For one of the wealthiest corners of the planet, Abu Dhabi can fly a little lower on the radar when compared to its glitzy northern neighbour Dubai. But with state-of-the art marinas, a world-class Formula 1 circuit, an abundance of wildlife and plans to expand infrastructure further, there’s a lot the city can shout about.
In superyachting terms, the largest of the United Arab Emirates’ seven sheikhdoms, and its gleaming namesake capital city, could barely be better designed to be a haven for luxury vessels. But it has yet to grab the attention of those whose sleek, sophisticated craft adorn the world’s waterfronts. Considering the multitude of millionaires who live in or are regular visitors to the country, Abu Dhabi still has a way to go to become the Monaco or Capri of the Arabian Gulf.
But, in terms of infrastructure, offer and intent, it is getting there. Billions of dollars are being invested in Abu Dhabi’s luxury yacht and charter industry. A spectacular range of marinas are taking shape, as a sector seeking to take advantage of year round sun, more than 700km (435 miles) of coastline, and the presence of over 200 natural islands recognises the potential that is there to be tapped into.
“Yacht owners have, until recently, been a little reticent in positioning their yachts in the area,” says Russell Crump, YPI Director of Sales. “Many could not see the value, either for their own private use or from a charter perspective, in moving their yacht from Europe or the States just to be there for the Formula 1 Grand Prix in November, even if it is steadily assuming Monaco’s crown as the most attractive F1 today.
“But increasingly, smart owners are realising that as one of the world’s best-equipped superyacht hubs, Abu Dhabi not only offers an array of beautiful islands to visit, but it is also the perfect base from which to explore the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and even India – and these are cruising locations charter guests worldwide are increasingly wanting to visit,” he says. “And with not many superyachts doing this today, those that are making the move are in heavy demand for charter.”
Abu Dhabi has recently unveiled 16 large marina projects – the most impressive being Yas Island, a futuristic, 10,000 square metre (107,639 sq ft) luxury yacht development also comprising the Ferrari World theme park, a water park, polo clubs, and high-end hotels and retail, all next to one of the world’s finest Formula 1 circuits.
“Designed and built to the highest international standards, Yas Marina is exceptionally positioned to cater to the unique requirements of superyachts,” explains Cedric Le Rest, General Manager at Yas Marina. “With shore power facilities of up to 1,000 amps, Yas Marina offers fully serviced berths for yachts up to 150 metres (492ft 1in).”
Yas Marina’s on-site conveniences make the Marina appealing for owners, guests, captains and crew. “Safwa Marine, a luxury yacht management company based at Yas Marina, offers 24-hour technical superyacht support services, on-site repairs and full maintenance, refit and overhaul support for yachts between 15-85 metres [49ft 2in-278ft 8in] in a state-of-the-art facility in Abu Dhabi,” Le Rest adds. “There are also shipyards with technical and haulout facilities at nearby Mussafah Port, with services priced up to 15% cheaper than at European facilities.”
“Abu Dhabi is sophisticated simplicity. The people, and the culture, are warm and inviting. Everything you could ever need or want is there”
For most superyacht owners, sailing is just one aspect of owning an ultrahigh end vessel. “Yas Marina is home to a fantastic array of shoreside amenities, including seven licensed restaurants and bars, fitness and wellbeing facilities, and allows easy access to downtown Abu Dhabi as well as neighbouring Dubai,” says Le Rest.
“Abu Dhabi is sophisticated simplicity,” says Crump. “The people, and the culture, are warm and inviting. Everything you could ever need or want is there. Business gets done in Abu Dhabi with decisionmakers keen on making things happen. It offers the perfect blend between work and play. The Emirates Palace is seven-star luxury wrapped in tradition and class. Cipriani is an amazing place to eat, and meet friends and business partners. There is a unique energy in Abu Dhabi.”
Located just beside the Yas Marina Circuit race track, Yas Marina offers special berthing packages with both track view and non-track view berths for the annual Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, so visitors can experience all of the glamour and excitement of the Emirate’s biggest sporting and social event from the comfort of their yacht.
Superyachts to charter are booked up to a year in advance and harboured at the edge of the track circling the marina, offering the opportunity for celebrity and sports star spotting.
“With 12 months of sunshine, a knowledgeable and dedicated management team, flexible berthing options and competitively priced annual tariffs that can incorporate the F1 race weekend, Yas Marina is an attractive year-round destination for superyacht owners from around the world,” says Le Rest.
In addition to Yas Marina, Emirates Palace Marina, built especially for superyachts and opened in 2011, can hold sailing and motor yachts up to 80 metres (262ft) in length and accommodate up to 167 vessels. It is the capital’s most expensive facility, with prices ranging from about €12,500 (US$13,870) to about €137,000 (US$152,050) a berth per year.
The finance, climate, and ambition are all there. Now Abu Dhabi’s superyacht focus is on selling itself as the equal of the Côte d’Azur or Portofino when it comes to enticing the mega-wealthy to its shores. As part of the major Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, a huge amount of infrastructure is being built, with investment opportunities including the Etihad Rail expansion, and a host of new cultural offerings such as the much anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim.
Both musuems are housed on the eastern rim of Saadiyat Island, a vast €23bn (US$25.5) complex, featuring spaces designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, that seeks to turn the capital of the UAE into an international cultural hub.
Considered the richest city in the world, accounting for about two-thirds of the €360.5bn (US$400bn) UAE economy, Abu Dhabi’s property market is booming, with the process of buying a house pretty straightforward. Investments in property can earn returns of 7% net, with no rent cap.
Chris Haines, CEO and founder of Virtual Concierge, UAE’s new exclusive luxury members club, highlights Abu Dhabi’s increasingly adventurous outdoor side.
“Abu Dhabi and the UAE is a regional hub for luxury travellers. There is low rainfall and generally favourable sea conditions,”says Haines.
“If wildlife is your thing, then Sir Bani Yas Island is a must, accessible by sea or by Seawings boat plane from Abu Dhabi. You can see an abundance of marine life such as dolphins, whale sharks and dugong.”
For the less adventurous, there are opportunities for laid-back luxury. “If you are looking for white sandy beaches, the St Regis’ Nation Riviera and Hilton are right in the city centre, with beaches behind the breakwater,” says Haines.
“Park Hyatt [on Saadiyat Island] and Yas Viceroy offer options where the sea gets some good waves, and there are numerous stunning hotels, restaurants and watering holes to enjoy.”
Haines recommends Nahaam or Pearls by Michael Caines, both in Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Byblos Sur Mer in the InterContinental, and Hakkasan at Emirates Palace – with Stratos at the Le Royal Meridien being ideal for city views and sundown.
Haines also names The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, with 130 of the world’s most renowned brand outlets, Avenue at Etihad Towers, and Yas Mall as being high on the retail therapy list.
For outdoor activities, the choice includes racing at Yas Marina Circuit, the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World, dinner under the stars at the desert oasis Qasr Al Sarab, a desert driving experience, sailing on a Volvo 60 race yacht with Pindar Sailing and practicing your swing at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Yas Links.
Abu Dhabi is set to become a major exclusive yachting destination in the world, for charters and owners alike.
This article was first published in the issue 2 of YPI printed magazine "360° Magazine"