Being brought up in Oldham, Lancashire, (American readers: think Pittsburgh or Hackensack) I am no stranger to glitz, glamour and ostentatious displays of extravagant wealth, but the following made even me pause for thought. Consider:
• Projects worth an estimated US$312 billion are at various stages of development in the UAE (Source: TNI)
• UAE investment in theme parks is set to surpass US$ 62 billion in 2012 with more than 30 multi-faceted entertainment resorts and theme parks. (Source: Gulf Business, September 2008)
• There are over 2, 900 active construction projects in the GCC region with more than US$ 2.5 trillion to be spent in the next 5 years. (Source: Gulf Business, September 2008)
• The average net worth for Abu Dhabi’s 420, 000 citizens is US$ 17 million, and over $1 trillion is invested worldwide in this city alone.
With the Gulf too feeling the chill winds of this Autumn’s turmoil in the markets (last month US$13 billion was made available by UAE central bank to the banks to ease liquidity problems) the degree to which the region can ride the storm is perhaps the key to the rate of growth of the area’s amusement park business. However, the mood continues upbeat and the recent announcement that Dubai will build the world’s tallest building at the Nakheel port and harbor complex is an extravagant, jewel-encrusted gauntlet thrown down to this ferocious bear of a market.
The new tower, at over 1km high, will dwarf previous skyscrapers, beating even Dubai’s own 818-meter Burj Dubai tower, projected for completion next year . (For an arresting slide show highlighting a number of the more remarkable projects see : Dubai: Themed Design and Architecture Straight from the Catwalk)
However, just 120 km down the coast from Dubai, the far larger and wealthier emirate Abu Dhabi is now flexing its muscles. It too is marketing itself as a branded destination. It too has a number of magnificent leisure projects on the table, including the Ferrari Theme Park and the world’s biggest waterpark, and its own vast oil reserves make it even richer than Dubai. It is also looking to develop itself as a destination of culture, and will open an outpost of Paris’s Louvre museum in 2012. Indicative of this shift, with the quiet, Islamic capital looking to become, like its brash younger brother, bigger, better, faster etc is that next February sees the launch of a new trade show for the amusement business in the City (see Middle East show receives global recognition).
Abu Dhabi made the news this summer when it bought the perennial underdog of English football, Manchester City, the club instantly becoming the world’s richest. The transaction prompted long suffering fans (right) to brandish ten-pound notes at their rivals and wander the streets of East Manchester, dazed and wearing tea towels on their heads (I’m not making this up).
Images: Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects and BBC photo of despairing Manchester City fan watching his team get relegated (again) at what is known locally as "The Theatre of Comedy", (a reference to the stadium of the city’s bigger team, Manchester United, known as the Theatre of Dreams).