IN A FLASH

Abu Dhabi 2020 | ENTERTAINMENT, CULTURE & SPORTS | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to John Lickrish, CEO of Flash, on entertainment in Abu Dhabi, competition, and collaborations with the government.

To what extent does Flash contribute to the development of Abu Dhabi as a major entertainment hub?

Flash is the events arm of the Government of Abu Dhabi, but we operate under a private-sector mandate, so commerciality is our number one priority. We are involved in conceptualizing events from production, ticket sales, marketing, communications, and backend support. Flash is incredibly diverse within its delivery scope, meaning we can oversee a Disney show, a Papal visit, a Coldplay concert or the 2019 Asian Cup football tournament. We produced several major events back-to-back throughout 2018. The Pope's visit in early 2019 was attended by over 150,000 people and was the 2nd biggest single gathering in the UAE's history only unification day in 1972 was larger. Flash also executed the Asian Cup, the biggest sporting event to hit the Middle East. Notably, we even beat Australia, the previous host, in terms of attendance with over 750,000 spectators.

How do events raise the profile of Abu Dhabi, and what effect does this have on the overall economy?

When presented an event opportunity, we look at how this will impact the profile of Abu Dhabi and the perception of the Middle East throughout the world. Events and activities bring a lot of attention to the UAE, and when outsiders see a Coldplay or a George Michael show it shatters misconceptions about the Middle East. Moreover, these events provide considerable economic benefits on the back of direct revenues, services, and support systems, as well as the infrastructure that needs to be in place to deliver them. Visitors are encouraged to come to the UAE, and residents have more opportunities to enjoy these events at home. These are all the critical factors for our operation, and they help to pave the way for us to grow in a broader, more sophisticated way.

How have local consumer expectations evolved since the inception of Flash, and how do you differentiate Flash from competitors?

There is healthy competition in the market, and Flash's aim is to serve as a baseline in the sector. Mainly, we want the competition to emulate what we are doing, and we want to ensure that we protect the image of the city and the country by delivering events at an international standard. In short, there should be no difference between events held in Abu Dhabi, New York, or London. We are working hard on transportation infrastructure and customer experience more than other event companies. This differentiates us in the market. We aim to build Flash as a premium brand. We are not here to control the sector– only to compete with other private sector companies. Flash bids for contracts just like every other company.

Do you believe the UAE can act as a template for other countries in the region looking to expand their entertainment offerings and loosen restrictions?

One of the biggest obstacles for promoters in the Middle East is bringing content from abroad to the region, which can be quite isolated from other parts of the world at times. More artists passing through places like the UAE will benefit promoters and consumers across the region as a whole. Hopefully, we will see the rise of more regional corporate partners and brand sponsors that can help with the commercial viability of the sector and build a stronger regional market. Within the UAE, there are still growth opportunities, for example in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, a market that has yet to be fully serviced.

In your experience, what are some of the ways private sector players can collaborate with the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT)?

Flash has worked closely with the DCT on several projects; our objectives align with theirs in many strategic areas as, ultimately, we wish to bring positive attention to Abu Dhabi and drive visitors. We are exploring new opportunities and looking at combined programs to increase the length of stay for visitors that come to Abu Dhabi for specific events. At present, a visitor can plan for activities that span several days, including concerts, mosques, museums, Formula One, tennis, and cultural events. Moreover, we can produce many ancillary events around major international properties while also highlighting Abu Dhabi's unique historical, cultural, and natural attractions.

What is your outlook for growth opportunities in the sector?

We are pleased with Flash's growth and are looking for ways to expand. We want to make sure we can sustain a positive relationship with our home city and the residents of the UAE. We are also more thoughtful and deliberate in our planning when looking at our long-term goals in the Saudi market. At the same time, we are looking at horizontal integration for some of our supply chains and how we can increase those to provide more value to our customers through our corporate partners and sponsors.