From Feb. 26 to 28, IAAPA members took to the desert to learn how Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), have transformed into an oasis of fun during IAAPA Leadership Conference 2019. More than 210 attendees from 29 countries learned from regional leaders about what defines success in the area and how they are preparing for the future.
“Every IAAPA Leadership Conference is fantastic, but this year was very, very special, being in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region. Dubai is ever changing—people always want to come here,” said Amanda Thompson OBE, 2019 IAAPA second vice chair and managing director, Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
“We’re in the crossroads of the Middle East—development and innovation in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been remarkable, and it’s exciting to see and learn from our colleagues here,” said David Rosenberg, 2019 IAAPA chairman of the board and vice president, Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Next year, IAAPA Leadership Conference will travel to Los Angeles—read on to learn more about the key takeaways from this year’s event.
A Maturing Market
Phil Taylor, managing director of Team Leisure—a company of industry consultants with expertise on the development of attractions—gave an overview of the region, touching on projects in the works in the UAE and neighboring countries. Across the board, Taylor saw trends including increases in outdoor activities like ziplines (including the longest in the world: “Jebel Jais Flight”) and the rise of show venues, an indication the market is maturing. Mall-based “retailtainment” continues to drive leisure development, with hot trends popping up like esports. Dubai itself continues to drive international visits with one-of-a-kind attractions like the upcoming Expo 2020.
Sustainability is More Than a Theme
Set to open October next year, Expo 2020 is a world’s fair Dubai has been preparing for since 2014. Representatives from the planning team gave attendees an overview of the project.
The six-month event will focus on the themes of opportunity, mobility, and sustainability. The host nation and 190 other participating nations are creating immersive visitor experiences, housed in pavilions, around these themes, with the goal of leaving attendees with valuable lessons.
Each theme will have its own pavilion with a 30- to 45-minute experience. The Sustainability Pavilion treats the topic as a story, with the goal of shifting the way the topic is discussed, explained Mona Al Ali, content manager of the Sustainability Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai.
Operationally, Expo 2020 appears to function similarly to a large theme park. Clive Stephens, director of event operations, and his team developed a concept of operations, then appropriately sized the roles in each department with the goal of keeping decision-making power as far down the ladder as possible to allow for agility. This operational structure will apply to the 30,000 volunteers expected to be integrated into guest services by the end of 2019.
The team was also given a mandate to prepare a legacy, fulfilled by the event facility itself. This site was chosen to capitalize on the vision for the future of that area. The 238-hectare site of the Expo is located in Dubai South, where the world’s largest airport is also being built. Already, the Expo’s presence has catalyzed infrastructure work, including an expanded metro line, but after the event ends, 80 percent of the structures will be repurposed to create District 2020, a mixed-use development made of business, residential, commercial, and park properties.
“This legacy goes beyond the physical site. We are also pushed to think about how the experiences we are creating for people touches their lives and inspires them to make changes,” said Marjan Faraidooni, senior vice president, Legacy Development and Impact, Expo 2020 Dubai. In a fitting tribute, the Sustainability Pavilion will be converted into a children’s science museum that generates its own power—educating generations to come.
IMG Worlds of Adventure
When IAAPA Leadership Conference last traveled to Dubai in 2015, IMG Worlds of Adventure was under construction. Now, the massive indoor theme park brims with 1.5 million square feet of rides, restaurants, games, and entertainment.
The facility features intellectual property (IP) from Marvel and Cartoon Network, but the park also used internal IP to bring to life a dinosaur-themed land envisioned by its founders.
CEO Lennard Otto and Markus Mack-Even, chief project officer of City of Arabia and general manager of IMG Worlds of Adventure, explained the benefits of a hybrid approach to IP. Going with a homegrown brand is risky, and it costs significant money to gain traction and exposure, but with an established brand, there is always the risk it will lose value.
“With the mixed brand approach, it gives you two key benefits,” said Otto. “The international brand gives you a platform to start running on day one. The homegrown brand gives you longevity.”
Marketing Abu Dhabi
Saeed Al-Saeed, director of destination marketing, Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi, shared the region’s strategy for drawing as many visitors to the Emirates as possible through a mix of targeted marketing and attractions. One of the department’s key drivers is authenticity—making sure visitors take away a valuable cultural experience that is genuinely local. The department reaches out to residents to recommend itineraries for visitors, providing an experience that goes beyond staged entertainment.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi
Mark Gsellman, vice president of theme parks for Farah Experiences, explored the benefits of fully indoor theme parks. Farah Experiences is the parent company of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, two indoor theme parks featured during the conference. Besides the very important benefit of controlling the temperature in the desert, indoor parks allow for a completely immersive environment. Everything the guest sees can be designed to provide the exact experience desired. For example, Farah Experiences controls the lighting to emulate the perpetual dusk of Metropolis in that area of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi.
Dubai Parks and Resorts
At Dubai Parks and Resorts, Ahmad Hussain, deputy CEO of DXB Entertainments, walked attendees through Dubai’s growth from desert town into the cultural behemoth it is today. The park opened in 2016 and consists of three individual worlds: Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks, and a Legoland. The three parks satisfy different demographics of guest and have their heaviest traffic at different times of day. Legoland focuses on kids and is typically busiest in the morning and afternoon. Motiongate reaches all ages and can be experienced as an all-day park. And Bollywood, with its shows and cuisine, works well for the evening adult or full family crowds.
Every night in the 1,328-seat theater at La Perle, more than 2.75 million liters of water flood the massive stage. The spectacle of this larger-than-life production was on full display when attendees witnessed the daily special effects testing routine and later the show itself. The show combines dance, aerial acrobatics, comedy, stunts, and diving with effects including fountains, rain, and thundering sheets of water. The star is the diving pool positioned in the middle of the stage—obscured by massive bubbles, scuba divers hover below the surface to catch performers as they dive, helping them navigate into tunnels where regulators wait with air.
La Mer and Laguna Park
Laguna Park features five water slides, an Aqua Play area for families, luxury cabanas overlooking the water, and one of only three WaveOz rides in the world. It was originally built to serve the neighborhood and still features discounts for locals.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Sixty percent of all visitors to the Louvre Abu Dhabi are from outside the UAE. The museum’s collections are grouped by commonalities across cultures—to draw attention to the world’s similarities and what draws humanity together.
Creating a Leadership Culture
Ali Alsuwaidi, chief operating officer of Global Village Dubai, shared his principles for a healthy leadership culture: