Themed in Dubai

Paul La France stands in front of the under-construction Raj Mahal theatrePaul La France stands in front of the under-construction Raj Mahal theatre

Construction of the main structures of the Dh10-billion Dubai Parks mega leisure development in Jebel Ali has started in earnest. Last month, Dubai Parks and Resorts (DPR) announced that workers have begun installing 5,400 tonnes of steel trusses for the Dream-Works zone, one of the park’s themed destinations. Built on 730,000 sq ft of land, Dream-Works zone will be a mammoth steel-based structure that will have enough space inside to accommodate five Airbus A380s.

“This is a huge building,” Paul La France, Chief Projects Officer of DPR, explains as he points to the boundaries of the DreamWorks project site during an inspection. The DreamWorks zone will have 12 rides and attractions and four themed entertainment areas inspired by popular Hollywood animated films — Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Shrek and How to Train your Dragon.

While the DreamWorks zone is huge in itself, it is but a fraction of the entire Dubai Parks development, which spans 25 million sq ft and comprises three massive theme parks, a 500-key hotel and a river-themed gateway plaza. Completing Dubai Parks on schedule by October next year is an enormous challenge — but DPR is more than up to the task despite the development’s size and the challenges associated with a novelty theme park venture.

“You’ll be surprised how fast everything starts to go vertical,” says Brian Ma-chamer, Senior Director of Theme Park Operations at DPR, a unit of property investment firm Meraas Holding. “The DreamWorks building is the first one that’s going to go vertical because of its size.”

DPR has already spent nearly Dh3 billion on the project, including Dh2.6 billion last year, during which it completed more than 50 per cent of the roads and utilities infrastructure and procured all rides, according to Raed Al Nuami, CEO of DPR, in a statement announcing DPR’s financial results last year.

The firm secured a Dh4.2-billion financing in November and generated Dh2.5 billion during its initial public offering at Dubai Financial Market in December.

Pioneering project

Dubai Parks will be a first-of-its-kind leisure destination in the Middle East, featuring dozens of rides and attractions, in addition to plentiful retail and dining outlets. The theme parks — Motion-gate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Legoland Dubai — are the main attractions, but Riverpark takes pride of place as the grand entrance to the themed venues. The Polynesia-inspired family resort, Lapita, will be the region’s first hotel to be located in a theme park.

Around 6.7 million guests are expected during the theme park’s first full year of operation in 2017 and DPR believes the numbers will continue increasing. This figure could allow Dubai Parks to break into the top 25 amusement and theme parks in the world. “Strong demographic growth and favourable economic conditions within the UAE and the wider region will drive strong local demand for Dubai Parks,” said Abdulla Al Hab-bai, Chairman of DPR, in the firm’s financial statement.

Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida had the biggest attendance among all major theme parks worldwide in 2013 with more than 18.58 million visitors, according to the Global Attractions Attendance Report 2014 by Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and multinational firm AECOM. Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Japan, had more than four million visitors to round the top 25.

Dubai Parks’ proximity to present and future business hubs such as the Al Mak-toum International Airport at Dubai World Central and the World Expo 2020 site, along with the integration of dedicated transport infrastructure, will be crucial in maintaining high footfall.

“We’re right between Dubai’s airports and the Abu Dhabi airport,” says La France. “This is a strategically located area. We have a dedicated interchange in front of Dubai Parks. We’ll have three lanes coming from Dubai right into the project. There’ll be two lanes going to Shaikh Zayed Road to Abu Dhabi.

The theme park will also be served by buses, while Dubai Metro’s expansion will include a station right next to Dubai Parks.

“There will be buses picking up guests from hotels,” says Machamer. “The metro line, we hope, will continue further down here, so we’ll have a [rail] connection.”

The lack of competition will be another driving force behind the success of the project, as Machamer claims a huge latent demand for theme parks exists not only in the UAE but throughout the entire Middle East.

“What we want to build is a resort destination along the lines of Universal Studios or Disneyland,” he says. “In this market, there’s very little competition.”

The TEA/AECOM report stated that the top 25 theme parks worldwide grew by 4.3 per cent from a combined visitor footfall of 205.9 million in 2012 to 214.7 million in 2013.

John Robinett, Senior Vice-President of Economics at AECOM, notes in the report that there is a global rise in the importance of leisure as a driving influence in culture and economies. In the US, Robinett says the leisure industry has become the second top producer of jobs in the private sector after health care.

When Dubai Parks opens, around 5,000 new jobs will be created, while projected revenue in its first full year of operation is estimated at Dh2.4 billion, according to Al Nuami.

The list of the world’s top 25 theme parks does not have any representation from the Middle East and North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, creating a first-mover advantage for Dubai Parks.

“According to our feasibility study, there [will be] more demand than supply even after we open,” explains Machamer.

“Two million people [a year] go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, while Global Village has around five million people in five months. The Dubai Mall had 80 million [visitors last year]. So I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand for a theme park experience.

“And I think what we’ve put together here is a good product offering. It’s not over the top.”

Leasing opportunity

Dubai Parks will adopt different ticket-pricing strategies to attract broader audiences, especially price-sensitive customers, although actual prices have not been revealed. Entry to Riverpark, however, is free.

“Between the three parks there’ll be tier pricing,” he says. “If you buy [tickets for] multiple parks, you’ll get some discounts. Riverpark will be a destination on its own. There’s no fee to come to Riverpark, so tourists and locals will come here for shopping and dining.”

The parks will operate at varied hours throughout the year and could be opening gates late afternoon during the summer months. All three parks will not close at the same time, which will allow restaurants in River-park to benefit from a steady flow of potential customers. “Lego might close at 7pm, Motiongate 8pm and Bolly-wood 9pm, so those restaurants will have three hours of sustained business,” says Machamer. The food and beverage outlets and retail shops inside the theme parks will be operated exclusively by DPR, but those in River-park will be leased out.

The DPR officials also made it clear the project does not include a residential component. “There’s no residential project in the theme park area,” says Machamer. “I’m not sure if Meraas is planning something else.”


Dubai Parks will have plenty of room for expansion, with nearly half of the entire project site available for further development. Two new hotels are already being planned — one each in Legoland Dubai and Bol-lywood Dubai. Hotel development will be crucial moving forward, says Robinett in the TEA/AECOM report, because of the global trend of transforming theme parks into destination resorts.

Machamer acknowledges there is strong potential for further hotel development, but he explains that they are not about to jump the gun. “It’s an opportunity that we’ll evaluate,” he says. “We didn’t want to burn the project with an overabundance of hotel rooms. We’re ready though for future hotel development if needed.”

While expansion is a minor concern at the moment, Machamer says forward-planning is a key component of the Dubai Parks master plan, giving the development the flexibility to expand as demand grows. “We’ll always look to improve over the years,” he says. “We can almost double the size of each park with the land we have available.” n

Signage along the road next to the Dubai Parks project site. An interchange will be built leading to the venue


Source: Jobannie Tabada, Features Editor,


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