International property development poses unique challenges, especially as the pandemic has impacted international travel and local foot traffic. Non-local development companies in particular need reliable ground truth data to scope new sites abroad and target promising commercial opportunities.
Why risk development in areas with no signs of pandemic recovery?
Yas Island in Abu Dhabi is an example of commercial development done right. The area boasts an incredible array of tourist venues, including the F1 track where the annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held every December, the Yas Mall, Ferrari World, Warner Brothers World, and many more.
Expansion of development on Yas Island depends on understanding pandemic recovery and how large-scale events like the Grand Prix may or may not boost local traffic to neighboring venues.
Scoping literal feet on the ground doesn't require expensive or privacy-risky data. Aggregated international data shows foot traffic trends on Yas Island back to January 2019:
Like almost all travel destinations, the pandemic impacted visitation trends to Yas Island. 2021 data, however, suggests a promising recovery. In fact:
Foot traffic at select venues was actually 54% higher in December 2021 than levels seen for the same month in pre-pandemic 2019.
The annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the likely traffic driver for this period. Travel to Abu Dhabi is recommended between April to May and for the fall/winter periods starting in September. The index shows a slight ramp in traffic starting in May 2020, with peaks increasing after September in alignment with these tourism trends.
Creating custom POIs across the island allows for isolation of individual locations like the 2.5 million square foot Yas Mall adjacent to the F1 track, and the W Hotel, which sits in the middle of the F1 track and advertises as an optimal bird's eye venue for watching the race:
It's apparent Yas Mall and the W Hotel share traffic at the time of the Grand Prix. Yas Mall wins the proportional share of local traffic, however, with a normalized traffic index value of over 80 compared to the W's 25.
Yas Mall's sprawling 2.5 million square foot development is clearly an epicenter of local traffic.
Etihad Arena, which opened in January 2021, saw its highest traffic levels in June with a likely Grand Prix-associated spike in visitation for December 2021. Warner Brothers World did not see a traffic boost from the race, but the opening of its themed hotel, WB Hotel, in November drew its highest numbers post-pandemic with a near-equal visitation level in March 2022 that aligned with "Batman Season" at the park:
While traffic indexes proof out local interest in openings and events, it's also important to scope the audience for these venues.
Where is traffic coming from locally and abroad, and how might development cater to these populations through advertising, transportation infrastructure, or venue offerings?
This can be accomplished through examination of origin locations for visitors to Yas Island as seen in the static maps below. The color scale represents fraction of visitors from each hexagon, with the hexagons representing a standard grid location equal to .01 square kilometers of space. Darker purple indicates a higher percentage of visit origins from that area:
For the local region around Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the 2019 period shows distributed visitor origins around each metro area and the distant city of Al Ain. 2020 brought a higher fraction of Abu Dhabi locals to Yas Island, fewer people overall from Dubai, and a slightly larger distribution of people from Al Ain.
By 2021, visitation from Dubai and Al Ain is reduced compared to prior years, but Abu Dhabi proper and the surrounding metro area appear to draw a higher percentage of visitation to compensate.
Interestingly, 2021 brought a new contingent of visitors to Yas Island from the Sao Paulo, Brazil region:
This provides an opportunity for developers to understand the scope of global travel to their site of interest as well as establish where visitors originate locally and how large and small external events impact overall travel. The pandemic clearly limited travel from outside the region.
Widespread visitation from the United States and Mexico prior to the pandemic shrank to a single New York-based origin by 2021. Europe also saw shrinking visitation post-pandemic.
Tracking the vitality of these origin locations over 2022 will be essential to deciding which developments to promote and where. South America is clearly a growing region of visitation for Abu Dhabi that developers should keep in mind when evaluating travel corridors and level of interest.
Watch the videos below to view year-by-year origin change across the world.
North America Origin Locations
South America Origin Locations
Europe Origin Locations
Middle East Origin Locations
Abu Dhabi-Dubai Origin Locations
+ Visitation counts for Yas Island in Abu Dhabi are not yet at pre-pandemic levels, but this is likely to reverse based on current promising trends. Continuation of major events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will boost traffic, along with other local openings like this year's Sea World Abu Dhabi unveiling.
+ This growing area of development is suffering from North American and European visitation losses, but there is an expanding pocket of visitation from the Sao Paulo, Brazil region that may provide useful insight for property developers looking to profile future visitors.
+ Yas Island visitation recovery is benefitting from a higher rate of local traffic from Abu Dhabi and surrounding areas. Traffic from Dubai and the city of Al Ain dwindled post-pandemic, and there is opportunity to rekindle consumer interest in those regions for 2022.
International data is available for 80+ countries. Our aggregation covers number of devices seen across the globe, as well as indexed traffic as visualized above and in our recent piece on international WeWork locations.