Theme Park Insider

Robert's Rant on theme park fans and Dubai

December 23, 2016, 9:01 AM · In this week's show, I talk about why theme park fans are making a mistake when they ignore what's happening in Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, are trying to disrupt the theme park industry by creating the world's largest collection of major theme parks. To understand where Dubai fits in the world's pecking order of theme parks, I introduce my idea of Tier 1, 2, and 3 parks, then describe where I think Disney, Universal, Dubai, and the rest fit on that scale.

I also explain why I think Dubai started the way that it did, spending far less per park than Disney as it tries to establish itself as a major theme park destination. Dubai's primary market isn't America — it is aiming for to develop and attract fans from the Middle East, South Asia (e.g. India) and Europe, instead. But since so many Europeans also visit Orlando and the American parks, an emerging Dubai theme park market could disrupt what's happening here in the United States. I hope you will watch the show, and share it with other fans.

This week's coverage from Dubai:

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Replies (20)

December 23, 2016 at 9:18 AM · Great video. I agree that starting modest with their parks is a sensible idea and see where how they can evolve to meet their target audience. I think one thing you missed is that these parks will not only try to drag visitors from Europe, but also Russia, India (a country of over a billion people has some wealth - I don't think the Bollywood park is a coincidence) and throughout Asia. How these parks develop will be truly interesting.

I think the future of theme Parks will be a wonderful thing, and I hope that Dubai does develop to challenge Florida as a destination. While theme park visitors benefit from the rivalry between Disney and Universal, I think we may benefit even more if Dubai can one day rival Orlando.

Fortunately for me it's a stopover on the way to Europe, so it doesn't need to be a destination unto itself.

December 23, 2016 at 9:54 AM · Good video. I'll be watching. The problem with Dubai theme parks is the IP selections. They appeal largely to toddlers with the exception of Bollywood park. Nothing compelling to see yet. They are rushing too fast with multi-gate half day parks. It has ridiculous switchback queues at half empty parks. They are at bigger risk of a Hard Rock Park failure.
December 23, 2016 at 10:06 AM · I paid a visit to Dubai, from the UK in the summer. I really enjoyed it. It was safe, people were generally friendly and everybody spoke English. The big downside that I saw were the prices, especially the theme parks/water parks. I think they will struggle to attract customers unless they reduce admission charges because they were simply not good value. Saying that there were visitors from all over the globe when I was there, even with the very hot weather.
December 23, 2016 at 12:17 PM · The question is: Are these dictatorships a proper place to go on vacation if you're used to European civil rights standards? I highly doubt it.
December 23, 2016 at 12:35 PM · I've been to Dubai and I really don't care if I ever go again. It's just not my type of place. I really can't see any theme park compelling me to go back. But I wouldn't complain about a park in an untested market starting out slow. That makes a lot of sense. Disney seems to have it backwards. They build half-assed new parks in the USA but elaborate parks oversees.
December 23, 2016 at 12:37 PM · >>>The question is: Are these dictatorships a proper place to go on vacation if you're used to European civil rights standards? I highly doubt it.

Given the number of Europeans who are working in Dubai and treating it like a party town, you'd be wrong. Yeah, you can get in trouble if you do the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, but Dubai has shown time and time again to be very tollerant of Westerner's behaviour, so you need not worry about it. They are about as western as the middle east gets.

December 23, 2016 at 12:50 PM · I can't say I can agree about Motiongate being Tier-1 Capable. Okay, its not like they've skimped on the theming as far as I can see, but I'm going to presume that the other areas are more or less follow the same format as the Columbia area we saw in the video.

What we saw there wasn't one continious theme, we had a barely-themed coaster, next to the Ghostbusters HQ, Next to a Transylvanian Castle, next to some other stuff.

That gets you a well themed ride, and thats certainly Tier 2 territory, but to get to even have a shot of getting into Tier 1, you've got to be able to create a completely immersive expererience that has consistency across all the rides in the land... On that basis although the Smurf Village definately qualifies, the Columbia area fails - it is just a bunch of (indivdually well themed) rides.

But, it doesn't have to be a Tier 1 park. There's a reason why they serve Salads and Vegetarian Burgers in McDonalds and Burger King, and its not because they are particularly attractive options in their own right... Its about getting a group in the door who otherwise would otherwise discount your business because one member of the group would object - to make the example clearer, if you have a group of 5 people and one is vegetarian, then it doesn't matter how much the other 4 might like a Whopper, they're not going to want to see their 5th friend sit there and be miserbable becaue they can't eat anything - stick a veggie burger on the menu and the problem goes away.

If you're trying to attact European Families, and they're asking "Well, thats all well and good, but what are the kids going to do" an answer like "Well, they can come see Shrek and the Smurfs at Motiongate" stops the conversation from turning to "Well maybe we should go to Florida instead, that way we can at least visit Disney/Universal" or "Maybe we should go to Spain and take the kids to Port Adventura one day".

But it is very interesting to see what happens there, and only a fool would take their eyes off it.

December 23, 2016 at 1:54 PM · I think it is very strange, living outside the US, how negative any development overseas is treated by some over there. We all know that the US is the spiritual home of the idea of a theme park, but I can't see why that should make any difference in business decisions that tourism companies make. These Dubai parks are good for the industry, whether or not you like Dubai as a destination. They are above average quality compared to standard amusement parks. They are distinct in theme. Why don't people want to share quality themed entertainment with others? I get it when it's a cheap copy of Disneyland but not when it is a new unique development.
December 23, 2016 at 2:09 PM · Disney being Tier-1 and Universal Orlando being Tier-2.. I would reverse that -Universal Tier-1 and Disney being Tier-2..

Or at least put them on the same level....


December 23, 2016 at 3:14 PM · My goodness... Dubai = BARBEQUE HOT , it's the desert !
That's the most serious counter indication of any logic "human" destination...
There will never be any "lush" environment, and the ONLY way to escape the terrifying HEAT, is going inside, in the airconditioning....
For NON desert animals (snakes, a few other reptiles, camels, bugs...), it's a lost case.
The desination is
(a) not a family destination
(b) not a "friendly" destination (it's 900% about money, NO other options, not even for 1/2 a day)
(c) not a moderate income destination "by definition"
(d) apart from pop-up theme parks in the giant sand-box, there is ZERO culture offer in the region. No history, no old build heritage, nothing nada empty and fake.

You can attract rich people with empty brains and 90% indoors hangout, but not any public expecting a great mix of culture, amusement and relax, in a comfortable climate ....

VOID for the future.

December 23, 2016 at 3:17 PM · Living outside of the USA, I agree with Dan's comment on the negative reaction to most non-USA development by many people on this site.

Brian, did you listen to the whole thing? He put Disney at tier 1, with Universal joining it there since WWOHP. Prior to that hes saying it wasn't quite in the same league.

December 23, 2016 at 5:52 PM · Hedwig, having been to Dubai I can categorically tell you that you are completely wrong in almost all you say.

Yes it's hot, but it's amazing the ways that this is dealt with both indoors and outdoors there. There's is an incredible amount for a family to do, with an immense amount of culture (going to the Souq, old town or any of the interesting developments that have been created blending eastern and western culture). There is far more culture accessible here than in most tourist destinations in the USA (as an Australian, maybe part of the problem is that our culture's are inherently very similar). The argument that "apart from theme parks" there is no culture there is laughable. Theme parks are generally a culturally devoid place, particularly in the US. I would not go to a theme park seeking a cultural experience, even Epcot is a watered down, Americanised and dated version of the real things. I'd you want culture, I'm sure some of the regional parks offer a far superior experience.

It's true, a lot of it is about trying to make a profit. Please don't kid yourself that this isn't the case anytime you spend money on recreation - from a ball game, to Las Vegas (also coincidentally in the desert, just without a beach or river), to the movies or to a day at Disney or Universal, all of these things are about making money.

As for it being a rich person's destination, this isn't quite true. It's expensive, yes, but most of that is because demand for hotel rooms etc has far outweighed supply. In time it will become more affordable. That being said, I'm not rich, my friends who have been aren't rich, and we've all had fantastic family holidays there.

You didn't mention their Human Rights issues, which is a valid reason for not travelling there. I would argue that in the region they have one of the best track records for this, but still clearly a long way to go. I think that if they wish to become the tourist destination they aim to be, that this is an area they will need to improve on immensely. The argument should also be made that when visiting a country, you should try to respect the culture and traditions of the land (IE - avoid drinking in public, public displays of affection etc).

December 23, 2016 at 9:32 PM · I do not agree with the argument that the location of a theme park doesn't matter because they are not real cultural experiences anyway. Mainly because I would never visit a country just to go to a theme park. I get that a lot of Europeans and Aussies travelers fly into and out of Dubai on their way elsewhere. That's not the case for most Americans.
December 24, 2016 at 1:08 AM · If we're using Disney and Universal parks as the standard for Tier 1 (though I wouldn't necessarily agree that every park in each chain qualifies for that), the Dubai parks look like solid Tier 2 parks that are in the same league as the SeaWorld, Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and Legoland parks. Given that one park is a Legoland and they are building a Six Flags, that placement makes a lot of sense. As for the other two, I agree with the assessment of Motiongate as a late 1990s/early 2000s Universal park, and Bollywood feels more like a single themed land blown up into an entire park. All of these parks would be a good stand-alone regional park by themselves, but as one resort they are well worth visiting for any theme park fans who happen to be making a trip to Dubai. I do think they really need a couple groundbreaking attractions to make it a lucrative theme park destination, but other than that I'd take a resort with a collection of good but not excellent parks over one with a single outstanding park and several average parks.
December 24, 2016 at 4:35 AM · Just a sandbox? Pop-up Theme Parks? Zero culture? This is what I'm talking about. Orlando was a small town on swamp land before WDW. Disneyland was a farm.

Dubai will not get many U.S. tourists. I get that. And you know what? Neither does Tokyo Disney. That doesn't stop it being a great theme park resort. Just because you can't or won't go somewhere (that isn't marketed at you) doesn't make it inherently bad.

Robert, you need to stop on these rants. It's getting us all to fired up!

December 25, 2016 at 10:03 AM · Speaking only for my participation in the conversation I never said that the park was bad. I said that it's location is not irrelevant to me since, if I'm traveling outside of the US, I won't just be visiting a theme park. I shouldn't think that's too hard to understand. I've been to Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea and recently to Shanghai Disneyland. I absolutely loved Tokyo and their Disney experience was the best in large part because of the people/culture of Japan. On the other hand, I didn't care so much for Shanghai Disneyland, which I suspect was at least partly due to the culture. I've never been to Disneyland Paris but I've read reports by Americans, Brits, and Northern Europeans who complained that some of the cultural differences made their experience less than magical and that they were never going back. Even here in the US I've read *some people* will favor Orlando or Anaheim because of the perceived cultural differences.

As far as people being disappointed in the park. To be fair they did throw a lot of hype out about it.

December 25, 2016 at 12:40 PM · Mark, I do t think anything you've said is inappropriate. Not do I believe that the location of parks is irrelevant. I love travelling to culturally diverse countries, but there are some places I have little interest in visiting - India, or many countries in Africa for instance. You have travelled (well it seems) and that's awesome.

I generally wouldn't visit a place just for theme parks, yet I have been to Orlando, and I can't really say there's any reason I went there other than the parks. I stopover in LA for the soul reason of visiting the parks - I don't like LA much. Certainly I didn't find the area culturally stimulating (having been to the US a number of times, maybe that's partly why). If Dubai reaches an Orlando-like level, then I can see I would travel there just to visit the parks, but admittedly the flight is shorter and cheaper than to Orlando (or probably LA).

I think some people think of Dubai as being like Iran or Saudi Arabia (or what they imagine those countries to be like - I've never been to them).

For a Middle Eastern country the UAE is incredibly progressive and westernised - perhaps not as much as we'd like sometimes, but it is a country that has the potential to change. As far as it being a nasty dictatorship, I think thats laughable. Yes, it is an autocracy, but the government has diverted much of the money from oil into healthcare, education and the infrastructure to establish the UAE as an independent and flourishing country once the oil runs out (rather than simply line their own pockets). The Emirati people are incredibly well looked after.

I think most of Dan and my frustration is due primarily to a blatantly ignorant post here previously.

December 26, 2016 at 1:58 AM · great article robert.

Thank you Dan and Grant. I agree with both of you


Tier 1 theme parks are not the eminent domain of Western Democracies although some people think that way.

Just because people in some places in this world of ours cannot elected their their leaders does not mean they should be avoided and not visited

"When in Rome, do as the romans do."

Some of these places have better affordable universal healthcare and education standards than developed democracies.

Some people seem to forget than the original theme park plans for Dubai was a resort that would dwarf WDW but the 2008 financial shrunk those plans to what we have currently there.

If and when things get better there in terms of visitor numbers and feedback then grand old original vision could be fully realized. It is then they will seriously challenge Orlando as a theme park destination.

After all many never thought Las Vegas as a gambling destination would be eclipsed by places such as Singapore and Macau but it has.

December 26, 2016 at 5:05 PM · "When in Rome, do as the romans do."

That doesn't really work for those of us that are gay.

December 27, 2016 at 1:39 PM · >>>>That doesn't really work for those of us that are gay.

There are a few horror stories in Dubai, so for a westerner this may actually be a factor. There is the obvious suggestion of "If you're not overt with your relationship then you'll have no trouble" response, but thats hardly a good one - the point of a relationship (in my view) is to be overt with it.

Dare I say for the majority of the parks target market - that is to say the Middle east, Wealther parts of north Africa, and western asia/south east asia - this isn't really an issue as homosexuality isn't even tolerated in much of that area, never mind accepted, but it could potentially be an issue when attracting westeners.

Its not exactly inconceivable that a large group of friends would have at least one gay member, if Dubai wants to position itself as a replacement to Eastern Europe for Hens and Bucks parties (for our American friends, spending a weekend, or perhaps a week, in an Eastern European country has somewhat become the replacement to the Bucks/Hens night for Western Europeans (and Brits)as its cheap to access and cheap to do things in). Their Gay Rights record would be the converse to the McDonalds Salad problem I mentioned before - if someone in the group has that particular "objection" (I only say this as it is a term of art - overcoming "No" is "Objection Handling" in corportatese) thats not one that Dubai is going to be able to overcome easy.

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