‘A Game-Changer For Live Events & Concerts’: Q’s With Miral’s Leon Marsh

Formula 1 2022: Abu Dhabi GP
Where the entertainment happens: Aerial shot taking during the Abu Dhabi GP at Yas Marina Circuit last November. Etihad Arena features prominently. (Photo by Gareth Harford / Motorsport Images Photographer)

Pollstar’s annual Middle East Focus wouldn’t be complete without speaking to the team at Miral, the main curator of (live) experiences in Abu Dhabi, most of which take place on Yas Island, an entertainment district that houses the city’s main venues for entertainment, including its crown jewel Etihad Arena, theme parks, hotels and high-class hospitality businesses, a theme park, as well as the renowned Yas Marina Circuit, home of the F1 Grand Prix finals. We reached out to Miral’s events director Leon Marsh to talk about the state of play in Abu Dhabi.

Pollstar: How would you sum up the state of business at Miral, how is 2023 shaping up?
Leon Marsh: 2023 is an exciting year for Miral Group. As a leading creator of immersive destinations and experiences in Abu Dhabi, we have been driving much of the leisure and entertainment sector growth over the past 11 years and showcasing Abu Dhabi as a leading global tourism destination, partnering, designing, creating, developing, operating, and managing immersive destinations and experiences such as CLYMB Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Watan, Yas Waterfront, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, and the world’s first-ever Warner Bros. themed hotel.

We work closely with the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi (DCT) to enhance the city’s overall tourism and entertainment sector, by bringing high-profile events, such as music festivals, concerts, and sports, to Yas Island, the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA), and ‘The Lion King’ musical, among many others. Our partnership with the Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau (ADCEB) enables us to showcase the capital as a go-to destination for meetings, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) to strategically target business events of 500 plus attendees.

We have had a long-standing partnership over the past years when it comes to world-class sporting events with Abu Dhabi Sports Council. This has seen Yas Island, Abu Dhabi host major international sporting events over the past years, such as Fina World Swimming Championships, Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, World Triathlon Championship Finals and FIBA 3X3.

Blackpink 2 Etihad Park
BLACKPINK on stage at Etihad Park in January. (Picture courtesy of Miral)

Etihad Arena opened more than two years ago. What did the building bring to Abu Dhabi, what role does it play in your overall business portfolio, and how has it changed the game for live events in the region?
The Etihad Arena, owned by Miral Group, has been a significant addition to Abu Dhabi’s tourism and entertainment industry. It has been a game-changer for live events and concerts in the region. Since its opening in 2019, the arena has hosted several high-profile events, including concerts, sporting events, and conferences, attracting visitors from all over the world. The venue’s state-of-the-art technology and seating capacity of up to 18,000 people have made it a favourite among event organizers and performers. The arena has played a crucial role in promoting Abu Dhabi as a destination for international events, thereby boosting tourism and the local economy.

We have successfully hosted top performers, including Maroon 5, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to perform at the arena, making it a sought-after destination for live events. In 2023 alone, we have hosted, Kevin Hart, Blackpink, Sting, Imagine Dragons and the Backstreet Boys among others. We also brought high-profile events such as ‘The Lion King” musical last year for the first time in the regions and are bringing the recently announced Hamilton musical. We are also focused on family shows such as Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol, providing a diverse calendar of entertainment for all the family.

In summary, its world-class facilities, combined with the hosting of high-profile events, have firmly placed Abu Dhabi on the map as a destination for international entertainment. Miral Group’s commitment to investing in the arena has paid off, contributing significantly to the local economy while providing visitors with an unforgettable experience.

What’s your business philosophy?
Miral is guided by its ambition to be a customer-centric, progressive, and efficient organization. Our goal is not merely guest satisfaction, but to create unique and inspirational experiences that appeal to guests of all ages and nationalities. By delivering unforgettable memories and experiences, Yas Island’s diverse calendar of events is inclusive of a wide range of preferences and interests, including sports, music, and family activities.

Disney on Ice Etihad Arena
Family entertainment has always been huge in the Middle East. This picture shows a Disney on Ice performance at Etihad Arena Abu Dhabi. (Picture courtesy of Miral)

What makes Yas Island unique in your view? Why is it the best place to go for entertainment in Abu Dhabi?
We have a long-standing successful track-record of excellence in creating globally renowned immersive destinations and experiences that attract visitors from all over the world, and are a trusted partner within the leisure and entertainment industry. Our strategy is aligned with Abu Dhabi’s vision, and we are proudly contributing to the transformation of the leisure and entertainment industry in Abu Dhabi, as well as the economic diversification and growth of the Emirate, positioning of Abu Dhabi as a global tourism hub.

The island just hosted its first festival, Live Nation’s Wireless. What were your impressions, can you see the island hosting more festivals going forward, and what about turning it into a multi-day event?
Wireless was a partnership with Live Nation and DCT, and exceeded all our expectations for a first-year festival, completely selling out. Following on from this success, we are exploring options with Live Nation and DCT to see what future direction this festival takes. Establishing annual IP on destination is a central pillar of our event strategy – The Etihad Airways Formula One remains the anchor for the destination, Yas Island now hosts a number of annual events including music festivals such as Club Social to mega sports event such as the NBA and UFC.

Wireless festival showcased an incredible line-up of artists and some of the biggest names in the music industry like Travis Scott. We also hosted BRED Abu Dhabi and Ultra Abu Dhabi which contributed to our growing reputation as a music destination.

See: Live Nation Reflects On Middle East Success With Travis Scott

Looking back, all these events were hugely successful and show us Abu Dhabi is poised to continue gaining popularity with music festivals. We can definitely see ourselves hosting more festivals on Yas Island, and in the future turning these into multi-day events.

Speaking of multi-day events. Is camping a thing in the UAE? Could you see a festival with campgrounds taking place on Yas Island? Or would the island cater more to those wishing to stay in a more glamorous accommodation option like hotels.
Camping in the UAE has always been popular; but it is important that we take into consideration sustainable offering as outdoor options are limited to a specific time of the year when the weather allows it, and that is the strategy we follow at Miral Group. We are dedicated to creating world-class tourist destinations that cater to a wide range of tourists with different preferences and budgets. The experiences and options we offer at Yas Island are all indoor temperature-regulated spaces that feels like an outdoor area, using the latest innovations and technologies, have been successful over the years, and have been a unique selling point for Miral Group that ensures the comfort of our visitors.

It is not all about glamorous accommodations, as we cater to diverse range of guests and based on their personal preferences; the island boasts hotels from value stays to luxury resorts, with over 3,000 rooms on the island ranging from 3 to 5 stars. These are all closely situated to our events by design. We always create different offering where most of our hotels offer a complimentary access to the any of our theme parks to make their stay worthwhile. Now we have announced that during the summer, kids-go-free. With its commitment to excellence, Miral Group is set to remain a leader in the tourism industry in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

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