Opening the Parks Is Just the Beginning
If it feels like we’ve been talking for years about Dubai becoming a destination for the attractions industry … that’s because we have. For about 15 years now, actually. We’ve been reading press releases, perusing news stories, poring over renderings, checking construction photos on the Internet (or lack thereof), and, for a good many Funworld readers, taking a lot of meetings with developers in the region.
But now, several years removed from the Great Recession, it’s exciting—amazing, even—to walk the midways and experience real-life attractions in not just one, but four new theme parks in Dubai. These are no longer some desert mirage—they are made of brick and mortar, concrete and steel.
I spent a week in Dubai early this year visiting these new facilities and talking with their leaders. What came through loud and clear from everyone I interviewed was a total commitment to quality and a desire to provide guests with fantastic, world-class experiences that live up to the reputation Dubai has already built as a leisure destination.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, has clearly laid out a vision for where he wants Dubai to go in the next few years: 20 million international tourists by 2020. This all leads up to Expo 2020 in Dubai, which will open on Oct. 20, 2020, and run for six months. Officials in the UAE are looking to this signature event as a way to expose the region to an entirely new audience. When those people arrive, Dubai must be ready to put its best foot forward.
Our industry will play a significant role in that plan. One reason these parks were put into planning, construction, and now operation so quickly was not only to help reach that 20 million-guest plateau, but to ensure all the operational kinks are worked out prior to the spotlight that will be Expo 2020.
And, yes, “kinks” may be putting it mildly. Because, let’s remember, Dubai is attempting to do in just a few years what most locales spend decades or more accomplishing: Creating an attractions industry entirely from scratch. There will be plenty lessons to learn all around—some already have been in just a few short months.
But as I was wandering through these gorgeous new places, I thought back to the stories I’ve been told about the debut of Disneyland in 1955; no one walking through the gates today at “The Happiest Place on Earth” would ever know how many “kinks” the park experienced on its opening day. I hope these new parks—and those that will shortly follow—are given the chance to find their own paths to success, because it certainly is not easy what they’re undertaking, and it will require time. Take Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, for example: The UAE’s first theme park has already made several changes since it opened in 2010, and the park feels vastly different now than it did when I visited just two years ago—and that’s before its two new roller coasters open this year.
Dubai is a wondrous place, full of engineering marvels that dazzle the eye and boggle the mind. Hopefully, our industry’s first steps into this market will become the stories of legend we think back on fondly 60 years from now.