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In depth

Amusement Parks: Big DEAL in Dubai

Blooloop’s Charles Read recently went to the DEAL Trade show in Dubai for theme parks, waterparks and other visitor attractions. In Dubai there are tremendous plans afoot for various theme parks and in neighbouring Abu Dhabi a Waterpark on Yas Island and  Ferrari Theme Park are on the cards. Here are a few notes...

Dubai Diary. DEAL- 26th to 28th April 2009.

Friday 24th

Fly from Heathrow. Last flight I took was with Royal Brunei and it started with the pilot praying over the tannoy. Like the Enron execs thought they were the  “smartest guys in the room” (great book, worth a read), I want my pilot to be the smartest guy on the plane – I want him to have absolute faith in leading edge, state of the art aircraft technology. And however smart he might be, I don’t want him to pray. 

Emirates has the best in-flight entertainment system . Hundreds of films and luckily not one of them stars Adam Sandler or is written by Richard Curtis.  This is a good flight. Having once been stuck on a flight with nothing but Johnny Mathis to listen to, I am spoiled with all of the Beatles albums and all the Beethoven symphonies…

The screensaver has a photograph of two Emirates hostesses, pristine in their beige uniforms with their cute red hats, cycling a tandem around a duck pond in a quaint (Cotswolds?) English village. I wonder if this often happens.

Arrive at the Ibis World Trade centre. Stay here each time. I decided against the $25, 000 a night suite at the Atlantis on the Palm. Too ostentatious for my liking.

Saturday 25th

Day before the show is setting up day. Traditionally, this is the day when if you have products on your stand you find out they are impounded by customs or have been sent to Venezuela by mistake. At every show you will find one exhibitor sitting disconsolately on a single chair in an empty booth. You hope it will not be you.
I managed not to get involved in a disagreeable situation with a fork lift truck and sat in my booth space waiting for a plasma screen to be delivered. It is not commonly appreciated that in the trade show environment when conveying a television screen from point A to point B, the time the said task takes is in inverse proportion to the distance the television has to travel.  An understanding of this simple fact would help many exhibitors adopt a more sanguine approach to setting up.

Back to the hotel. There are many other shows and conferences on in the trade centre. The nearest is “Derma”, a dermatology and skincare show. The charming poster has the face of a stunning woman, porcelain, flawless skin, a syringe held to her lips. Not sure what this means, has she been improved, is she in need of improvement?

Sunday 26th

9am.  First day of the show. Starts at 11, ends at 7, time for a leisurely breakfast. A group of skincare professionals, off to Derma for the day, discuss contusions and lesions at the adjacent table. I don’t finish my yoghurt.

11am. The booth opposite mine is empty.  The carpet is there, one table and one chair. Looks like an exhibit from London’s Tate Modern. I imagine a clutch of earnest chin-stroking types around it, furrowing their brows and wondering what it says, what it really means.

To one side are inflatable animals, on the other a guy selling hot dog stands. He has some hot dogs too but unfortunately does no cooking. His company logo is “Your imagination is the limit”. Strikes me as a little over-ambitious for a hot dog stand but then that’s marketing for you.  Sell the sizzle not the steak. Friend of mine once worked for Nike. He sold  a “lifestyle”, a “philosophy” and even a “”way of life”. Not running shoes.

2pm.  Mental note: my own booth looks sparse. For Vegas get a troupe of dancing girls and a juggler. And fudge, Devon fudge works a treat.

4pm.  At all these shows, there is a moment, generally on the morning of the first day when the organisers take a little clutch of dignitaries around. The latter scurry along in their wake, as said VIPs glide along with an air of effortless, benign authority. In Dubai it is no different, a group of Sheiks, splendid in their thoub and shumagg walk the aisle, behaving like royalty and looking as if they own the place. They probably are and probably do. I feel like I should doff my cap or tug my forelock as they pass but I possess neither.

11pm.  Spent the evening at the Irish Village, a genuine Irish pub down by the waterfront, built into the side of the tennis stadium. It must have been genuine as there was a guy playing fiddle-de-dee music and a couple of florid faced men holding forth at the bar. Had a drink with the Elton Games team, who are having a cracking show, their new luminous pirate-themed game causing quite a stir on the trade floor.

Monday 27th

10am   Second day of the show. Overnight , the tradeshow pixies have visited as flyers have appeared on all booths. Did we like the show? Have we ever thought of doing this or that? Do we want to go a function? Go on, it’s really exclusive.  I also find a tube of  “Fair and Lovely Advanced Nourishment Cream”, not a product I use, I think one of the Derma people went to the wrong show.

1pm.   Attendance seems good. Whilst it is always difficult to accurately gauge the success of a show – for many exhibitors even one successful sale means a great show – the general feeling appears to be that whilst the big parks are slowing down right now, and consequently major manufacturers might feel the pinch a little, there are more than enough FEC projects, malls and leisure centres opening up in the Gulf countries to provide a good deal of ongoing business for industry suppliers.  Visitors are also a good mix: I meet my first Syrian, many Iranians and Saudis.

Tuesday 28th

8am. Spent last night at a party at the astonishing Atlantis on The Palm. Hosted by Amusement Services International (ASI), to celebrate 10 years in the business, it took place on a terrace with panoramic views of the City, the famous Burj lit up and the skyline dazzling in the night. The hotel boasts (if a hotel can boast then this one does) an enormous aquarium complete with a whale shark and huge shoals of shimmering, iridescent fish.  I photographed a grouper as he sat motionless by the glass. He looked the way I feel this morning.

11:30am.  A guy introduces himself to me as a “marketing guru”. I look suitably impressed. Am thinking this is a little like telling people you are sexy or intelligent. If you have to point it out then you probably aren’t. (Being both sexy and intelligent myself I speak from a position of strength).

3pm.  Final afternoon. DEAL seems to have been a success. While some of the exhibitors view shows as a necessary evil – they need to be seen – others come with the express purpose of signing deals and many seem very pleased with the response.

Wednesday 29th

 9am  Last night I was at “The Rattlesnake” which was quite a surprise. If you’ve seen the film “From Dusk till Dawn”, with George Clooney, Salma Hayek (right) and an assortment of  befanged, deranged lycanthropes then I can tell you this bar looked and indeed felt almost exactly like the film’s bar, The Titty Twister. Only without Clooney. A trio of Japanese girls sang vocals and were ably backed by a variety of ner-do-wells on keyboard, drums and guitar . The venue was wildly incongruous as step outside and you were in the manicured grounds of some swanky Dubai hotel, all polished glass and water features. Yet inside was like being down the docks at midnight…

Flight back to London (where I will subsequently find my car has conked out in the airport car park). What do I think of Dubai? Well the grandiose schemes and bombast seem so last year.  There is a shifting in the tectonic plates: Abu Dhabi  – which  has a sovereign wealth fund in excess of $300 billion – recently bought $10 billion of Dubai’s bonds. It is not clear what strings are attached and what this means for the emirate’s leisure industry.

The city is quieter for sure, the traffic is easier, the bars less full. And the show could be seen as a metaphor for Dubai itself. Though it was busy enough and business was done, it felt like, despite the colourful booths, the bumper cars, the fun machines and the inflatable dinosaurs, there was something Autumnal in the air…

See also:
As Visualizations Gradually Become Bricks and Mortar, What Will Spell Genuine Success in Dubai?
Amusement Parks: Will Dubai be the new Orlando? Will Abu Dhabi be the new Dubai?
Life in Dubai : Cranes, Dolphins and Atlantis…
Letter from Dubai: Head-Over-Heels Race to the Future Causes Growing Pains

Top: Atlantis, The Palm.
Gratuitous use of  Salma Hayek image from promotional pack for “From Dusk till dawn (1995).

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