With significant new attractions due to open in 2016, Dubai is hoping to position itself as a global player in family leisure tourism in the years to come. PwC has estimated 18m people could visit the UAE’s new theme parks by 2021, drawing comparisons with Orlando in Florida. The leisure tourism segment could play a significant role in helping the emirate to achieve its Tourism Vision 2020 goals.
Orlando, Florida is the world’s leading leisure tourism destination, but PwC believes the UAE has the potential to rival its success in the years ahead, and that new attractions opening in Dubai have a key role to play. “The country has recognised that it needs to continue investment and focus on the quality of attractions, as well as appealing to a diverse visitor base from across the world, though coordination between the emirates is essential for success,” said Philip Shepherd, Middle East hospitality and leisure leader at PwC.
In comparing the UAE’s potential as a family leisure destination with Orlando, PwC considers a number of factors. Although many visitors to Orlando’s attractions drive from neighbouring states in the US, 36m passengers come through its airport every year. With more than 78m passengers coming through Dubai International Airport alone in 2015, and with airport capacity set to expand, the UAE has the necessary transport infrastructure to support such attractions.
In terms of accommodation, the Florida city currently has 120,000 hotel rooms, but the UAE’s supply is set to surpass that by 2020, with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing anticipating the city will have between 140,000 and 160,000 keys by that year. According to PwC, the food service sector in the UAE is worth $5bn compared to $5.6bn in Orlando, with the UAE’s food service sector set to increase by half to $7.5bn by 2018.
“The capacity increase, coupled with the airport’s target to handle 118m passengers by 2023, means Dubai is on track to reach its goal of attracting 20m visitors by 2020,” Raed Al Nuaimi, CEO of Dubai Parks and Resorts, told OBG. “This also means we will have significant numbers of passengers at our doorsteps.”
Dubai Parks & Resorts
LEGOLAND Dubai is one of four new attractions due to be opened by Dubai Parks and Resorts in October 2016. There will also be a LEGOLAND Water Park, motiongate Dubai, which will have a Hollywood theme, as well as Bollywood Parks Dubai, which will be the first Bollywood-themed park in the world. The four attractions are close to Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), and Dubai Parks and Resorts will also have its own family-themed Lapita Autograph Collection Hotel, which will be managed by the Marriott Group. Dubai Parks and Resorts was originally part of the government-owned holding company Meraas, but was floated on the Dubai Financial Market on December 10, 2014. Meraas has retained 60% of the company’s 6.3bn shares, with the rest owned by the public.
The company said the development of the 2.3m-sq-metre park will cost Dh10.5bn ($2.9bn). Dubai Parks and Resorts estimates it will have 6.7m ticketed visits and revenues of Dh2.4bn ($653.2m) in 2017, its first full year of operation. According to its first-half results in 2015, Dubai Parks and Resorts employed 230 employees in its head office, with 13,000 workers on-site building the facility, which is expected to provide 4000 jobs once operational.
The inclusion of a Bollywood-themed attraction may also prove to be a significant draw for people using Dubai International Airport’s busiest routes. Analysis of the airport’s figures comparing the first nine months of 2015 to the same period in 2014 shows it carried an additional 1.86m passengers on flights serving the Indian subcontinent.
Worlds of Adventure
The Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari (IMG) Group, an entrepreneurial Emirati international brands and is behind one of the world’s largest indoor theme parks due to open in Dubai in August 2016. Located in the heart of new Dubai and stretching across more than 139 sq metres, IMG Worlds of Adventure will offer a fully immersive experience in a temperature-controlled environment, enabling it to be open year round. Expected to welcome 30,000 visitors a day and 4.5m guests in the first year of operation, the park will have four zones. The facility will offer over 20 signature rides and attractions, live shows, cinemas and retail outlets. The park will also The development of theme parks, with their appeal to family visitors, is a key part of Dubai’s tourism strategy, and companies seizing the opportunity to open in the emirate believe they have identified a key geographical attraction. “If you can bring to the market top brands in the entertainment sector, such as Marvel or Disney for instance, this will boost an untapped market in an area with strong potential for demand,” Lennard Otto, CEO of IMG Worlds of Adventure, told OBG. “Up to now, family-oriented entertainment tourism could only be found far east or west.”
By enhancing the artistic and cultural attractions in Dubai the emirate is hoping to be able to offer a more varied choice of leisure activities. Otto said, “An important focus for Dubai’s tourism sector is diversifying its portfolio, from beach and retail to what we call leisure, including entertainment such as theme parks, sports events and culture.”
Animals & Attractions
Another family attraction hoping to open in 2016 is Dubai Safari, a zoo which will be a home and habitat for 1000 animals, located adjacent to Dragon Mart. According to local media reports, the Dh1bn ($272.2m) project, which will cover 119 ha, was 30% complete in April 2015. The safari is being developed by Dubai Municipality and will feature sustainable solar energy and recycled water irrigation features. In late 2019 another roller-coaster park is due to open near Jebel Ali after Meraas struck a deal with the US firm Six Flags, which has been operating theme parks across North America since 1961. The company, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has revenues of $1.1bn a year from 18 parks across the US, Mexico and Canada.
In Downtown Dubai, the 2000-seat Dubai Opera is due to open in 2016 in a building whose architecture has been inspired by the dhows ( traditional sailing vessels) used by generations of Emirati mariners. The venue has been designed to accommodate opera, theatre, concerts and comedy shows and will be the centrepiece of a new Opera District with restaurants, boutiques, residential buildings, parks and walkways. In January 2015 Jasper Hope, the former chief operating officer of the Royal Albert Hall in London was appointed as Dubai Opera’s chief executive by the owners Emaar Properties. His mission will be to set the venue’s artistic direction and to develop partnerships with global arts and events companies, artists and performers. In addition to entertainment options, the site will host an educational facility that aims to attract international visitors. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is expected to be the largest cultural centre in the region when it opens in 2017, and is being built at a cost of approximately Dh1bn ($272.2m). The library will host cultural events as well as being a venue for arts and literary exhibitions. Some 9m visitors are expected annually.
Dubai already has a well-established track record when it comes to concerts and sports events. One growing suburb of the emirate is the mixed-use development Dubai Sports City. For five years Dubai Sports City has been hosting international cricket matches and concerts at the 25, 000-seat Dubai International Stadium that was built as part of the development that is now home to a community of 15,000 people.
“We are certainly playing our part in the development of leisure tourism in Dubai,” Khalid Abdulrahim Al Zarooni, president of Dubai Sports City, told OBG. “In fact, in the last 10 years Dubai Sports City has established itself as one of Dubai’s main go-to destinations for tournaments, concerts and performances. We’re certainly proud of this achievement, as it reflects the diversity of events that we can and will host in the future to add to the city’s cultural fabric.”
The developers have completed some 90% of the site’s infrastructure and 70% of its sporting facilities, with the development of a 60,000-seat football stadium still in the pipeline. About 60% of the residences that were originally planned for the complex have been finished to date along with schools, shops and other facilities. Saeed Mohammad Harib, secretary-general at Dubai Sports Council, told OBG. “We launched a sports destination map in Dubai which shows all the clubs, venues and parks in Dubai and how to reach them to help tourists and residents attend events. We also launched the Dubai Sports Events Guide 2016-2018, which will help them to participate in the 400 sporting events every year.”
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