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Render of Falcons Flight ride at Six Flags Qiddiya Intamin ride

COVID-19 will shape attractions trends across the world in 2021

2020 presented many challenges for the global attractions industry. Now, blooloop gains some expert insights into trends to watch for 2021.

Despite a difficult year, many are now looking to the future with a positive attitude. In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly continue to have an impact, but will also help to shape some of the attractions trends than we can expect over the coming year.

To get an overview of how the crisis has affected the attractions market around the world and what trends will be key moving forward, blooloop spoke to a panel of experts.

Michael Collins LDP
Michael Collins

Yael Coifman and Michael Collins, Senior Partners at Leisure Development Partners (LDP), a leading economics and strategy consultant, explored the European and Middle Eastern markets. Christian Aaen, Principal/Partner at Entertainment + Culture Advisors (ECA), an international advisory firm, focused on the Asian region.

In addition to this, Philip Shepherd, Chairman of International Venue Management, global operational management specialists, gave us some insight into the Middle East.

Impact of COVID on European and North American markets

Many of the challenges that businesses have faced during the pandemic, as well as many of the trends and opportunities, are common to both the European and North American markets. Therefore, the LDP panellists talked about these two markets together:

“Both sides of the pond, attractions are facing the same challenges of reduced capacity,” says Collins. “Clearly, that has an impact on overall revenues.”

six flags frontier city health and safety coronavirus
Reduced capacity at Six Flags Frontier City

“We’ve started to get some good information about what’s going on, both in the US and in Europe. And how much businesses have been able to contain their operating expenses is a huge part of how successful they’ve been in turning a profit this season.

“In Europe, some governments have offered pretty exceptional schemes to support cover for staff in terms of furlough packages and so on. So, there’s a little bit of an unlevel playing field in that regard.

“Speaking to park operators in Europe, a lot of them had good seasons, barring the time they were closed,” adds Coifman. “Because with the ability of pre-booking, the demand is flattened out. It’s shifted to different times and days, flattening throughout the week.”

Clear communication 

Yael Coifman LDP
Yael Coifman

“The second thing that has worked well for a lot of the European Park operators is they have been [giving] very clear communication on their COVID policies,” says Coifman. “The policy might change from country to country, or from park to park. But it’s always been communicated to the guests before they visit. As a result, a lot of people have felt a lot safer going back to parks when they reopened.

“Over in the US, except Disney and Universal in Orlando, we’ve heard that many regional parks have not been able to approach their capacity limits. Some have been down at 10% capacity or thereabouts,” says Collins.

“Some have also suffered with pre-bookings. So, it looks like they’re going to have a great week or a great month, relative to the prior one, and then there are cancellations at the last minute. So, those pre-bookings not following through to actual visitation is causing some aggravation.

“One interesting upside that we’ve seen, both sides of the pond, is increased in retail per capita spend,” says Coifman. “Parks of different sizes have all said that, when guests are there, they’re spending more on retail than they did a year ago, for example.

“That is partially attributed to pent up demand because people weren’t able to go out for a while, but also perhaps because of the lower capacity. It’s a more comfortable shopping environment.”

Delayed projects

“In both Europe and North America, there are quite a few projects that have been put on hold,” says Coifman. “For instance, LEGOLAND New York, which was meant to open summer 2020 but has now been postponed till summer 2021. A lot of these attractions will open when they think the market is ready. Because there’s no reason to take on the risk of staff costs before they know they can cover them.”

Legoland new york is one of the attractions delayed due to coronavirus

“Unfortunately, there have been some casualties of COVID so far, and there may be more,” says Collins. “With those kinds of challenges also comes an opportunity for others. So we anticipate a period of some consolidation and opportunities for groups to buy. Already, SeaWorld has publicly stated their interest in acquisition in Europe and Looping bought into Drayton Manor.”

See also: When disaster strikes, how do leisure & attractions stage a comeback?

The trend for digital content

“The final area that we wanted to touch on concerning COVID-19 is the rise in streaming, online shopping and online gaming. As people were stuck in lockdown they had to look for other forms of entertainment,” says Coifman.

netflix-logo attractions trends 2021

“For example, Netflix got 16 million new user subscriptions just in the first quarter of 2020. Disney+ launched in November 2019 and reached 60.5 million by August. That was their five-year target. And they did it in eight months.

“It’s important that attractions look at this in-home entertainment as another form of competition. Yes, people want to leave, but they also have more competition at home. So it’ll be a struggle to get people off the sofa.”

“But the positive side to that is there is also an opportunity,” says Collins. “Online entertainment and online shopping are having a massive impact, not just on attractions but on retail. And retail was already having a tough time. Attractions operators and developers were already stepping into the fray there, to bring location-based entertainment into malls and so on. And that opportunity is only going to grow for this industry.”

Following this summary, LDP’s analysts also highlighted a few key attractions trends to watch on both sides of the pond in 2021, some originating from the US and some from Europe.

“The first one is IP, Intellectual Property,” says Coifman. “It isn’t new, we’ve seen it for years in theme parks. And now we’re seeing it emerge more in other forms of entertainment, such as family entertainment centres, water parks, cafes and hotels.

“In the UK, we’ve seen Aardman Animations’ Shaun the Sheep IP go into a farm park. And in the US, there is DreamWorks Water Park at American Dream. So there’s a growth, not just in IP in general, but in the locations that it’s going into.”

young guest dreamworks water park
DreamWorks Water Park

Collins says that there is also growth in the different types of IP:

“Now we’re seeing things like sports clubs enter into that market. Real Madrid is taking the brand into China with an attraction concept that we worked on there. PortAventura has also announced the work that they’re doing to create a football-themed area for the park.

Bear Grylls is another example. He did a deal with Merlin to bring his name to an adventure and extreme sports attraction in Birmingham. So we’re seeing real variety in the types of licencing deals that have been done and that are coming into attractions of all scales.”

A new type of IP

“We are also seeing consumer products turning themselves into IPs,” says Coifman. “Things that would not have been seen as an IP before are now blending attractions and retail. Lego Discovery Centres did this years ago, they were one of the first to turn a consumer product into an IP and an attraction. But we’ve also seen it more recently.”

egoland-discovery-centre-boston attractions trends 2021
Legoland Discovery Center, Boston

“For instance, Mattel’s location-based entertainment concepts, as well as retail stores that are becoming more and more experiential, like the M&M store and others. We’re seeing a transition of what normally would have been just a retail product into an actual IP.”

Edutainment

“Edutainment has been prevalent in Europe for some time, and in the rest of the world,” says Collins. “For instance, Kidzania, which started in Mexico and can now be found in various parts of the globe.”

kidzania health and safety
KidZania

“We’re aware of several other really strong edutainment brands and concepts heading into the US market where, typically, edutainment has been more around science museums and more traditional museum experiences, targeting kids and younger guests. I think we’re going to see a real proliferation of new concepts in North America.”

Evolving brand centres

“Another area where we’ve seen a lot of change recently, both in Europe and North America, is the reinvention of brand centres,” says Coifman. “Brand centres have been around for a while and they are, more often than not, a way to provide an ability for a brand to showcase its history.

“But now there is an upsurge of people reinventing their brand centres with more immersive experiences. It’s not just exhibits and the story of the brand, it’s pulling people into the story, into the manufacturing process and making it much more of an attraction rather than a museum-type experience.”

Cointreau Distillery bottles display
Cointreau Distillery

“Another factor with brand centres is that we’re starting to see them be unshackled from their headquarters for that factory,” says Collins. “While it’s fantastic to have that kind of authenticity of a factory visit, it can also be compelling to be where your audience is, to be where resident populations are dense, or where there’s high tourist traffic.

“We’re starting to see now these kinds of outpost brand homes come into major tourist zones.”

Themed accommodation 

“The other trend that we’ve seen a lot of, especially in the last couple of years, is what we’re calling accommodation experiences,” says Coifman. “Attraction hotels have been around for a while, but this is different. In this case, the overnight stay itself is the experience. It’s not just accommodation as a way to access an adjacent theme park or water park.”

La Fleche Zoo themed accomodation
La Fleche Zoo, image by Stéphane Le Ludec

“La Fleche zoo in France was one of the pioneers of this experience. You wake up, you see a polar bear looking in your window. That itself is the experience.

“We’re seeing more examples of this popping up. Not just wildlife attractions, which does lend itself perfectly to this, but also some IP-based projects and other things, like Live Like a Pirate in Amsterdam.

“This is taking off strongly in Europe, and we expect it to start taking off in the US too because they can be incredibly lucrative.”

Artainment

“Artainment, that fusion of arts and entertainment is also something that has taken off in the US particularly, with people like Meow Wolf and so on,” says Collins. “There are some great concepts that are permanent. There are also some great touring exhibits, fusing art and entertainment and doing very well.”

Atelier des Lumieres
Atelier des Lumières

“We’ve seen some interest of course in this space in Europe, with Atelier des Lumières in France and so on. But it hasn’t developed to the same degree yet that it has in North America. We certainly anticipate that it will do so.”

Eat and compete

“Another attraction trend to watch in 2021 is competitive socialising,” says Coifman. “The blending of games with drinking and dining has been around for a while. There were some leaders in the industry in the US, for instance, Dave & Buster’s. But this is taking it to the next level again. This is the reinvigorated competitive socialising – in this case, we’re looking specifically at a company called Flight Club.”

“The key thing here is they have very heavy theming and very high-quality food and beverage. In a lot of cases, they are in trendy expensive locations around the CBD. That way, they’re able to leverage office demand during the week and then the more traditional individual attraction audiences over the weekend. Other examples are Putt Shack, Swingers and Bounce. They’ve become very strong, not just in the UK but all over Europe.

“In the US, of course, there are concepts that fuse great food and beverage with sports and activities where there’s that competitive edge,” says Collins. “Topgolf has done brilliantly in the US. One of the key differences with these concepts is the space they take. These are slotting into regular retail or restaurant size units and high street locations.”

Next-gen water parks

“The final key trend we wanted to touch on was the next generation of indoor water parks,” says Coifman. “This we’ve seen a lot of in Europe to date. They have existed in the US for years, for instance with Kalahari. And in Europe, with places like Centre Parcs and Alton Towers as early adopters. But those were the old school.”

People enjoying Rulantica
Rulantica, Europa-Park

“What we’re seeing now is a lot more hunger it and for a storyline that is actively integrated throughout the entire water park. This is the next generation of the indoor water park. For instance, at Rulantica, they have thought through an entire theme that feeds into the indoor water park and hotel.”

Projects to watch

Heading into 2021, there are some exciting new projects in the pipeline that embody a lot of these key attractions trends that LDP have identified, as Coifman explains:

“One of these fits into that new type of brand centre is the new Johnnie Walker experience. This is a flagship experience which is going on the high street in Edinburgh.”

johnnie walker visitor experience attractions trends 2021
Johnnie Walker Experience

“There’s no distillery, there is no authenticity, and that would have been a challenge in the past. But they’re investing £185 million to convert what used to be a former department store. Part of the goal here is to boost tourism and brand loyalty, and specifically to bring tourists to a part of town that they might not have gone to otherwise. It is part of a strategy to spread out tourism in what is already a very popular city.

“The other key strategy is that once people are there, as their flagship, they can then send visitors to their more remote locations, to the actual distilleries that are associated with Johnnie Walker.”

“The London Resort is also moving forward with some great IP from film and TV,” says Collins. “This will blend many of those trends that we discussed earlier, in terms of creating a destination with fantastic hospitality, pulling in fantastic hospitality, bringing great themes into retail, dining and entertainment. It’s pulling on a lot of key trends in the industry right now. We certainly hope to see it open in the not too distant future.”

The London Resort the kindgom themed land and castle
The London Resort

“And then AREA15 in Las Vegas is blending all these attractions trends for 2021 that we’ve spoken about. There is fantastic food and beverage that reflects on that trend of competitive socialising. There’s high tech stuff, there is artainment and experiential retail going in there. It’s a great example of a lot of emerging trends and experiences in the industry.”

Christian Aaen
Christian Aaen

Following LDP’s insights into the European and North American markets, Christian Aaen from ECA gives a snapshot of the key markets in Asia, touching upon some of the impacts of COVID-19 as well as exploring a few key development trends in the region:

“In terms of Asia Pacific, it’s a very large and diverse region. There is a large population base and very different income levels in different countries. The region has been urbanising fast, but there’s also a pretty high rural population in certain markets.

“The biggest markets by far are China, India and Indonesia, in terms of scale for attraction development.”

The effects of COVID 

“The region has gone through a kind of a similar cycle to European countries,” says Aaen. Some countries have done better than others. But in terms of the impact, there has been quite an adverse impact. Attendance and revenue dropped, there was a 50 to 90% decline, in the short term.

“Hopefully now things are getting better. But it comes down to a specific country and market location. China is re-emerging quite quickly, benefiting from a large population base. Certain markets that are more dependent on international tourism, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, will take a little bit longer to come back.”

Reduced theme park capacity shanghai disney
Reduced capacity at Shanghai Disneyland

“A lot of governments in Asia Pacific are giving incentives. For example, subsidised tickets. That helps to boost and build back visitation and confidence in the market.”

Looking ahead to key attractions trends for 2021, Aaen says:

“In terms of some of the key development trends, we’ve seen a lot of investment and growth in Asia Pacific over the last 10 years. It’s been led by some of the more mature markets, such as Japan, Korea and Australia. In China, there has been growth in domestic theme park operators, and also international brands coming in, like Shanghai Disney.

“Chimelong has made major investments into its parks in southern China, and also some of the regional players like OCT and Fantawild are expanding in the domestic market.”

Mianyang Fantawild Oriental Heritage Park
Mianyang Fantawild Oriental Heritage Park

“In terms of some of the key product categories, we’re still seeing theme park destinations and multiple gates. But it’s going from that one day visit to multi-day stays, having that integrated, themed accommodation.

“We’re also seeing a lot of LBE indoor attractions, continuing that same trend in the US and Europe. There is a cultural habit of people in Asia to go into shopping malls. They are kind of the urban city centre. So it makes sense to enhance that to more experience-based. There’s already a very strong focus on food and beverage offerings in malls in Asia.”

“We’ve also seen continued investment and expansion into VR/AR, with some expensive IP and some rethinking of certain concepts in the VR space. Also, we’re seeing more projects in the adventure sports IP category, and football clubs or NBA as well.”

manchester united experience centre china attractions trends 2021
Manchester United Experience Centre

“Another key attractions trend for 2021 is, similar to Europe and the US, brand homes and corporate visitor centres. That is a growing niche category in Asia. We have seen a lot more focus on that space in the last couple of years. Particularly in China.

“We’re also seeing esports. There’s a lot of interest, in China in particular, in online gaming and taking that into a physical out of home entertainment space. And then finally, there is a lot of programming of pop up and immersive experiences.”

Shifting preferences

“In terms of outlook, we’re seeing a continued impact of COVID-19 during 2020-21,” says Aaen. “There will be, in the short term, some kind of shift in the travel patterns and preferences, to build up the consumer confidence. So we think it could last into 2022 and 2023 at a certain kind of percentage of 2019, as we build up safety and comfort levels.

There could be some consolidation of major players, developers and operators into bigger groups

“Possibly by 2023 or 2024, we would expect more of a rebound to what we were seeing in 2018 and 2019. So, this has some implications of course for the attractions industry in Asia. There could be some consolidation of major players, developers and operators into bigger groups.

“At the same time, we will probably see more of the indoor, lower CapEx/scalable projects. This is in comparison with the high investment mega parks that can take 5-10 plus years to build. So keep focused on the urban mixed-use experience projects.”

Integrated resorts and luxury experiences

“Another key attraction trend we are seeing in Asia going into 2021, one that started in Singapore with Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, is the integrated resort,” says Aaen. “In Japan, there’s a big effort, over the last more than five years, on bringing in three integrated resorts. This is a very high investment, between five and $10 billion. They will have a key focus on leisure, art and entertainment,” says Aaen.

Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands

“South Korea is also looking at that model, but more for international tourism, as are the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.

“At the same time, we’re also seeing developers and operators looking at more premium experiences, high price, low capacity. There is a demand for more immersive experiences, and also a focus on outdoor settings.

“In summary, Asia is showing us that post-COVID-19 there is a reason for optimism. There is still strong demand looking ahead.”

Projects to watch in Asia

Aaen also highlighted some pipeline projects to watch in Asia as we head into 2021 that are aligned with some of these key attractions trends.

These include SkyCity, a mixed-use entertainment retail destination to open in 2023-24, as well as the new Ocean Park indoor water park coming soon, both in Hong Kong, and a new theme park and destination resort outside Seoul in South Korea, planned for 2026, which is being developed by the Shinsegae Group.

Screenshot of Yoshi's ride vehicle from Super Nintendo World website
Super Nintendo World

“In Southeast Asia, Singapore is committing to reinvesting into Marina Bay Sands and also Sentosa Universal Studios,” continues Aaen. “In Vietnam, we are seeing domestic operators like Sun Group and Vinpearl investing in waterparks first, and amusement parks, surf parks and indoor LBE.

“Universal Beijing will have a major positive impact in China, in terms of raising the bar for the industry. Over in Japan, there is a major expansion underway for Super Nintendo World. It’s a great IP, very strong in Japan and internationally.”

Expanding brands 

“In addition, Merlin Entertainments is continuing to expand. We’ve been quite busy with them in Asia over the last 10 years. We’re seeing the Legoland Korea project coming up in 2022-23, just outside Seoul. In China, Merlin has a keen focus on expanding the LEGOLAND Park brand to at least five locations. Those will be part of integrated theme park destinations with a key focus on extending the length of stay as well.”

Legoland Korea wil be the first Lego theme park to feature a Legoland Hotel over the entrance attractions trends 2021

“In the brand experience category, in China, there is a key project coming up next year. This is the Paris-based Pernod Ricard,” says Aaen. “It will be the first whiskey distillery attraction, located outside Chengdu in western China, next to a beautiful scenic site called Mount Emei.

“It will be a working production site because of the fresh air and the great water quality in that area. And it will have a visitor facing component and tour as well, specifically made for the China market. We think that brand experience trend will continue in other countries in Asia too.

“Another key project is with the European operator Eden Project, coming up in Qingdao in Shandong Province. This is part of almost like a new city, as the key anchor for that project. The total project will have a population of around 250,000 people over 15 years. It will have water and sustainability as a key theme. We think this will be quite an important project to showcase sustainability in China as well.

“Puy du Fou is also expanding internationally. They went to Spain in 2019, and now we’ve been working with them on a project by the Great Wall in Hebei Province. That will have cultural shows and a night-time spectacular, similar to the attraction in France.”

International IP

“In keeping with these attractions trends for 2021, another key project that’s coming up is Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo – The Making of Harry Potter,” says Aaen. “Japan is probably one of the best markets in terms of international IP so we think it’s a great fit. We have Universal Studios in Osaka, but this will be a different product, in the walkthrough studio tour category. That’s coming up in 2023.

“And then finally in Hong Kong, we have a major new project coming up with K11 and New World Development. The SkyCity project by the Hong Kong airport will have a pretty high percentage dedicated to leisure, entertainment and experiences. We expect six to eight attractions to be part of this project.”

Canopy Bridge Jewel Changi Airport attractions trends 2021
Jewel Changi Airport

“Several international brands will be part of it. And we think this will set a trend for other projects in the region. This follows what’s been happening in Singapore at Changi Airport, with more experience-based projects.”

Philip Shepherd IVM
Philip Shepherd

Finally, Philip Shepherd gives us an insight into how the pandemic has affected the Middle East attractions market, and what trends to watch in 2021:

“The Middle East is a less mature market than the others and it’s enormously diverse. Here, I’ll focus on what’s going on in the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council. The attractions market was only kicking off there in the last decade, principally led by Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

“Some of these trends haven’t developed in this market quite so much. But, like everyone else, COVID has had a big impact. There’s only one silver lining for many of them. That is the fact that it happened just as the summer season was beginning to wind down.

“Unlike the Asian experience, where people have had these pandemics before and adapted quite quickly, the Middle East went into quite a hard, long lockdown. They only began to reopen as we came into the autumn and winter season. Tourists are beginning to be encouraged to return but it’s a challenge because of the need to quarantine.”

Postponed projects 

“The UAE’s main parks, like Dubai Parks and Resorts, IMG, Warner Brothers, actually pre-COVID had a challenge in penetrating the tourist market still. There is quite a good domestic usage but the plans are heavily dependent on getting to the tourists. And so, for those parks, the jury is still out on how they can get the visitor numbers. They will rely on large tourism numbers coming.

“Many plans in the UAE have been mothballed until the tourism numbers return. Ain Dubai, the largest Ferris wheel in the world, is pretty much built. Madame Tussauds is still scheduled to open soon. And being built at the moment is SeaWorld Abu Dhabi.”

Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai which is now postponed to 2021
Expo 2020 Dubai

“Looking at attractions trends in the UAE, the focus is likely to be on restoring the traditional sun and sand tourism in 2021, as well as on Expo 2020. There were huge amounts of investment in building the infrastructure in Dubai and huge expectations of the tourist uplift that Expo 2020 would have brought. It is now postponed till next year. So lots of focus is going to be put on making that a success.”

Vision 2030

Saudi Vision-2030

“Vision 2030 began two or three years ago. This is the platform around which the country is rallying as it’s looking to diversify from its oil-based economy,” says Shepherd.

COVID has had a double whammy impact on Saudi Arabia. The oil price fell from an average of $60 down for a while down to $10 and then to around $40. And it locked down the country. But it’s very clear that much of the foundation of that vision is still relevant. It’s extraordinary the rapid change that has already made be made in the country in terms of opening it up.”

“Part of this vision was to try and focus on creating a domestic tourism industry. Before, so many Saudis would go elsewhere, to Europe or Dubai. Interestingly, the silver lining from COVID has been that domestic tourism has actually occurred. Locals have begun to explore their own country. The country’s ‘City’ seasons have also been a success and will continue.”

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Qatar remains out of the GCC fold. Here the main focus will be on the FIFA World Cup in 2022 as well as bedding in recent attractions investments. There is limited action in Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Meanwhile, Egypt is beginning to plan and construct large new city developments and mega-malls, as well as the long-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum.

LBE in the Middle East 

The UAE has developed a comprehensive cluster of attractions, many of which now need to bed in, says Shepherd:

Dubai Mall, which opened in 2008, has been the leader. It has, almost accidentally, discovered the value of having Family Entertainment Centres and Location Based Entertainment within the mall. These are things that were there to add something that draws people to the retail sector and have become successful in their own right.

“For Dubai Parks and Resorts, the main mission going forward is to make itself attractive and presentable for the tourism market. It’s doing pretty well with local markets.”

Ferrari World Entrance
Ferrari World

“City Walk, which is by a developer called Meraas, seems interesting to try and create a sort of high street feel in a climate such as Dubai.

“Abu Dhabi was a little bit later to the party, but Yas Island has seen some significant development. Ferrari World is the foundation theme park there, and Warner Brothers opened in 2019. SeaWorld is coming and there is also a very successful waterpark. Saadiyat Island next door is a cultural centre with the Louvre already there and hopefully the Guggenheim coming in 2023.”

“Then Bluewater is a man-made island off Dubai, where the Ain Dubai and Madame Tussauds will be. And that’s where the UAE is probably going to stick for a while until it gets its tourism numbers back to where they were before.”

LBE trend

With a substantial mall portfolio in the region, opportunities continue for FECs across a range of themes.

“We talk quite a bit about trends for these location-based attractions – for the whole of the GCC this is a major opportunity for them in 2021,” says Shepherd.

Mall of the Emirates attractions trends 2021
Mall of the Emirates

“It just plays into the fact that they already have huge malls. Malls here, more than any other country, are that kind of community place, because of the climate. Dubai Mall gets about 80 million people through a year – extraordinary numbers.

“When I was at PwC, we looked at the opportunity for this location-based entertainment in the region and we saw it was pretty underpenetrated, relative to some other countries.”

Saudi’s giga-projects

In terms of attractions trends in the region, heading into 2021, the real game in town is Saudi Arabia, says Shepherd.

“It’s a substantial country with over 35 million people and of course is a substantially wealthy country. Until a few years ago it had little interest in the tourist market. It had high volumes of religious tourism but little else.

“Saudi Arabia is an extraordinary place. It’s not just Riyadh. It’s got a huge length of Red Sea coast. Plus on the other side, there is the Persian Gulf. It’s got mountains and huge amounts of historic and cultural and artistic things. And it is currently underexploited and unknown to the rest of the world.”

visit saudi arabia attractions trends 2021

“Vision 2030 had some ambitious milestones, planning to invest $64 billion to finance the entertainment industry. There were no cinemas in Saudi Arabia a few years ago. The cinema project plans to get 350 cinemas in place with 2,500 screens across the kingdom by 2030.

It also plans to create and open 20 new entertainment centres across 15 cities in the Kingdom.

“These are interesting,” says Shepherd. “They were a bit ahead of their time because now as we’ve seen what’s happened with COVID and the impact on retail, retail developers are cottoning on to the fact that many of these centres need to be more leisure and entertainment lead than retail lead. This is where Saudi is heading, these big centres.

“There is a lot of work to be done on the country’s archaeological sites and museums. It is also looking to get to about 5,000 events.

“There was a fear in the industry that COVID would put all this on the shelf or the back-burner. But no, it is clear that the country thinks that getting into the entertainment leisure sector is going to be critical for its future, and money is being allocated. This has come through the Public Investment Fund (PIF).”

Qiddiya

It would be difficult to talk about attractions trends for 2021 without mentioning Saudi’s giga-projects. These projects are funded by the PIF.

Qiddiya is an enormous site outside Riyadh,” says Shepherd. “It’s been talked about a lot and it’s taken quite a long time to get from page to spade. But construction work has started and phase one is being developed.”

Qiddiya View of Resort Core and Speed Park from Cliff Edge Overlook attractions trends 2021 Philippe Gas
Qiddiya

“It is a $10 billion investment covering parks & attractions, arts & culture, sports & wellness, motion & mobility and nature & environment. It is a big entertainment location. Some of the flagship things that they have announced already are Six Flags Qiddiya and a Grand Prix circuit.

“There are three other giga-projects where there will be a lot going on. The Al-Ula project is incredible because it is an area that is like Petra. They have been running a series of events during the winter season. These are quite bespoke and exclusive because there has been limited accommodation. Investment is now going into accommodation, into opening that up for events, concerts and shows.

“NEOM is a whole new city. It will be like the city of the future, based on technology, renewables and entertainment. Construction has now started and there will also be a huge entertainment and attraction component to that. Then, there is the Red Sea project, building luxury hotels across 22 islands in the Red Sea. Here, construction has started and infrastructure is being built. This will be a huge development.”

SEVEN

PIF is also funding SEVEN, Saudi Entertainment Ventures.

“This is the government-backed investment development operation arm to support both these major giga-projects but also all the other cities. They are looking to build 50 cinemas in partnership with the American brand AMC, as well as a couple of theme parks and the 20 major entertainment centres.”

“There are also the Saudi Season events, which took place last year and were hugely successful. There were 11 festivals across many of the main cities, focusing on religious days going throughout the year.

“These covered sports events, cultural events, music events, street parties etc. as well as two Formula E races. And that is going to go ahead next season, so that worked extremely well. There are many opportunities for providers of specialist shows and activities there.

“Saudis have the money, they have the ambition and the drive. It’s not an easy place to do business, it is culturally quite different. But if you’re in the attraction sector it is certainly a place to be focused on.”

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is Features Editor at Blooloop. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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