to work closely with them on ticketing, events etc?
Absolutely. There will be opportunities for cross-selling and 2-park tickets. We will work closely to develop event and promotions calendars to ensure a complementary existence.
What are you expectations in terms of attendance?
Based on the growing resident population, in-bound tourism and the lack of direct competitors in Abu Dhabi we are confident we will see quick growth in our attendance.
Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi and a world class team
What will make the waterpark succeed?
The key factor is to deliver to our guests an “Out of this World” experience that creates lasting memories. How we deliver this experience is by providing world class facilities, attractions and entertainment coupled with excellent customer service.
What have you most enjoyed so far about the Yas Waterworld project?
It has been very enjoyable working with great project management, design, and construction professionals to deliver a truly special park. Our project delivery team is a great group of people and it has been fun to learn from them. There are too many people to name, but I would especially like to thank Glenn Davidson, Tim Mow, Mohammed Younus, Dan Wills, Jan Garcia, Roland Zieher, Maria Holmes, Al Hassan Al Zaabi and Mahdi Samhouri. Of course there were many challenges to overcome along the way, such as design issues, construction problems, and meeting the schedule, but the team was always able to come together and resolve in order to achieve our common goal.
I have also enjoyed being given the opportunity to recruit and lead what I consider the best group of colleagues in the world. I am so proud to work with this team and am excited to see everyone working so well together. It is truly a world class team and I look forward to working with them as we prepare for the Grand Opening!