Collaboration is key to the future of events in UAE

Published: Thu 31 Mar 2022, 5:42 PM

Experts say that there is plenty of potential for growth in the events industry as it moves back into live mode


Rohma Sadaqat

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Technology will continue to help evolve and enhance the journey and experience for event goers at Etihad Arena - Supplied
Technology will continue to help evolve and enhance the journey and experience for event goers at Etihad Arena - Supplied

When you have multiple stakeholders with a desire to collaborate towards a shared goal, then you can make things happen, says John Lickrish, CEO of Flash Entertainment.

Speaking to Khaleej Times on the future of events in a post-Covid-19 world, he noted that the entertainment sector had faced many challenges when working out how to stage live events, safely, while adhering to protocols. “One thing that we have all learned is that collaboration is key. If all stakeholders work together towards a shared goal, then we can make things happen.”

Take the delivery of the first UFC Fight Island on Yas Island back in July 2020, he said. This event marked the return of sport and entertainment events to the global stage, with much of the world in lockdown. An 11km square stretch of safe zone on the island was sealed off as a bubble, permitting entry only to fighters, their coaches, and personnel directly involved in the event.

He stressed that all protocols were strictly adhered to: a team of over 1,500 people was subject to stringent measures and a 14-day quarantine, with three different zones, five levels of quarantine, and over 10,000 Covid tests were undertaken over the duration of the event.

“The staging of this event was an undoubted success and we went on to host three UFC Fight Island events, giving UFC fans 12 fight nights and 144 fights total, including high-profile bouts featuring world-class talent,” Lickrish said. “Ongoing efforts such as this, and a string of successful events including the Yasalam After-Race Concert series, in conjunction with the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the 2021 Mubadala World Tennis Championship, and the FIFA Club World Cup, have led to where we are now, with the easing of capacity and social distance restrictions. Maximum capacity is now permitted for social events and sports facilities, which is great for everybody.”

All these events have reinforced Abu Dhabi’s status as a global destination, and the emirate continues to be inundated with proposals from organisations eager to bring their events to the region. “Nothing beats the thrill of live events,” Lickrish added. “We have seen it recently, as things start to return to normal, it’s fantastic to see the response of fans being able to attend their favourite events. In this region, people still place great value on that ‘physical experience’ and it’s something we are very proud to be able to offer.”

He also revealed that there is plenty of potential for growth in the events industry. “In our recent survey, we saw real appetite for events, with more than 95 per cent of respondents saying they were excited to return to live events. We have had success with digital events during the pandemic, particularly with the hosting of Flash Live; Eid Celebration, which was the region’s first fully virtual concert, but there’s no better feeling than being at a live event in a great venue surrounded by like-minded people.”

Asked about the role of technology in the creation of future large-scale events, Lickrish said that the sector is “being transformed” by technology. “Technology will continue to help evolve and enhance the journey and experience for event goers. We’ve already seen it with digital tickets, QR codes, contactless payments, thermal scanning, and more. Look at the Etihad Arena. Not only does it add a new dimension to Abu Dhabi’s year-round event capability as an 18,500 indoor capacity venue, the technology employed means fans at events can order F&B right to their seats through a dedicated app, reducing people movement and waiting times, meaning they don’t miss out on the action.”

Lickrish also expressed his excitement at the potential of Etihad Arena. The indoor adjustable smart stadium at Yas Bay in Yas Island is an innovative addition to Flash Entertainment’s portfolio, as it now offers fans year-round entertainment from music and major sporting to entertainment and lifestyle events even during the region’s traditionally hot summers.

“We also showed innovation in entering the e-sports space,” he said. “Through our partnership with Abu Dhabi Gaming, we launched a quartet of e-sports tournaments in Abu Dhabi, including a DOTA2 competition, a PUBG tournament, a Fortnite challenge, and a FIFA22 activation. This evolution will help to grow the regional gaming ecosystem.”

He added: “As part of our growth strategy, we are striving to expand further into other regional markets this year. In the UAE, in addition to our home ground of Abu Dhabi, we aim to build on our previous work in Dubai, bringing world-class entertainment to a market just over an hour away from the capital. We also aim to launch in the Saudi Arabian market - there is a clear opportunity to help develop the market with an audience increasingly interested in attending sport and entertainment events.”

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