Can Warner Bros. World can make the UAE a top theme park destination?

January 28, 2018, 5:03 PM · Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi has announced that it will open this summer, further narrowing the target for the debut of the world's next big theme park.

The park is going in on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, right next to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and the popular Yas Waterworld water park. The UAE's Formula 1 circuit is the same entertainment complex, as well.

Of course, we have been telling you for years about new theme parks planned and under construction in the United Arab Emirates. And, to date, not one has cracked the Top 20 in attendance for parks in the Themed Entertainment Association's Europe and the Middle East (EMEA) region, much less the world as a whole. Three of the UAE's water parks made the TEA's EMEA regional Top 10 for attendance, led by Aquaventure's 1.4 million visitors last year. That attendance figure would have just missed the cut-off for the Top 20 in the region for theme parks, which was 1.5 million. For comparison, the number-20 theme park for attendance the North America region, Six Flags Great America, drew twice as many visitors — 2.95 million last year.

So what about Warner Bros. World makes it any different from the theme parks that have come before it in the UAE?

The first major theme park to open in the UAE was Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2010. It offered one must-ride, world-class attraction in the world's fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa. But while Ferrari is one of the world's most powerful consumer brands, the park lacked a critical mass of other world-class attractions to entice enough visitors to make the trip to Abu Dhabi to propel Ferrari World into the global theme park attendance rankings.

Ferrari World went it alone until IMG World of Adventure opened in neighboring Dubai in the summer of 2016. That park offered an attractive line-up of franchises, with licenses for Marvel and Cartoon Network IP, but it lacked any record-setting or ground-breaking attractions that would lure European and Asian theme park fans from better Marvel rides in Orlando and Osaka. IMG Worlds of Adventure is located 77 miles from Ferrari World, pretty much negating any synergy between the parks, as well.

Later in 2016, Dubai Parks and Resorts addressed the critical mass issue by opening three parks in its new resort, located between IMG Worlds and the Ferrari park. With the Middle East's first Legoland, the movie-themed Motiongate Dubai and a unique Bollywood-themed park, the resort offered an intriguing line-up that suggested it might be the one that finally offered a compelling theme park vacation destination in the Middle East.

But fans can find Legolands all over the world now, and Bollywood turned out to be a half-day park, at best. It's gorgeous, but again, lacks any truly unique, world-class attractions, save for the upcharge Jaan-E-Jigar musical. Motiongate's biggest draw is its indoor Dreamworks Animation land, but its top ride — a How to Train Your Dragon-themed coaster — is a duplicate of the Arthur coaster in Europa Park. Again, the parks offer nothing unique enough to draw the European and Asian fans that the parks would need to chart.

So what of Warner Bros. World? By going in next to Ferrari World and a popular water park, this new park will have critical mass advantage over the relatively isolated IMG Worlds. And Yas Island's three-park line-up seems far more compelling than the attractions at Dubai Parks, with Formula Rossa leading an improving line up at Ferrari World, which has added a flying theater and family dark ride since it opened.

California's Thinkwell Group is taking a creative lead on the development of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. It's done some great work for the Universal theme parks in the past, including many of its Harry Potter shows and media events. But is developer Miral spending the money necessary to build world-class attractions in Warner Bros. World... or is it crippling the park with the limited attraction budgets that hampered IMG Worlds of Adventure, Motiongate, and Bollywood Parks?

Warner Bros. World is trying to avoid the brutally hot weather conditions that make visiting the mostly outdoor Dubai Parks a less than appealing concept for much of the year by building an indoor park. But an indoor environment puts literal constraints on development possibilities, and creating massive indoor spaces can consume a project's entire construction budget by itself. Is it even possible to build a world-class indoor theme park?

We will not know the answer until Warner Bros. World opens this summer and fans get an opportunity to judge the park for themselves. But Warner Bros. World offers a better location, better attractions in the immediate vicinity, and as strong an IP line-up as anything else that has opened in the Middle East. It might be the region's best opportunity to date to reach that elusive tipping point that would make the UAE a compelling destination for the world's theme park fans.


Replies (15)

January 28, 2018 at 9:08 PM · I'd consider visiting if the pre-show for the Tom and Jerry ride featured a history lecture from Whoopi Goldberg.
January 28, 2018 at 11:03 PM · One day in the future, technology will be developed to create a convincing sky/outdoor environment for an indoor theme park. Something like the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, but on a far more convincing and large scale, like the movie The Truman Show. When that day comes, it will revolutionize the theme park industry.
January 29, 2018 at 1:17 AM · The simple truth for me is that the Middle East isn't on my 'desirable locations' list and no amount of great theme parks is going to change that. It's unbearably hot, (really unbearably hot) a lot of the time (pale skin, high risk of cancer - not a good combination) and the political situation across even the 'safe' parts of the Middle East is concerning at the best of times. Add to that a fundamental clash of morality and cultures, (every month some British tourist is arrested for inadvertently offending the Islamic laws) and it's just not a place that appeals. That's what they have to overcome to entice me there. That and price their hotels realistically!
January 29, 2018 at 2:58 AM · Let's be serious the only reason these parks are being built is because these companies are getting sweetheart deals from developers. Do you really think Sea World and Six Flags would be wasting their time on building money losers in Dubai if they had to actually own these parks instead of license them?

I've seen this happen over and over again where developers get into theme parks because they think its easy money and then find out its not so easy. Building a theme park isn't like building a McDonalds where you just build it and then start making money off of it. They want to be Orlando but the reality is they are not and their theme parks are second rate compared to major destination parks in the USA.

Trying to compete with Orlando is a stupid thing to do for many reasons. Most European travelers will go to Orlando if they want an Orlando vacation. When the UAE gets attractions on the scale of Avatar, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Nintendo then we can start talking. Until then cut rate things like Motiongate World, Bollywoodland, and Warner Bros Mall Adventure will just continue to lose money.

January 29, 2018 at 3:35 AM · Lets be serious the only reason these parks are being built is because the companies are getting sweetheart deals from the developers. There is no way Sea World, Six Flags, and Warner Bros (all companies desperate for cash btw) would be building money losers in Dubai if they actually had to own the parks instead of just getting checks from the licensing.

Sure their waterparks have some success because a waterpark is a waterpark, you can put those anywhere hot and people will go. They are much cheaper to operate and less investment involved. But their second rate "destination parks" are never going match Orlando and I think they are going to have a very hard time just getting to break-even (which as far as I know hasn't happened yet). Look at how much money Disney is pumping into WDW/DLR and Universal is pumping into UO/USH. Pandora, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Nintendo.

The UAE draws some curious Brits but not the huge throngs of tourists by the millions needed to compete with Orlando (which is their stated goal they have been repeating for over a decade now). Also I have serious doubts people from Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iran care about the place enough to give it the attendance to ensure its success.

January 29, 2018 at 6:21 AM · Agree with David 100% !! They'd have to pay me to chance a visit to that region of the world. Why take a 'vacation' to a place that has so many warnings about what you can't wear, can't do or refrain from so many things? It's the modern day version of that old warning, 'Don't drink the water'!
January 29, 2018 at 9:17 AM · I'm with the_man here. We wouldn't be talking about theme parks in the desert if there weren't billions of dollars of "stupid" money pouring into that region. The locals have ZERO interest in these developments, and most tourists to the region (typically in the stratosphere of economic classes) could probably care less if a new theme park has a world class lineup of attractions or not. I think once the corrupt WC2022 in Qatar has passed, this entire region will be on life support, practically begging for people to come visit their gold-plated, yet hollow, attractions.
January 29, 2018 at 10:42 AM · The theme park business is clearly becoming saturated. You can't just build a place and expect that people will flock there from around the world. It would have to be better than Disney and Universal to just have a chance to carve out a major market share -- and there's no way it's going to be better.

Why on earth would I go to Abu Dhabi when Orlando is three hours away and California is five hours away (direct flights). And if I ever take the plunge and fly halfway around the world for theme parks, Tokyo and Shanghai beckon.

January 29, 2018 at 11:57 AM · You’re not the target market Still-a-fan

The growing Asian middle classes, and cash rich European milenails are.

January 29, 2018 at 12:00 PM · City_fan i'm sure they aren't aimed at the American market - as you may know there is a big population outside the US. It's a big world.
January 29, 2018 at 12:07 PM · I would say that the Emirates are surprisingly cheap places to fly to, and generally costs to stay there are a fraction of what it costs to stay in major US cities and tourist destinations. On a whim, I planned out a trip to Dubai from the East Coast, and a week-long trip for my family of 3 would cost about a third less than a similar week-long trip to Southern California.
January 29, 2018 at 1:12 PM · Many people do not feel comfortable travelling to the Middle East.
January 30, 2018 at 10:20 AM · Dubai is completely different to the middle east you might have read about. It's modern, liberal and pretty much anything goes (despite the sensational stories you may read about). Don't let your prejudices stop you from visiting a fantastic city.
January 30, 2018 at 10:10 PM · Every time I start to think the UAE is modern and different from it's neighbors and on the edge of being a great destination, I see a story like this one on Daily Mail:

EXCLUSIVE: American faces up to SEVEN years in a Dubai prison because he used the word 'b****' in an Instagram story - and his ex-wife reported him to police

While parts of the UAE may look like Las Vegas, it is not Las Vegas or Orlando and visiting there can lead to serious consequences if you break some of their rules - and Bugs Bunny and the Loony Tunes Characters are not going to save you.

February 1, 2018 at 12:10 PM · I live in Canada, not the U.S. Granted, that's the North American market.

These new theme parks boasted that they were going to become world class theme park destination resorts -- like WDW. You can't do that when you have little hope of attracting people from around the world.

Finally, I'm not the target market for Tokyo Disney, either. But that's the one on my bucket list, not Dubai.

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