US theme parks and attractions will see a decline in business, as their counterparts in emerging destinations, such as the Middle East, Africa and even Asia, are expected to grow, a top executive in this sector of travel and tourism has said.
“Majority of the growth will take place in the Middle East particularly in the booming markets of Dubai and everywhere in the United Arab Emirates,” said Charlie Bray, president & CEO, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Within this expanding sector, the amusement and attractions segment is expected to contribute its own steady increase. Fueled by vibrant expansion in nations throughout the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere, the global attractions and leisure business is expected to grow significantly.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), the UAE has major projects planned in Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Dubailand is expected to be the largest tourist destination in the Middle East with 22 different multi-million dollar projects planned, including theme parks from industry leaders like Six Flags, Universal and Anheuser Busch, the first golf course designed by Tiger Woods and the Dubai Snowdome which offers year-round skiing. On top of revenue increases, PwC forecasts visitations will grow by 3.9 percent on a compounded annual basis, reaching 2012 by 2012. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the World Gardens theme complex in Qatar is poised to host new family recreation centers in Saudi Arabia.
Further, Bray said upward trend in industry growth is to follow the economic boom in and around the Middle East “At the broadest level, some regional analysts are projecting upwards of $3 trillion in spending on leisure and tourism projects and supporting infrastructure over the next twenty years,” he said.
Within this overall tourism sector, current estimates put the region’s attractions, entertainment, and leisure segment at $10 billion in annual revenues already, with yearly growth at 20-25 percent. “These projections are bolstered by reports from our industry of 5-10 percent of all new retail space being dedicated to family entertainment and amusement offerings, and by the several billions of dollars in investment already committed to building Middle East parks and attractions,” said Bray.
In fact, the potential for more and more visitors to this region’s attractions is so great that PricewaterhouseCoopers anticipates the $50 million in guest spending at parks and attractions in the Middle East in 2009 will swiftly quadruple to over $200 million a year by 2011. The reason, clearly, is the sheer number of exciting and incredible projects on the horizon, said the CEO of IAAPA.
In addition to Dubailand and all its dazzling elements, including Restless Planet and Universal Studios Dubailand, other parks and attractions soon to open in the coming years include Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, Entertainment City in Qatar, Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis on The Palm in Dubai, a Warner Brothers-themed park in Abu Dhabi, the WOW RAK theme park complex in Ras Al Khaimah, a Paramount Pictures-branded theme park in Dubai. Recent openings in Arabia include the Lost Paradise of Dilmun Waterpark in Bahrain, and the E-Zone entertainment center at the CityStars Cairo complex in Egypt.
“Most, if not all, of these projects are part of super-destinations and mega-resorts, whose rise within our industry have taken themed immersion to a whole new level and will likely influence its development for years to come. Combining rides, shopping, water activities, entertainment, dining, and hotels all in one site is a great way to satisfy many vacationers’ desires for some variety in their stay, and thus extend that stay into a complete escape of 3, 4, 5, even 7 days,” Bray added.
Critics of these projects in Dubai however say the major challenge lies in operating the parks and traffic flow control. Aside from major staffing issues in the region, the Arabian mentality of little or no control from the expat park staffers may pose problems and risk. “Middle Easterners aren’t used to being controlled to stay in line or follow traffic flow systems imposed by overseas workers (say from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Philippines who will staff these park ride positions). It may be chaos,” said some Dubai residents who requested anonymity.
Another is the high cost of living in Dubai. These parks will require tens of thousands of workers who may have to contend with the low pay, cramped housing and exorbitant living conditions in Arabia’s most expensive cities. Infrastructure-wise, there may be no problem building up these investments vertically. However, running the attractions themselves is a different story.