The lure of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) proved strong in March as 200 delegates from 28 countries gathered for the IAAPA Spring Leadership conference in Dubai.

david campBy David Camp, D & J International Consulting

The organisers had set out an ambitious programme of attraction visits. Delegates visited 10 in total over three days. The recommendation of making sure we were wearing comfortable footwear was also a good one.

The first day of the IAAPA Spring Leadership conference 2019 started at a pace. Team Leisure’s MD Phil Taylor took the audience on a 40-minute whistle-stop presentation of 101 projects across 7 countries. Dubai featured prominently.

Phil calculated that almost $23 billion had been invested in leisure and entertainment projects in the Emirate over the past decade. However, this will be  dwarfed by the $60 billion that is planned to be spent in Saudi Arabia in the next 10 years.

Expo 2020 targets 25 million visitors in 6 months

oman pavilion expo 2020 dubai

Next up were the team from Expo 2020, with the presentations led by Marjan Faraidooni. The Expo, which will open at 20:00 on 20th October 2020 is targeting 25 million visits for the six month event, with 70% of those being international visitors to Dubai. A new 14.5 km extension to the metro system is under construction to complement the 30,000 parking spaces being created.

Expo 2020 Dubai. United Arab Emirates. US Department of State. RFP. Request for proposalsThe Expo will feature 350 venues, with pavilions and exhibits from 190 countries under the theme of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. There will be three districts – opportunity, mobility and sustainability –each of which will contain a feature pavilion. An important aspect of the event is the legacy element and the site will become District 2020 following Expo. A number of companies have already agreed to take space within the refurbished buildings.

Clive Stephens heads up the operation planning team. He took us through some of the huge numbers that he is planning for – 300,000 guests anticipated on a peak day, 20,000 team members per shift, 180 tonnes of waste to remove each day, 60 shows, and 150,000 assets to maintain. Delegates were then taken on a bus tour of the Expo site. The team is busy developing the 238 ha site along with 45,000 construction workers working 24 hours a day.

Expo2020 Dubai Sustainabiliy Pavilion

The most visited attraction in Dubai

The next stop in the tour was IMG Worlds of Adventure where Leonard Otto and Markus Mack-Even gave delegates an overview of the vision, development history and operation of the world’s largest indoor theme park. Delegates were then taken on a guided tour of the park and given an opportunity to enjoy a couple of the attractions before heading to the final stop of the day, Global Village.

With 6 million visits anticipated for the 2018/19 season of 159 days, Global Village has grown in scale and audience each year and now provides almost 40 hectares of attractions, shops and F&B offers within a 1.6 million sqm site. Global Village is by far the most visited attraction in Dubai. It draws 70,000 guests on an average Friday. It reached a peak of 125,000 on its busiest day for a concert earlier this year.

Global Village iaapa spring event 2019 dubai

The IAAPA group were guided around Global Village by Ali Alsuwaidi, COO, and Bader Anwahi, CEO and we experienced performances of the circus show and stunt show as well as enjoying an evening meal in one of the 23 restaurants within the park.

IAAPA Spring Leadership conference 2019 at The Louvre

The second day started early as we boarded buses to head to Abu Dhabi. The first stop was The Louvre, which is as stunning in real life as in the numerous online images. The seven layers of aluminium and steel that make up the roof weigh 2,000 tonnes but provide a cool dappled environment to frame the museum exhibits and buildings.

A presentation by Saif Saeed Ghobash of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture & Tourism provided an overview of the growth in tourism to the emirate, which saw over 5 million hotel guests in 2018. The Louvre attracted an impressive 1 million visits in its first full year.

Louvre abu dhabi global village IAAPA Spring Leadership forum 2019

The group then moved on from Saadiyat Island to Yas Island. There we visited Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and the new Warner Bros. park. VP Theme Parks, Mark Gsellman,  made an impressive entry in a convertible Ferrari. He shared some background and information on the two parks. The world’s fastest roller coaster is Formula Rossa. Reaching 150 mph in 5 seconds, it was a popular ride with many of the delegates.

Batman. warner bros world abu dhabi jpgWe then travelled over to the $1 billion Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, which opened in summer 2018. It is by far the most themed of the UAE’s parks and provides 30 attractions within six immersive lands. The park was popular and achieving target volumes, although visitor numbers were not shared. Importantly, the park attracts a different audience to Ferrari World. The two parks are complementing each other rather than competing.

The long term vision of Dubai Parks

Back in Dubai on the third day we visited Dubai Parks and Resorts. Three theme parks and a water park all opened within a few months of each other. The challenges that these parks have faced have been well documented. An entertaining presentation was given by Ahmad Hussain, Deputy CEO . He talked about the long term vision for the destination. He also highlighted it’s strategic location between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

DXB dubai parks presentation iaapa spring event 2019

However, they are still struggling. The parks attracted a combined total of 2.8 million visits in 2018. This was 22% more than in 2017. However, they reported a loss of $272 million for the year. Furthermore, the planned Six Flags park has been cancelled. Although the financial performance is poor, the parks are of a good quality. The Dreamworks area within the Motiongate park is particularly well themed. Delegates were also entertained with a stunning show in the Bollywood Park.

The next stop on the tour was the one-year old Laguna Water Park in Dubai. The park covers 16 hectares and can accommodate up to 1,400 guests at one time. As Andrew Keeling, GM outlined, the location of the water park next to a public beach has helped drive attendance. The park also generates strong visitation from Dubai residents.

Laguna Water Park Louvre abu dhabi global village IAAPA Spring Leadership forum 2019

IAAPA Spring Leadership conference – interesting and informative

The final stop on the IAAPA Spring Leadership conference was to see La Perle show at Al Habtoor City. Created by Franco Dragone, it is  the first permanent show of it’s kind in Dubai. The former director of Cirque du Soleil has created an extravagant 90 minute show. It reportedly cost $400 million.

There’s a cast of 65 performing a wide range of acrobatic and dance pieces. However, it is the theatre and effects that dominate the show. This left the audience with mixed feelings. Some found the spectacle astonishing, others felt that the cast were lost within the effects. Either way it left a lasting impression on visitors and was a fitting end to the tour.

Overall the IAAPA team put on a very interesting and informative tour. If anything, there were too many sites visited so we didn’t have enough time to fully explore the attractions. However, the IAAPA Spring Leadership conference did provide a fantastic showcase of the range of attractions in the UAE. If people ran out of time they will need to go back again, and that is exactly what the leaders within Dubai and Abu Dhabi are aiming for.