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Vote of the week: Should theme park fans visit Dubai?

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Published: March 7, 2008 at 5:30 PM

This week's announcement that Six Flags will join the Dubailand project brings the Arabian peninsula emirate one step closer to becoming the "Orlando of the Middle East." Six Flags, Busch and Universal all are licensing theme parks in Dubai, with Busch building its largest project to date - a four-park resort in The Palm Jebel Ali.

Sounds like a theme park fan's dream, right? Maybe not. Dubai, as a tourist destination is... not without controversy.

It's a Middle Eastern, clan-controlled, oil-rich kingdom, after all. Critics have accused the emirate of harboring indentured servants and its banks of laundering money for al Qaeda. Its oil helps fuel the global warming that threatens the planet's environment. And its massive tourist developments have made the United Arab Emirates the biggest per-capita energy consumers in the world, even worse than the United States.

But... unlike other Arab states, Dubai has developed a well-earned reputation for openness and accessibility. The emirate permits dress, dance, drink and music that would be forbidden elsewhere on the peninsula. Anyone can visit Dubai, even Jews and those with Israeli stamps on their passports -- visitors who would be denied entry to many other Middle Eastern states. Its airline has won international praise for great service and its tourist developments dazzle, making the emirate one of the top international destinations for Europeans.

So... is it "right" to visit Dubai? Does visiting the emirate help support the nastiness critics decry? Or does it help engage the emirate with the Western world, rewarding it for transcending the Muslim fundamentalism elsewhere in the Middle East?

For the record, none of theme park companies mentioned above are building parks in Dubai. They are simply licensing their brand names and designs to local developers who will build and manage the parks. Does that absolve these companies of responsibility for what's happening with labor in Dubai, or not?

I don't know. What's your call on these question? Vote below, and leave your thoughts in the comments, please.

Readers' Opinions

From Joshua Counsil on March 7, 2008 at 7:54 PM
I think Dubai is pretty harmless. I've got buddies from Dubai, and it really is quite different than the other states of the United Arab Emirates.

Maybe I'm not seeing the full picture, here, but I'm sure there are Arabs who ask themselves similar questions: if I visit Orlando, am I fueling the American war machine?

I think both questions are a little ridiculous. I don't think "socially responsible" should have been the term used, but rather a simple "would you".

Frankly, I think it's great that more big American entertainment companies are integrating into Arab soil, and that they are allowing it.

From Donna Tolliver-Walker on March 7, 2008 at 9:44 PM
I like Joshua's idea of it being a personal question, a "would you" kind of thing, because I don't think it's clear cut. I do think the US has done plenty of things to deplore, so others could, indeed, wonder about visiting here! However, the Arab countries haven't been flawless, either.

But I can't help but think cultural exchange is a good thing, and if theme parks are one way of providing it, that's great. Also, it's good to see American businesses being "exported" in this manner.

From Robert Niles on March 7, 2008 at 11:10 PM
My first draft of the question was "Would you visit Dubai?" but I changed it because I was afraid that people's financial inability to afford such a trip would prompt many "no" votes. And I didn't want the question to turn on finances, but rather people's ethical, or emotional, reaction to Dubai.
From JasonK K on March 8, 2008 at 4:07 AM
I think that I may have already said in the past that hundreds of thousands of us Brits visit Dubai each year, with hundreds of thousands more of us living out there. As a matter of fact when you are out and about in Dubai all one seems to see driving on the roads, in the shopping malls, supermarkets etc are Europeans. As a matter of fact when you are there you could easily think that you are in southern California or Florida. I think it's very wrong to tarnish a whole region on account of the actions of a few.
From Larry Zimmerman on March 8, 2008 at 5:57 AM
You can find "bad" things about any country hosting any other theme park in the world. Look at it this way -- by visiting, you can help YOUR values propagate by spreading them to that country. Engagement is better than denial.

Take it a step further, Robert - is it socially responsible to visit ANY theme park, when you take into consideration the downturn in the US economy, the energy they consume (not to mention the energy patrons expended just getting there), the additional paper and plastic products in the environment, the frivolous use of engineering and manufacturing resources, and the $billions they vacuum out of the economy that might otherwise be spent helping those less fortunate, fighting "global warming" (:roll eyes:), saving baby seals in the Arctic, or whatever your personal cause?

One could argue the minutiae of either side 'till blue in the face, and it wouldn't change the fact that it's going to happen. I for one am happy for another set of coasters to conquer!

From JasonK K on March 8, 2008 at 7:03 AM
I think by having more of the big name theme parks around the world it will help the environment as it will save people (like me) jetting off on long haul flights to places like Florida to experience some sun + fun. Actually I'm surprised Disney is not out there.
From Diane Graebner on March 8, 2008 at 7:12 AM
I think the UAE is really what we should be hoping for in all of the arab states. It is really an example of cooperation among different groups with slightly different beliefs and cultures, but all working together. I have family in Dubai and they have found it to be a welcoming culture.
From Gareth H on March 8, 2008 at 7:21 AM
My Soccer team "Arsenal" is sponsered by Emirates Airlines, the new stadium is named the Emirates stadium and the advertising banners constantly flash up with "Visit Dubai".

I'd go and I can understand why thousands of british tourists are abandoning the USA and heading there.


Immigration getting into the US is regarded as being over the top now, yet getting into Dubai is very painless.

I would, and plan, on visiting in the next 5 years or so.

From Robert OGrosky on March 8, 2008 at 8:26 AM
I dont care about the socially reponsible aspect, but I might be willing to visit some day if I felt it was safe for me and my family.

Everything seems safe now, but sooner or later the hardliners in that part of the world are going to see all the people from the US/Europe coming to visit as a target rich place to commit terrorists acts.

From Marc Ricketts on March 8, 2008 at 10:16 AM
The same week I read about Seaworld, I saw another Dubai story. It was about a guy that got 4 years in prison under a zero Tolerance drug law because they found .003 gram of marijuana stuck in the tread of his shoe (which is a tiny amount, and could happen to anyone that's been to a rock concert) and a woman sentenced for poppy seeds that fell off her bagel in another airport. You'd have to be mad to want to visit anyplace like that.
From Eric Malone on March 8, 2008 at 11:25 AM
Personally, no matter how accessible, nice or pleasant those areas may be, I wouldn't go anywhere near a Middle East country if I could help it. Not that I'm racist or anything, but going anywhere near those places, especially in the condition things are in, and can be, in that general area, just almost screams 'death wish'.

I think building anything out there, especially multi-million dollar projects, is a bad idea, but that's just me. Is it socially responsible to visit? Sure, why not. If you've got the few thousand dollars to burn on a trip like that, and you've got a passport, I don't see why you shouldn't. Just don't expect me to hop a plane and go over there.

From Mark Freedman on March 8, 2008 at 11:29 AM
I'm having a hard time figuring out why Theme Park Insider felt that visiting Dubai deserved a cautionary question like this. One could come up with a host of politically charged criticisms not to travel to any given country. US occupation of Iraq, French neo-colonialism and occupation of the Ivory Coast, Japanese & Canadian government sanctioned whaling, and so on. Hate to think the motivation here was nothing more than anti-Arab bigotry.
From Geoff Gibson on March 8, 2008 at 12:47 PM
I'm sorry but this thread has really annoyed me. It seems nothing more than blatent racism!
From Joshua Counsil on March 8, 2008 at 1:50 PM
I wouldn't call it blatant racism. And good point, Robert - didn't think about the economics of the "would you" question.

Man, this is a charged debate. This may be the biggest politically disputed TPI topic I've seen.

Rather than get political, I'll just say this. If you don't want to go, that's fine. Shorter waits for Kraken for the rest. And it's natural to be skeptical - U.S.-Arab relations aren't exactly magical right now.

And if you want to go, great. But don't put down others as racists or bigots because they're scared or skeptical of the place.

From Marty Po on March 8, 2008 at 3:03 PM
I think too many American are so shallow minded. Go back thru history. Germany had Hitler, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, IRA bombed parts of UK and Ireland and the innocence Americans had Civil War and Slavery. All these places have great Theme Parks and we all visit them not thinking about what has happened years ago. If you want to condemn Dubai for being in the Middle East then you should look at your past and condemn your own country for what has happen in the past. I think people should get off there high horse and be open minded. You have a country that has open its hearts and pockets to the world and have built wonderful and amazing things. The crazy thing is I bet 100% of you that think Dubai is a bad country and you have no clue what you are talking about. Dubai was under British Protection and Rule from 1892-1971 also Dubai has never been in a war or has had a terrorist attack. Bottom line Dubai is safer than a lot of major cities including NYC, London and Tokyo.

My last thoughts on harboring indentured servants, laundering money for al Qaeda and biggest per-capita energy consumersevery counrty. So if you dont want to go to Dubai for thoes reason then you should never leave your house. You name a state or country and I will show you something bad about it. Every country has done something bad.

From JasonK K on March 8, 2008 at 4:01 PM
I've been on vacation to the States, all over Europe and Asia including Dubai. To be honest I felt safest in Dubai. As a matter of fact I felt that as a European I had better treatment. Also hardly anyone speaks Arabic there. I say to all you sceptics - go visit (when it's all complete).
From Robert Niles on March 8, 2008 at 8:46 PM
This has been one of the more interesting votes, hasn't it? ;-)

I find it interesting that the majority of voters have come down against visiting Dubai, though the majority of comments have defended visiting there. That suggests that this might be one of those issues in which many people feel a certain way... but are not comfortable attaching their names to that position.

I also think it is worthwhile for Americans to hear people from outside the U.S. talk about international travel. That was an ulterior motive of mine with this vote, so I was glad to see some folks cover that angle.

The vote results should suggest that Dubai does face a substantial obstacle that other countries do not face in attracting visitors. That threatens to become a huge issue affecting the potential for success of the theme parks there. Like it or not, it's an issue that needs to be addressed. (I'd throw hostile security becoming a huge barrier for U.S. theme parks in attracting international visitors on that list, as well.)

It's interesting to me that, in the U.S., the anti-Dubai crowd tends to include both ultra-conservatives (offended by Islam) and ultra-liberals (offended by the cheap, restricted imported labor). It's near-impossible to bring the far left and far right together in America, but congrats to Dubai -- they've done it! ;-)

From Stephen Tuday on March 9, 2008 at 3:52 PM
I have to admit this has been one of the more interesting threads on TPI, controversial or not. This subject has produced some great comments (although we can do without the 'flaming'). From what I have seen, I think Dubai would be a fascinating travel destination, not just for theme parks, but for shopping, indoor skiing (in the desert!!) and sightseeing in and around this engineering marvel of a city. For a country with very limited coastline, they have made every mile count!

As a bonus, maybe our theme park season passes will work at their respective Dubai counterparts and the stateside park companies will reap some badly needed cash.

From Robert OGrosky on March 10, 2008 at 10:42 AM
I dont find anything racist at all about this question being asked!!!
When people decide to go on a vacation, be it in the middle east or Washington D.C. people IMHO think about the safety of there families. When I visit D.C. I make it a point not to venture far off the beat path due to the high crim rate in D.C. and would also think about safety if I did decide to go to Dubai or Egypt where I would love to see the pryamids.
If I felt it was safe I would have no problem visting Dubai, and while it does seem safe now, I will wait and see what happens when it becomes even more westernized and if that results in any type of attacks.
As for the drug laws, dont commit a crime in a foreign country if you arent willing to suffer the consequences for your actions. We shouldnt change our laws in the US to placate people from other countries and neither should they.
From Mike Duchock on March 11, 2008 at 8:43 AM
I'd like to step back a moment and not talk about the politics and social responsiblity issues and just focus on THEME PARKS- which last I checked, is what this site is all about. :)

Dubai has the potential of having the highest concentration of theme parks in the world, something that should have all of us extremely excited. I for one am going to go in 5-10 years after all of these parks open (and I have a higher income to afford the trip). Frankly what concerns me the most about these projects is whether or not the parks will have themeing and guest service at the same standards that the park brands have here in the USA. In the end, having new theme parks in a new part of the world will help the industry grow as a whole.

From Jayson Myers on March 13, 2008 at 12:58 PM
I don't think it is "racist" to not want to visit. The fact is all we (Americans) hear about "that" part of the world is violence. I don't want to debate the media, but it is true all we hear is the unrest etc. in that part of the country. I think it is natural to want to be safe. Is America unsafe? You betcha! Yet, it is an unsafe we are familiar with. Personally, I don't think I'd visit New York either. Am I missing out? Yes. I felt very unsafe when visiting LA, but felt perfectly normal in SD and SF. Why? I guess I just hear so much bad about LA it hits my subconscious on some level. Yet, people are murdered and raped EVERYWHERE.

I won't ever visit Dubai. Why go there when there is so much in US to do. I'm not a big international traveler (never had the desire) so I might not be their target. Our family travels a lot, I just have zero desire to go there. Nothing racist about it.

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