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In at the deep end: Key factors to consider before diving into your aquarium project

palm mall oman aquarium main panel Blooloop

Adrian Tolliday, whose company TGI is representing Oman Aquarium developers, Al Tamani Entertainment, looks at the key factors to be considered before diving into an aquarium project. This is Tolliday’s third insider post on the Middle East’s biggest aquarium in the recently re-branded Mall of Muscat.

Adrian Tolliday TGI Oman

It’s exciting times here at the project site, as we are starting the installation of the specialists’ works.

By Adrian Tolliday, CEO, Tolliday Group International Ltd (TGI)

The interior walls are all up. Floors, walls, ceilings, tank supports, in fact nearly everything has been coated with epoxy paint to protect the concrete.

More importantly, specialist Aquarium manufacturers, Advanced Aquarium Technologies (AAT), are onsite, and equipment, life support systems (LSS) and tanks are being put into position.

These vital preparatory stages underpin the viability of creating an environment that is suitable for all the animals that we will have in the aquarium.

aquarium of oman logo biggest aquarium in the Middle EastEnsuring the marine creatures have all they need for healthy survival is paramount

Concurrently the fire sprinkler systems, air conditioning ducts, first fix of electrics and plumbing (collectively known as MEP works) are all being carried out, and the ground floor, where the plant rooms and quarantine are located, has almost been completed.

Over the next few months, the waterproofing of all the concrete tanks will be completed, including the main tank’.and to give you an idea of size, that is over 3000 square metres of tank walls and floors to be covered. After this, the internal life support system pipework can be installed, followed by the artistry of the theming works. There is still a long way to go before the first fish moves into its new home!

But, what else has to be considered before you invest a lot of money into building an aquarium in the first place?

aat sand filters at oman aquarium palm mall
Sand filters from Advanced Aquarium Technologies (AAT)

So, many factors are at work here. Location, size, market conditions, competing attractions, desired return on investment and why do you want to build it? I will attempt to explain the huge amount of decision-making that goes into this process and relate it specifically to our project.

From the outset you have to ask: ‘So, what does success look like?’

Is it that you make a return on investment in under 4 years? Or, is that you have a world class education programme? Would 500,000 visitors be classed as successful? Or, would conducting serious conservation work look better in the eyes of the stakeholders? What does the public want? You generally find that it is a mix of all of these things, with different stakeholders having different priorities. Therefore the size, design and the purpose of the aquarium can be so different on each project.

Why build Oman Aquarium? It is simple. H.E. Mahmoud Al Jarwani, Chairman of Al Jarwani Group, had a dream, a vision, a goal to develop the best shopping mall for Oman. The great thing about H.E. Al Jarwani is that he didn’t just have the idea, he followed through on his dream to make it a reality.

workman in hardhat installing tanks at oman aquarium

So, as part of the research into “how to create the best Mall in Oman’, the Al Jarwani team visited many shopping malls. They studied them and looked at the USP’s of some of the most successful. It was clear that Palm Mall, as it is known, should contain an aquarium. But, not only should it have an aquarium, it should have Oman’s first Snow Park, a large family entertainment centre, great food and beverage and activities to draw people to the mall year round.

An aquarium the people of Oman will be proud of

In this way, our Chairman could determine what he meant by a successful Oman Aquarium – he wanted something that the people of Oman will be proud of. Key factors were:

An education programme that delights and informs visitors about Oman marine life

It should teaches the importance of conservation and sustainability

Visitors should leave knowing more about Omani culture and marine heritage

Visitors can have fun and have exciting and lasting experiences

Last, but by no means least, it should be economically viable.

oman aquarium palm mall

Now we know why Al Jarwani wanted Oman Aquarium, the next step was to determine how big it should be, what it should have in it, and how much budget to assign to the development’.how do we make sure the business plan works?

Make sure your budget matches your vision

There are so many factors to consider when creating this first business plan. That is why you need a Feasibility Study. It makes sure your budget matches your vision and that you drive towards success in a practical way.

To assess the viability in financial terms, you first look at the population dynamics, ie. who the potential visitor is and where do they come from? How many people live in the immediate area, say, within 30 minutes drive? Then, you look for population numbers in areas further away. It is a natural assumption that you will attract a higher percentage of people within a 20 mile radius than from a 100 mile radius.

Advanced Aquarium Technologies (AAT) foam fractionator
Advanced Aquarium Technologies (AAT) foam fractionators

Knowing the potential visitor numbers

Extensive formulae are used to predict how many people will visit. You also need to take into consideration the number of tourists who might come. Knowing the potential visitor numbers helps develop the assumed revenue that can be generated each year. From those numbers, mixed with the desired return on investment requirements, you can start to shape the potential size and budget of the project.

A huge amount of research has to take place to get the required raw data needed to develop the assumptions. This whole process is known as the Feasibility Study. It’s something that we always do for every project to ensure financial success as well as fulfilling the vision.

The visitor experience is key

The outputs of this process for Oman Aquarium were used to build the concept and develop the design. What is great about Oman Aquarium is that H.E. Al Jarwani puts a great importance on education, conservation, heritage and culture.

Exit Cafe TGI Oman
Exit Aquarium Cafe

What the people experience when they come to Oman Aquarium is paramount. It was not designed to be a solely commercial entity, but this element also needs to be successful. It was developed to have a sensible ROI and it needs to function as any successful business should.

Therefore, we achieved a design that sees Oman Aquarium spanning three floors of the mall, over 8000 SQM, with 50+ aquarium exhibits, and an Oman ocean tank that holds nearly 2 million litres of water. The storyline is quintessentially Omani, as the visitor follows the story of the great 15th century Sea explorer ‘ Ahmad Ibn Majid.

We expect over 400,000 visitors per year ‘ which in turn means there is a potential of 400,000 more citizens who, from visiting Oman Aquarium, will play a more active role in conserving our precious marine environment ‘ and have lots of fun on the way!

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