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They're a little behind schedule, but the Marvel superheroes, the dinos, the Lego boys and the rest of the troupe are on their way to adding some zing to Dubai's rather torpid amusement park scene. The restored gravitas in the theme park sector, to be sure, has been strongly validated by many announcements this year about new projects and the revival of delayed schemes.
Meraas Holding recently announced the construction of its Dubai Parks project in Jebel Ali, which will include Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Legoland Dubai. IMG Worlds of Adventure also announced important milestones for the massive indoor entertainment destination that features four zones, including a Marvel theme park and the Lost Valley — Dinosaur Adventure Zone.
These projects are also being built to support Dubai's vision to attract 20 million visitors annually by 2020, when the emirate will host the World Expo.
Considering what's already on the table, Dubai is hitting the ground running as it tries to regain lost ground in making the emirate a major theme park destination. Having said that, providing the accommodation to complement the amusement park experience could be a different matter altogether.
The DNA of Theme Park Hotels report published last month by real estate services firm Colliers International revealed that ''the concept of having lodging facilities within or close to the destination is still underdeveloped'' in the Middle East, including the UAE.
It is more common in the region to add a leisure facility within a resort property (such as the Aquaventure Waterpark in Atlantis The Palm), as opposed to building hotels to support theme parks, which is the standard practice in the global theme park industry.
In fact, the largest theme park worldwide, Walt Disney World Orlando, is served by 140 hotels, including 25 inner-circle hotels located inside the theme park. Inner-circle hotels are not yet a big concept in the region because of the absence of large-scale theme parks. The first would be the family themed Lapita, which was announced last month as part of Dubai Parks.
Filippo Sona, Director and Head of Hotels — Middle East and North Africa at Colliers, says although there is virtually no theme park hotel sector in the region, Dubai can take this as an impetus and build on the massive amusement park developments under way to get the industry firing on all cylinders from the outset.
Sona estimates at least 10,000 hotel keys will be needed to complement the new destinations — and that doesn't account for those that have not been announced. In an exclusive, Sona talks extensively about the prospects of theme park hotels and why they are able to outperform the market.
- What is on the cards in the UAE's theme park hotel sector over the next five years?
At present there is no theme park hotel sector, as the first true theme park hotel will be Lapita at Dubai Parks in Jebel Ali. However, in view of the announced Dubai Parks and IMG Worlds of Adventure, there is potential for an additional 10,000-15,000 keys to support the upcoming theme parks.
- How can theme park hotels compete with the myriad hospitality offerings in the region?
Theme park hotels are assets, which, in addition to the core facilities of a traditional hotel, provide an experience aligned with the theme of the park. It becomes a destination rather than just a hotel to cater for the needs of guests. Its strategic competitive advantage lies in its ability to render a memorable experience to guests.
- Hospitality development has picked up, with many of the new developments geared towards the World Expo 2020. Will demand keep up with supply beyond 2020?
The development of major theme parks, combined with the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing's efforts to promote Dubai as a lifestyle destination, will enable new hotel developments to be gradually absorbed by the market. This is as a result of the induced demand created by bringing to the market new attractions and new hotel brands.
- Choosing a hotel operator is essential to add value to the development. What would the process involve and how can developers capitalise on a brand's success?
Choose brands that have a robust network of hotels not only in the GCC, but also in the source markets of Dubai, in order to capitalise and leverage the hotel brand's global distribution systems, loyalty schemes and sales and marketing structures.
- What constitutes a large scale theme park?
Large-scale theme parks are usually divided into different zones or sections that employ diverse elements to either portray a story to visitors or depict the park as being a colossal entertainment destination. For example, Disney World in Orlando has six different parks within its premises and different sections within each park.
- Is co-branding between hotel chains and entertainment brands an ideal setup for the development of theme park hotels?
Co-branding enables the hotels and entertainment brands to appeal to each other's audiences and broaden their ability to capture more demand.
- Why do theme park hotels generally outperform the market and is this also true in the UAE?
These hotels outperform the market because they are able to increase the length of stay of guests by providing more complete and different experiences. In the UAE, we don't have yet a true theme park hotel.
- What big lessons can be learned from major theme parks such Disneyland and Universal Studios in other countries?
We've learned the four guiding principles to develop successful theme park hotels: focus on proximity and access; avoid over theming; develop enough meeting facilities to cater for the meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (Mice) segment; and target regional tourists with tailor-made facilities and design to accommodate cultural sensitivities.
- What would be ideal for theme parks in Dubai: hotels, serviced residences or timeshare property?
Hotels combined with serviced apartments to appeal to a broader audience.
- How much of an impact will theme parks have on the region's Mice industry?
It will have a very considerable impact to the extent that for Dubai hotels, Mice as a segment can increase by 3-7 percentage points from existing levels.
- Which is a better fit for the UAE, soft or hard-themed hotels?
Soft theming is more recommended as the Dubai market is very fast moving in terms of keeping up with trends. Therefore, what is trendy today may be out of fashion next year.
- While Dubai has been known for its upscale accommodations, how important will the budget segment be for the theme park hospitality sector?
The majority of hotels in the inner and out circle of theme parks are positioned in the mid-market and upscale segments. Economy hotels tend to be located further away from theme parks and generally offer shuttle transport. Having budget hotels close to theme parks will assist the emirate to capture more price-sensitive audiences and allow tourists to
spend their disposable income inside the park or within the park's retail offerings.
- The average length of stay in major theme park hotels worldwide is 2.8 days, with Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore having the longest at 5-7 days. What will make people stay longer?
Sentosa and Florida offer resort destinations that have consistent climate and diversity of theme parks, hence they have a complete offering.
- What are the prospects of theme park residential developments in Dubai?
Certainly a consideration for future phases of the planned mega theme parks in Dubai.
- Do you think Dubai can accommodate more large scale developments without saturating the market?
As long as differentiation in visitor experience is maintained Dubai has scope for further large-scale theme park developments.
- When the novelty fades, how will theme park hotels remain competitive in the long run?
Innovation will be the key to maintain long-term sustainability of the experience, hence these theme parks must have a contingency plan that will attempt to anticipate future demand.
Source: Jobannie Tabada, Subeditor, Property Weekly