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Dubailand developers not willing to quit just yet

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Published: May 30, 2011 at 12:25 PM

Remember Dubailand?

Perhaps the ill-fated Middle Eastern project should be the symbol of the bubble-driven development in the theme park industry. Planned in 2008 to include multiple theme parks, including ones from Busch Gardens and SeaWorld, Legoland and even Six Flags, which hasn't built a new park in decades.

When the real estate/financial bubble burst, so did the project, and U.S. theme park companies began dropping out. But Dubailand's remaining backers are soldiering on, looking for new theme park partners.

The latest news has Dubailand again pining for Disney to come to its rescue. With no interest from the House of Mouse, the project's developer is looking for an alternative, too. "We need an entertainment anchor for the family, something like Disney but not Disney," the president of the development company said.

Dubai's not a destination that many - if any - Americans consider. But Dubai draws millions of sun-seeking Europeans south each year. The Ferrari World theme park recently opened in neighboring Abu Dhabi, so the area's not a complete bust for theme park projects. Perhaps some of our European visitors might like to comment on whether they have any hope for a theme park project in Dubai, and if so, if they'd be willing to plan a visit.

Readers' Opinions

From Michael Owen on May 30, 2011 at 12:41 PM
When I was last in Dubai in April there was little - if any- change to the Dubailand area from when I visited in January of 2010.

So, bearing that in mind, I don't see much of a future for the originally planned parks, aside from Universal where construction has already began, though not much has been done in the last few years.

Disney would be a huge catch for Tatweer, the developers of the project, because they could easily draw more tourists with one Disney theme park than they could with the mega-project that is the orignal Dubailand park.

Is there a market for a Disney park in Dubai? I'm not sure. Hong Kong, Tokyo and soon Shanghai Disney Parks all cater for the Asian market, whilst Walt Disney World and Disneyland cover North America and, crucially, Disneyland Paris serves the European market - where the large majority of the cities visitors come from.

From Joseph Catlett on May 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Dubai, as middle eastern countries go, is very much a moderate and western friendly place to visit.

That being said, the Middle East is still the biggest powder keg in the world and will be for the forseeable future. Theme parks put hundreds of millions (billions if you're Disney) into these places and the last thing they can realistically do is convince a board of directors that ANYPLACE in that part of the world is a safe place to invest overwhelming amounts of money.

Personally I think the whole middle east, theme park wise, is a no go for that type of investment. I'll give two examples: back in the early 70s Iran was considered a friendly US ally...that is until the Shah lost power and the Ayatollah showed up. In Egypt, which until recently was considered a safe and good place to vacation. Now with Mubarak gone, lord only knows who will take over. Will it be a pro west democracy or a bunch of fanatics. The point is we don't know. Up until last year Egypt's pyramids were a gold mine for the local economy with thousands of visitors a day. Now, the local vendors report only a trickle of people, maybe a hundred or so a day showing up. Can you imagine what a theme park operator would do if something similar happened to their operation (no DCA jokes, please)?

From Michael Owen on May 30, 2011 at 1:13 PM
Western companies have invested billions, if not trillions, into the U.A.E, so I'm not sure it can be seen as an unstable investment.

Nor do i think it's comparable to Iran. The population of the country is dominated by Westerners. i think only around 6 percent of people living in Dubai are nationals, so an uprising would be incredibly unlikely, especially considering the popularity of the ruling family, who are incredibly pro-Western.

From Joseph Catlett on May 30, 2011 at 1:31 PM
Point, but also realize that the bulk of the money invested in the UAE is in oil. Oil is a commodity that will continue to be viable even if the area around it is unstable. Tourism on the other hand, a whole different story.
From Joshua Counsil on May 30, 2011 at 2:38 PM
The U.A.E., in general, is very friendly to westerners. For the foreseeable future, Dubai is going to be a cash cow. A company like Six Flags could reap the benefits since they have a relatively low investment cost and could easily pack up in 20 years, if need be. I can see why Disney would back out, though, since their investments are long-term. Disney's economists are sharp - they know which markets are going to be robust and give the strongest returns, e.g., Shanghai.
From Terry R on May 30, 2011 at 2:41 PM
Seriously, Dubai? I know this is a family theme park board but I have to say I would never, ever go to Dubai. Read up on its labor practices and how they treat their workers. The poor people are practically prisoners there. They take away their passports and, if they want to quit, takes weeks and months to try and get them back. One former employee was told to go ahead and leave. Leave where? You're in the desert! Don't even get me started on their living conditions and that their paychecks are sometimes weeks late. Even if they had the newest, fastest, rollercoaster there I wouldn't go.
From Mike Seary on May 30, 2011 at 8:49 PM
Being a former military man with personal experiences in this region of the world that have instilled some sentiment in me that might at best be regarded as 'unpopular' and at worst 'offensive', suffice to say that I would NEVER venture to this region of the world for pleasure or leisure....
From david t on May 31, 2011 at 5:04 AM
from an austalian point of view - when we fly to europe if we dont want a 21 to 23 hrs non stop flight, then we basicly stop in Singapore with the new Universal studios at Sentosa, Hong Kong with it's small one coaster Disney park or go via Aba Dabi with the new ferrari park. If you have very small children then HK is your best choice, Aba Dabi has ferrari and lots of sand and I think once time is there enough as theres not much else to do. so the real answer is Singapore apart from Universal which I think is on a par with some USA parks and its still growing - the great thing Singapore has lots more to offer as a holiday destination for family members who are not into parks. Dubai has become a stopover for Australian travellers as a shopping stop, I really think it would be on a par with Aba Dabi go once and that would be it,
I think they should give up the idea now before it follows the recent real estate mess there,I am not supprised developers a avoiding it they might end up in jail with the property developers if things go wrong
From 204.218.240.111 on May 31, 2011 at 5:29 AM
Just returned from a trip to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi yesterday. I met my brother there and we enjoyed ourselves going to all of the biggest, fastest, tallest, most luxurious, etc. that Dubai has to offer. We went to Abu Dhabi specifically one day to go to Ferrari World- it was absolutely desereted at 12pm (when it opens). There were no lines at all and we rode everything we wanted multiple times. I will tell you that Formula Rossa (the world's fastest roller coaster) was absolutely incredible. 0 to 240kph in 5.8 seconds. We were holding on for dear life, the other rides were well done as well. It seemed like there were more staff at the park than visitors. Excellent customer service.
IF this park were in Europe or the states, it would thrive. It is really well done, it is just in the middle of nowhere. We traveled an hour from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to specifically go there, but I don't think I would ever return.
All the tourist spots are in Dubai- there should be a large amusement park in Dubai. But it has got to be indoors, it is just too hot, humid, and sandy to be outside.
From Tony Perkins on May 31, 2011 at 9:18 PM
I'm in Dubai right now, and it could use another marquee attraction. Universal Studios is a no-brainer since Europe does not have one, and the winters in Dubai are beautiful. It could be a seasonal park that closes in the summer when it's just too damned hot. Having a cluster of parks like the original plan never made much sense, but Universal does, and I expect that it will get built at some point.
Keep in mind that Dubai has almost no oil, it's Abu Dhabi to the south that has all the oil, so Dubai will need tourism dollars to survive in the future, especially since their real estate and financial markets have totally tanked.

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