Dubai is poised for theme park boom
Emirate targets 20 million visitors by 2020.
With demand for leisure tourism on the rise, Dubai's first major theme parks are expected to prove a significant draw when they open for business later this year.
Leisure and entertainment (L&E) represents an important segment of Dubai's tourism industry, with theme parks in particular seen as a high-growth industry due to their wide appeal.
Strong client association with media tie-ins and little in the way of regional competition should put these and other attractions on a sound footing as the emirate continues efforts to increase visitor numbers from 14.2 million in 2015 to 20 million by 2020, in addition to the 25 million visitors anticipated during the six-month World Expo 2020.
"Dubai is broadening its tourism offering to make it more appealing to different segments," Sanjay Manchanda, CEO of real estate developer Nakheel, told OBG. "Younger travellers may have less to spend on accommodation but will be drawn to other experiences on offer, while families are increasingly attracted by the growing number of theme parks and other attractions." In a report published last year, consultancy PwC concluded that Dubai and the broader UAE had the potential to compete with the likes of Orlando, Florida as a global theme park destination.
"The country has recognised that it needs to continue investment and focus on the quality of attractions, as well as appealing to a diverse visitor base from across the world," the report said.
Having already channelled funds into developing transport links, accommodation, and the food and beverage sector, the country has laid much of the necessary groundwork to support an expanding L&E segment, capable of attracting up to 45 million visitors by 2021, according to PwC.
The fun factor
The raft of attractions taking shape in the emirate includes Dubai Parks and Resorts, an integrated theme park resort.
Once completed, Dubai Parks and Resorts will be the region's largest year-round, theme park resort destination, worth more than Dh10.5 billion ($2.86 billion). It will offer a variety of attractions in Motiongate Dubai, a Hollywood movie-inspired theme park; Bollywood Parks Dubai, the first theme park based on the sights and sounds of Bollywood; as well as Legoland Dubai and Legoland Water Park, the region's first water park catering to families with children ages 2-12.
On track to open in October 2016, the development will feature more than 100 rides and attractions, supported by a resort hotel, eateries and retail outlets. Dubai Parks and Resorts is targeting 6.7 million ticketed visitors and $650 million in revenue in 2017, its first full year of operations.
"Theme parks and entertainment destinations are integral to attracting more families to the region as part of the emirate's strategic roadmap for the sector, Tourism Vision 2020," Raed Kajoor Al Nuaimi, CEO of Dubai Parks and Resorts, told OBG.
Other theme parks opening this year include the IMG Worlds of Adventure, which is owned by IMG Theme Park LLC. The theme park will stretch over 1.5 million square feet, which will make it the largest indoor theme park in the world.
Like Dubai Parks and Resorts, IMG Worlds of Adventure also has a strong media connection through partnerships with entertainment giants Marvel and Cartoon Network for a range of superheroes and animated characters that will be featured in the theme park.
According to Abdul Rahman Falaknaz, chairman of International Expo Consults (IEC), utilising themes from movie franchises will give Dubai's new entertainment hubs a useful ready-made connection with their client base. As per IEC estimates, Dubai's theme parks could generate around $5bn in annual revenue by 2020.
Dubai Safari Park, a 119-ha zoo, is also expected to open by mid-2016. The Dh150 million ($40.8m) development will house close to 1000 animals, with more than 350 species of rare and endangered animals, Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of Dubai Municipality, told local press in mid-January.
Dubai's strategic location and a lack of regional competition in the theme park segment should also give the emirate an edge, according to Lennard Otto, CEO of IMG Worlds of Adventure.
"One of Dubai's key differentiating factors is its location," he told OBG. "Until now, large-scale, themed entertainment parks were only available in other parts of the world for those prepared to travel long distances."
L&E industry growth should also further support a drive to improve global accessibility at Dubai International Airport - already the busiest airport in the world by international passenger numbers, thanks largely to the expansion of Emirates airlines.
The writer is managing editor for the Middle East at Oxford Business Group. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.