GCC theme parks: Has it been a great ride for operators?

Amusement parks are an integral part of the global leisure and entertainment industry. The industry can be broadly categorised into amusement parks, theme parks and water parks.

The sector can also be broadly segmented on the basis of the catchment area that they cater to, along with the type and scale of activities they offer. Global amusement parks can also be classified on the basis of the concepts and themes around which a park/ offering is designed, such as thrill and adventure, and sports and edutainment.

According to a report by KPMG-FICCI The Future: Now streaming, globally, the amusement park industry has witnessed a resurgence in footfalls over the past few years.

Demographics, as well as the rapidly changing social and economic landscape, are the key factors that are reshaping the demand for amusement parks around the world. The number of visitors at top global amusement and theme parks, indicates that North America has the highest footfalls, followed by the Asia- Pacific region and Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

However, the Asia-Pacific market has witnessed the highest growth rate in attendance (five per cent) when compared to the North America and EMEA market, which have reported an attendance growth rate of 2.2 per cent and three per cent respectively.

The fact that the Asia-Pacific region contributes 10 amusement parks to the list of top 25 highest attended amusement parks worldwide, demonstrates that the Asian market is continuing its growth pattern, the KPMG-FICCI report states.

Investment enablers

With a dearth of quality amusement parks in the GCC, there is, at a macro level, tremendous headroom for growth in this sector. However, the UAE is leading the GCC and the Middle East region in terms of having the number of theme parks/amusement parks.

Some of the biggest theme parks in the UAE include Ferrari World, Sega Republic, Ice Land Water Park, Wild Wadi, Yas Waterworld, Bollywood Parks, IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dreamland Aquapark, Legoland, Motiongate, and Adventureland.

PwC forecasts the UAE’s total Leisure and -Entertainment (L&E) market potential to reach 45m visitors by 2021. According to PwC’s report, UAE’s transformation into a world-class Leisure & Entertainment destination, the country can become a world-class leisure and entertainment destination to rival cities such as Orlando, Singapore and Hong Kong, if it takes a holistic approach to exploit its unique geographical location, high quality attractions and investment in infrastructure.

PwC estimates the total L&E market potential in the UAE is set to almost double to 45m by 2021, with international tourists accounting for 30 million, while residents and friends and relatives of residents total a further 15 million. PwC believes theme parks in the pipeline will attract 18 million visits.

“The UAE has come a long way to realise its global ambition of becoming a leisure and entertainment hub, and rival Orlando, which is the current market leader. 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. Although co-ordination between the Emirates is essential for success,” says Partner, PwC Middle East Hospitality & Leisure Leader, Philip Shepherd.


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What’s unique?

Theme parks typically require significant capital investment and the return on that investment is dependent upon the ability of parks to attract as many visitors as possible, new and returning clientele. According to a report by Colliers International, Experiential Travel Series: Theme Park Tourism, in order to promote tourism, several countries in the Middle East are incorporating the development of theme parks as a key element in national plans, a component for many leading family tourism destinations.

Regional parks are now increasingly building hotels to attract regional and international visitors and to extend their reach beyond the domestic market, the report added.

Parks are also prolonging their seasons to boost annual attendance, for instance in the GCC, parks can host Eid and Ramadan events to extend the season and increase demand. Such event days help parks drive attendance and spending.

The UAE’s existing and new generation theme parks will attract more than 19 million admissions a year by 2020 if current trends continue, according to data by Colliers International.

The prediction is made using existing admissions and arrivals data for Yas Island’s Ferrari World and Waterworld, and Dubai’s Aquaventure and Wild Wadi, as well as a sample of new and upcoming parks. All four parks have experienced a strong correlation between the rising number of visitors to the UAE and its admissions, with their combined admissions predicted to reach 19 million visitors annually.

Similar patterns are expected to be seen for IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts, which opened this year in Dubai. Both parks have ambitions to draw in millions of visitors in their first year of operations, with IMG expecting to attract 4.5 million people and Dubai Parks and Resorts predicting 6.7 million ticketed visitors.

“Dubai has a unique chance to replicate the success we have seen in other markets, such as Orlando, Singapore and Tokyo, attracting new arrivals, while also capturing a share of both the stop over and direct tourism markets. Theme parks are a new addition to the tourism landscape here in the GCC and it’s important that destinations are positioned to take full advantage of the benefits they can bring,” Senior Exhibition Director, Arabian Travel Market, Simon Press said.

Typically, a theme park can expect to attract a visitor mix that is approximately 70 per cent domestic, up to 20 per cent regional and around 10 per cent international, with MICE groups also forming a large share of admissions, especially in cities with a strong business culture, such as Singapore and Tokyo.

Press added: “We are seeing the start of a new era for Dubai and the UAE with the opening of the world’s largest integrated theme park development, Dubai Parks and Resorts, and other mega attractions. These join the likes of Ferrari World and Yas Water World and naturally these will draw ever larger crowds to the region.”


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PwC looks at the current tourism enablers that have provided a strong foundation for the UAE to become a global hub for tourism, as well as the key considerations for the country to continue growing to become a world-class leisure and entertainment destination.

The UAE rivals Orlando in terms of scale, transport links, and food and beverage facilities. Furthermore, the country’s central location – within eight hours of six billion people – provides an unrivalled advantage to further transform the industry, says PwC.

The UAE is adding a further five full-scale theme parks in the next three years. “The key to a consistently successful destination is enabling visitors to enjoy multiple attractions. Offering multi-park tickets, all-inclusive packages and co-ordinated visitor management from booking through inbound and local transportation, hotels and attractions will be crucial,” added Shepherd.

Theme parks will need to deal with the diverse cultures of visitors from the Middle East, Asia and Europe, in addition to overcoming climate challenges, and providing the right destination management institutions to provide an effortless experience for visitors, and ultimately compete with destinations such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Colliers concluded that the closer a hotel is to a theme park, the stronger its performance will be in the key metrics of occupancy, Average Daily Rate (ADR) and RevPAR, the decade after opening.

Hotels located in the “inner circle” of a theme park development can expect to achieve occupancy levels two to 10 percentage points higher than properties in the outer city. At Singapore’s Resort World Sentosa in 2015, an occupancy rate of 92 per cent was achieved compared to an average of 85 per cent for the city.

The average length of stay at theme park hotels varies from two to six days globally. At Disney World Orlando, the average stay is 4.5 days, but this is attributable to the year-round warm climate and clustering of other parks and ancillary facilities in the Orlando area. Parks such as Euro Disney Paris, typically welcome guests for 2.4 days and Disneyland Tokyo only 1.3 days.



‘Modern consumers are becoming cleverer’

Lennard Otto, CEO of IMG Worlds, says the park wanted to promote a unique and fully immersive theme park experience

What has been the marketing strategy of IMG Worlds of Adventure since its launch? Do you focus on attracting local expats in the UAE and GCC or from any destination around the world?

As the world’s largest indoor theme park and with its unique offering of global brands, Cartoon Network and MARVEL, in addition to two original IPs [Intellectual Property] IMG Boulevard and Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure, we believe that IMG Worlds of Adventure has international appeal. Therefore, from the very beginning, we have targeted a 50 per cent UAE resident and 50 per cent tourist ratio of guests.

Additionally, as we see the theme park industry being one of the main drivers of tourism, we focused on the UAE’s main feeder markets in our sales strategy, which includes the UK, India, Russia, North Africa, Germany and, of course, the GCC markets.

A number of theme parks are coming up in the UAE and around the GCC. Do you believe the owners of amusement parks are getting ROI on their ad spends?

I think that modern consumers are becoming cleverer about how they source and process information and, therefore, rather than focusing purely on ad spend when launching and promoting IMG Worlds of Adventure, we implemented an integrated communications strategy, which included broadcast, digital, bill-boards, radio, print media, social media and
influencer engagement.

We wanted to promote the unique and fully immersive theme park experience and, therefore, it was important to use more innovative and interactive modes of communication.

How has IMG added to the brand value of Dubai and how has it made a significant step in making Dubai a great entertainment and leisure destination?

IMG Worlds of Adventure was the first international mega-themed leisure and entertainment destination to open in the region and, as the world’s largest indoor theme park, it has received wide-spread international acclaim, positioning Dubai as a key tourism destination.

IMG Worlds of Adventure has set a new standard of theme park experience, bringing together the best international and local interactive entertainment, as well as globally recognised characters and Super Heroes.

With 20-plus rides and attractions spread across four unique worlds, IMG Worlds of Adventure offers something totally unique as the multi-billion dollar project is fully indoors and includes 25 original retail concept stores, 28 immersive F&B outlets, offering an unforgettable day out for all the family, 365 days a year.


An expanded version of this article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Gulf Marketing Review. To subscribe please call: +971 4 369 7573


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