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Why the UAE’s theme parks boom will boost the economy

Why the UAE’s theme parks boom will boost the economy

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are expected to be home to seven new theme parks by 2020

The wait is nearly over. After years of anticipation, grand promises and false starts, the first of the United Arab Emirate’s mega theme parks will, it is claimed, open in a matter of weeks to great fanfare and, no doubt, wave upon wave of eager visitors.

The arrival of IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai heralds the opening of the amusement park floodgates.

Between Dubai Parks and Resorts, Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari Group, Al Ahli Holding Group, Miral and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are expected to be home to seven new theme parks by 2020 – the bulk arriving by the end of this year.

And while the various rides and attractions have enjoyed deserved column inches as more and more details have emerged, there is an even bigger story brewing about the economic benefits.

Ultimately costing upwards of a combined $6bn, the parks could bring in around $5bn in annual revenue by 2020 according to estimates by International Expo Consults, with Dubai Parks and Resorts – the operator of Motiongage, Bollywood parks, and Legoland Dubai – expecting more than 6.7 million ticketed visits in 2017.

Consulting firm PwC estimates the UAE’s theme parks could receive about 18 million visits by 2021.

The numbers are mindboggling and not only add up to significant long-term revenues as the country continues its wide-ranging economic diversification efforts, but also serve as a catalyst for Dubai’s tourism ambitions.

With a projected 70 per cent of Dubai Parks and Resorts visitors expected to be tourists, according to the group’s chief executive officer Raed Kajoor Al Nuaimi, the theme parks boom is set to be a key component of the emirate’s plans to attract 20 million visitors by 2020.

Investors are also keen to get involved. In April this year, Dubai Parks and Resorts announced a Dhs 1.68bn rights issue to finance the development of Six Flags Dubai – the fourth of its proposed theme parks. A month later the company announced it had exceeded its target of Dhs 1.68bn by quite some margin with total subscriptions amounting to Dhs 2.67bn.

This kind of favourable sentiment has surely been driven to some degree by geography. The UAE is located within a four-hour flight of about three billion people – six billion within eight hours – and there are no major theme parks until you reach Germany in the west and China in the East. Given this, the country has a clear first mover advantage.
It is an advantage that not just the parks themselves will enjoy. With so many extra tourists arriving each year, hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, airlines and the country’s other attractions will benefit from the increased footfall.

Dubai’s timeshare industry is also expected to grow on the back of the extra tourists arriving for the parks. Arabian Falcon Holidays chairman and chief executive Mohannad Sharafuddin suggested in an interview that the growth rate could be up to 50 per cent in 2017, “heralding a new era” for the industry and contributing to the emirate’s economy in the process.

The arrival of the theme parks will also create a mini-boom in job opportunities with thousands of staff required to keep the attractions running – both on the ground as well as in management offices.

At Motiongate, a third of the 1,200 staff members will be Emirati, according to Dubai Parks and Resorts. The move will not only aid Emiratisation, but also add to the tiny amount of Emiratis currently working in the tourism sector – estimated to be about 1 per cent of total tourism employees. A further 600 Emiratis will be employed across Dubai Parks and Resorts’ other attractions. Similar figures can be expected at the other forthcoming theme parks.

The benefits of turning Dubai and the UAE into a theme park hub are mounting up. And let us not forget that there is a small matter of prestige at play, too. With Expo 2020 on the horizon, and Dubai positioning itself as much more than simply a business centre, the latest wave of attractions adds a shiny veneer to the emirate.

With Dubai Safari Park also expected to open soon along with Dubai Opera, the Dubai Eye ferris wheel, the Dubai Water Canal and many other hotly anticipated projects – the leisure and entertainment aspect of the city is ready to blossom. And with it, no doubt, will come the economic rewards.

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