The Dubai attraction market has helped establish the city as the pre-eminent modern-day leisure destination in the Middle East. Tourism infrastructure and development continue to be a central focus, particularly as preparations are made to host the World Expo in 2020.
By Edmond Chih (left), Senior Associate at Entertainment + Culture Advisors (ECA)
A key growth driver of tourism to Dubai has been attraction development, and the sustained success of Dubai’s unique mall-based attractions and outdoor water parks has encouraged operators and developers to continue to invest in new attraction projects in the region.
Commercial Attractions Opening Soon
As the landscape of attractions in Dubai continues to expand, a shift is being made towards large-scale, branded theme parks. In 2010, Ferrari World became the first major branded theme park to open in the U.A.E. and the indoor park now attracts over 1 million visitors annually. This year, two significant theme park projects are set to debut in Dubai and introduce new IP- branded entertainment experiences to the region: Dubai Parks and Resorts and IMG Worlds of Adventure.
Scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of this year, Dubai Parks and Resorts will consist of three separate theme park gates – LEGOLAND Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai, and motiongate Dubai – complemented by a themed retail and dining district and Polynesian-themed resort lodging. The reported investment for the three parks are US$300 million, US$370 million, and US$700 million, respectively. LEGOLAND Dubai will cater directly to families with young children through various Lego-themed rides and activities, as well as a separately ticketed LEGOLAND water park.
Bollywood Parks Dubai will be oriented around many of the Bollywood blockbusters that have been produced by Mumbai’s major film studios. motiongate Dubai will have broad family appeal through the integration of widely recognized characters and worlds from DreamWorks, Lionsgate, and Sony Pictures.
Located approximately 30-minutes from Dubai Parks and Resorts, another Dubai attraction, IMG Worlds of Adventure, is set to become the world’s largest climate-controlled indoor theme park. It will consist of four different themed zones, two of which will be devoted to IP from Cartoon Network (Adventure Time; The Powerpuff Girls; Ben 10; The Amazing World of Gumball; Lazy Town) and MARVEL (The Avengers).
The Dubai Attraction Market Grows
In addition to the major theme park developments, this year will also feature the debut of Dubai Safari Park, a large-scale zoo that will replace the existing Dubai Zoo. Built on a 119-hectare site, the facility is expected to host almost 1, 000 animals from around the world, many of which are rare and endangered.
The US$40 million development will include a butterfly park, a botanical garden, and educational and veterinary facilities.
Dubai continues to have development activity across more moderately scaled attractions as well.
Local developer Meraas Holding is introducing a series of attractions within the company’s outdoor retail, dining, and entertainment district, City Walk. Following the opening of a 360-degree edutainment theatre called The Dome Box, Meraas recently announced two additional attractions: The Green Planet and Mattel Play! Town.
The former is a bio-dome that will house a tropical rainforest with more than 3, 000 plants and animals, and serve as an educational and recreational facility. The latter is a 5, 000-square-meter “eduplay” attraction for young children, and is themed after five popular children’s characters: Barney, Thomas & Friends, Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina, and Fireman Sam.
As the Dubai attraction market continues to expand, efforts are also being placed into enhancing the region’s cultural attraction offering. Development in this space is already occurring in the neighboring emirates of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
In Abu Dhabi, the master-planned Saadiyat Cultural District is currently under development and aims to be a signature cultural destination in the region that will be anchored by two large-scale, internationally branded museums: the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Sharjah has made a focused effort in recent years to market itself as a destination for Islamic history and culture through the numerous museums and art centers that have been developed over the past two decades.
Within Dubai, the existing landscape of cultural attractions consists predominantly of heritage sites and small specialty museums, the vast majority of which are free or very low-priced. New development is happening that will help bolster the cultural scene in a contemporary manner.
The 2, 000-seat Dubai Opera is set to open in Autumn this year in Downtown Dubai, and will serve as a modern-day venue for opera, theatre, concerts, and art exhibitions. Also, the next few years will see the development of Dubai Design District (d3), a large-scale, master-planned urban district that will engage and foster the local creative community while also showcasing various forms of creative expression, including fashion, food, art, performance, and product design.
Inbound Tourism Continues to Grow
Dubai received a reported 14.2 million international overnight visitors in 2015, an increase of 7.6% from 2014. With this pace of growth, Dubai is on track to reach the emirate’s target of 20 million by 2020. Among the 14.2 million overnight visitors, India was the top source market at 1.6 million visitors, which is an increase of 26% from the prior year, making it also one of the top growth markets for Dubai. (The opening of Bollywood Parks at Dubai Parks and Resorts is well timed to serve this sizable and growing tourist segment.)
With the goal of sustaining tourism growth, the Dubai attraction market is making accessibility for the family a strategic priority. Thus, a large share of the growing base of high-quality attractions in the regional market, particularly the multiple branded theme parks, caters directly to the family segment.
Significant investment in the Dubai attraction market and in particular theme park projects continues, with the planned addition of a Six Flags theme park for Dubai Parks and Resorts, the recently announced 20th Century Fox World Dubai theme park resort, and the upcoming Warner Brothers movie studio theme park on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Over the next several years, the expanded attractions offering in the region is expected to induce both new and repeat visits to Dubai, while also increasing length of stay and overall leisure spending.
Entertainment + Culture Advisors (ECA) is an advisory firm focused on economic and market analysis for world-class destination entertainment developments. The ECA team has completed numerous engagements in Dubai, including the market feasibility study for LEGOLAND Dubai theme park. ECA is headquartered in Los Angeles and has an office in Hong Kong. For more information, please visit: www.entertainmentandculture.com
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