The emirate’s reputation for novelty and unique attractions has produced things such as an indoor ski slope in a country where summer temperatures can rise to about 50° C. The can-do spirit of Dubai has determined to produce a clutch of giant theme parks, the world’s biggest Ferris wheel, a replica of the Taj Mahal four times the size of the original and a giant frame that will allow visitors to view new Dubai from one side and old Dubai from the other. The tens of millions of visitors are expected in 2020 – either as part of the 20m regular arrivals the emirate is seeking to attract by that date or numbered among the probable 25m attendees during the six months of World Expo 2020 – will have an extensive choice of leisure activities quite apart from those built over the past decade.
Window To The World
The Dubai Frame – Barwaz Dubai in Arabic – will be constructed in the shape of a window frame, 150 metres high and 93 metres wide. Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of the Dubai Municipality, said that the structure would be put up near Star Gate in Zabeel Park, oriented to frame old Dubai at one end and new Dubai at the other. From one perspective visitors will see the ever-growing development on each side of Sheikh Zayed Road, while the opposite side focuses attention on the history and tradition typified by localities like Al Karama, Umm Hurair and Bur Dubai. The frame’s ground floor will contain a gallery telling Dubai’s history, while the upper part’s glass walls, ceiling and floor are meant to give visitors an impression of walking through the sky. Work is scheduled to begin in early 2014 and be complete by the second half of 2015. No cost has been given for the project.
By contrast, the various theme parks are not only equally brimming with new ideas but backed up by figures illustrating how much revenue is expected, as well as how much they will cost. The first of five linked theme parks to be built by Meraas, a developer belonging to the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is Dubai Adventure Studios. The rest of the Dh10bn ($2.7bn) project for Jebel Ali comprises a park based around Bollywood movies, another centring on water and marine life, a children’s park and a safari park recalling desert adventures.
The original idea for the set of theme parks dates back several years and the project was put on hold even before the 2009-11 financial crisis. The recent revelation that all five would be built in phases followed an announcement that developers Emaar and Dubai Holding are to go ahead with Mohammed Bin Rashid City (MRC), which will contain a Universal Studios theme park, more than 100 hotels and a new shopping mall forecast to be the biggest in the world.
Research based on visitor habits at theme parks in other parts of the world indicate that Dubai’s own parks could bring in as much as $1bn a year. This figure was produced by Team Leisure, working on the assumption of a total of 10m visitors a year in all six parks, with each one spending around $100 a day. Phil Taylor, managing director of Team Leisure and former CEO of Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates, said the team calculated that the larger parks are likely to attract about 2m people a year, with a slightly reduced figure of 1m-1.5m for the smaller parks. This would produce a “conservative estimate” of 10m in total when all the parks are completed. Taylor developed the London Eye Ferris wheel, and worked on Alton Towers resort in the UK, Port Aventura in Spain and Disneyland Paris.
“Our research shows that at Disney World Florida the average spend per head is around $90. It is not unreasonable to assume that by the time the parks are complete the average spend on these parks will be around $100 per head,” Taylor told the local press. “At Disney World the published ticket price is $90, but the average ticket spend is usually about half that because people purchase multi-day passes and other discounts for children and so forth. However, we found that they spend another $45 or so on food and beverages, bringing that average spend up again.”
Theme park visits typically take more than a day and MRC will have 100 hotels. Team Leisure said in Florida an average stay would be for two nights and three days. The equivalent in Dubai, according to real estate consultants Jones Lang LaSalle, could mean $1.1bn a year.
Due to open in 2014 in MRC is the IMG World of Adventure. At 1.5m sq feet and billed as being the world’s largest indoor theme park, it will be based around Marvel comic characters. Its four zones will be built in Dubailand, complete with a fast roller coaster that travels outside the buildings. The zones – Lost Valley-Dinosaur Adventure, Marvel, Cartoon Network and IMG Boulevard – will have rides, retail shops and restaurants. IMG, run by brothers Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari, has not revealed the cost of construction, but has announced that it obtained bank financing. The plan includes providing conference facilities in a bid to attract corporate events to the park.
Another world record breaker also under construction is the manmade Bluewaters Island being built 500 metres off the Jumeirah Beach Residence coastline. Developer Meraas said the Dubai Eye Ferris wheel would be the centrepiece of a project combining retail, residential, hospitality and entertainment. At 210 metres tall, the Ferris wheel will be 50% larger than the London Eye and 45 metres taller than the Singapore Flyer. All the island’s facilities, save the low-rise residential units, are scheduled for completion within two years. The Ferris wheel will account for a sixth of the Dh6bn ($1.6bn) project, which comprises a souq, promenade, restaurants, food hall, five-star hotel and private homes, connected by monorail and cable car.
A project first announced in 2005, the Falconcity of Wonders, is also back on course with some villas under construction at the time of going to press. However, the more spectacular elements of a development that includes replicas of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Eiffel Tower, Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Taj Mahal seem to have been postponed. The Taj Mahal replica, originally slated for completion in 2014, is expected to be four times the size of the original and is earmarked as a venue for weddings. The rest of Falconcity of Wonder comprises a 300-room, five-star hotel, residential apartments and commercial space.
Amid so much construction comes news of a success for nature, or nature given a human helping hand. Five years ago developers Nakheel mounted an elaborate and expensive rescue operation for a coral reef which was being threatened by infrastructure development. Nakheel moved 2200 sq metres of reef more than 18 km underwater in an exercise that took 49 days and cost more than Dh36m ($9.7m). The reef was relocated to The World’s Island and has since grown by about a fifth its original size.
John Burt, a marine biologist and head of the Marine Biology Laboratory at New York University Abu Dhabi, advised on the operation, which brought unexpected benefits. “The area to which the corals were relocated now has a diverse community of reef fish, including rare species not seen in the area before,” he told the local press. The reef has become Dubai’s newest popular spot for scuba divers, swimming at a fraction of the speed of all the activity planned for the theme parks on land.
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