Losses increase at Dubai Parks and Resorts

February 13, 2018, 9:31 AM · DXB Entertainments, the company that owns the Dubai Parks and Resorts complex, has announced that it lost Dh1.11 billion (US$302 million) in 2017, which was worse than analysts' expectations.

Dubai Parks and Resorts — which includes Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai, and Legoland Dubai — reported 2.3 million visitors last year, with 796,000 coming in the fourth quarter, when the weather is better in the United Arab Emirates. However, that works out to fewer than 9,000 visitors a day across the three parks during their busiest quarter.

That's not good. For comparison, many regional U.S. theme parks welcome more than 10,000 visitors a day on average through their operating seasons. The Dubai parks averaged slightly more than 2,000 visitors per park per day over the year last year. We do not know the actual breakdown between the parks, however.

Developers in the UAE have been building multiple theme park resorts, including the IMG Worlds and Yas Island projects in addition to Dubai Parks. Yet none of them have yet cracked any of the TAE/AECOM's regional attendance lists. Warner Bros World on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi will be the next to make an attempt, when it opens this summer.

What's holding back the UAE parks? We talked about this last month, but the Dubai Parks development faces a couple of additional obstacles that the other parks in the UAE have tried to avoid. First, the DPR parks are mostly outdoors, which helped keep down construction costs and creates more opportunities for creative development, but makes the parks a less attractive destination during the many months when the weather is brutally hot in the UAE.

Second, the DPR parks are located in the most remote location of the three theme park development sites in the UAE, standing about 40 miles away from the Dubai airport, well past downtown and the bulk of Dubai's attractions.

All the parks feature compelling IP, including Marvel and Dreamworks Animation, so that's not what's keeping visitors away. But other than Ferrari World's Formula Rossa, none of the parks as of yet offer record-setting or virally popular world-class attractions that can make fans around the world crave a visit. Global promotion is an issue, too. I've seen multiple advertising campaigns for Dubai from the Emirates airline, but none of them that I have seen have mentioned Dubai Parks or IMG Worlds.

The UAE has proven itself to be one of the world's top tourist destinations. But up to this point, those tourists just aren't making their way to the region's theme parks.

Replies (17)

February 13, 2018 at 9:57 AM · Quick question... why Dubai? Why would anyone want to vacation there in the first place?
February 13, 2018 at 10:02 AM · Just came back from UAE. The visitors in all parks were mainly from India and Russia, so globally recognized IP like Ferrari works (Ferrari World had the most visitors we saw), but do those demographics care about Lego, Ghost Busters and Adventure Time?

And Warner? Main attractions are Scooby-Doo and Tom & Jerry. Who do they want to appeal with that?

Time will tell, but I remain skeptical.

February 13, 2018 at 11:12 AM · I'm not surprised. It's a cultural wasteland of IP in a region that just don't want it. Nothing homegrown is proposed. The attraction quality doesn't hold up either.
February 13, 2018 at 11:04 AM · I think the main reason that it's not drawing the numbers they anticipated is that, despite all its declarations of warmth and hospitality, that part of the world simply isn't one that a lot of people want to visit.It's known for its super-high-end hotels and the costs can be eye-watering. On the whole those aren't the sort of people who visit theme parks. Add in the climate and the not-entirely-compatible-with-western-morality culture and you have a problem. If these parks had been built in Spain or maybe the USA I suspect they'd be very popular but the harsh truth is it's not the parks that don't appeal, it's the destination.
February 13, 2018 at 11:22 AM · Reminds of of the failure of the MGM Grand Adventures Park in Las Vegas, but on a much more massive scale. Though I guess for different reasons, like climate. It seems like UAE wanted to diversify with the possible future reduction in oil demand, but it's too bad this isn't working out.
February 13, 2018 at 12:01 PM · Nothing wrong with the idea - the problem was/is the exection. Poor attractions, food is horrid and expensive, and the customer service is atrocious.

It's as if they spent some money, then sort of backtracked and watered down every attraction. They needed the best Disney style creative team.

The location isn't ideal either

February 13, 2018 at 1:29 PM · When you try to copy a anomaly like Las Vegas or Orlando you are going most likely to fail. Non of those destinations where build and successful overnight. They grew organically, focusing on their own public, their own culture. After that it caught on and evolved as a world class destination.
Macau China is rivaling Las Vegas but it took many years and huge investments. Plus gambling is a part of the culture.

Non of the above happens at the UAE. At the moment it attracts wealthy people who want to buy overpriced brands in expensive mega malls. None of them want to be caught dead in a theme park, especially not a theme park that is not the biggest, most expensive or whatever superlative the UEA needs to attract people.

February 13, 2018 at 9:47 PM · To me, this is the ultimate example of IP alone not being sufficient to sell a park. For every element that the various parks in Dubai get right, they seem to get two things wrong, and I don't think it's going to be a sustainable venture long term. I really hope I'm wrong, but at the moment I'm not confident they'll last more than 3-5 years in their current form. The fact that Motiongate wasn't truly 100% open until October may have played a sizable role in limited first-year attendance, but if things don't improve in the next year of operation those interested should probably plan UAE trips sooner rather than later.
February 14, 2018 at 12:11 AM · I don't want to say I told you so, but...
February 14, 2018 at 2:30 PM · I love how commenters who have never lived in, let alone visited, the region or spoken to an Emirati or Saudi presume to know so much about their media and theme park tastes. Such rubbish.
Robert sticks to the facts and logic to get the story right.
February 14, 2018 at 3:49 PM · David Brown got it right! This is just proof that the UAE can built whatever they want but that won't change the fact that most people simply do not want to visit the UAE. I love theme parks and if those parks were built anywhere else I would gladly plan a trip there. I've said it before and I'll say it again I would never visit a country that outlaws my existence!
February 16, 2018 at 12:25 AM · I visited DPR in November last year and did both Legoland and Motiongate. It helps staying in Jebel Ali as we were only 15 minutes away.

Neither parks offer much that a western equivalent doesn't however the one unique point is the dreamwork area in Motiongate which I was pretty impressed with. Harsh height restrictions and the costs of tickets would really struggle to entice people there though which is why we didn't do IMG.

February 16, 2018 at 12:36 AM · I would definitely be afraid of inadvertently running afoul of some archaic Islamic law...
February 16, 2018 at 5:34 AM · Sorry but you got it all wrong. Dubai is the #4 most visited city in the world from an international tourist point of view (with 16 million visitors in 2017). 85% are expats. Dubai Airport and Dubai Mall are respectively the first in their category attendance wise, worldwide. The attractiveness IS here. Problem is, local population tops only 2 million people and maybe 9 million in the whole UAE, so there is not a big enough market to absorb so many theme parks. You cannot expect park numbers like Japan or the USA with 250M+ citizens.

Other problems for Dubai Parks & Resorts include:
-Marketing / Sales
-Accessibility / location
-Public perception (the emirates went from 1 theme park in summer 2016 to 6 by this summer, so this kind of tourist attraction is really new for this market)
-No anchor brand as of now (Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Sea World...) although it's slowly coming

But I think it will slowly work out. Attendance is steadily growing. Tourism is increasing every year and the UAE are just not looking back, so big projects will still come along.

February 17, 2018 at 3:53 PM · Please let's stop saying it's that no one wants to visit due to cultural or religious beliefs because the people are there. I've lived in Dubai recently for 4 months and it's a tourist magnet. The number of travels that take a 2 day layover on purpose before reading their main destination is crazy i.e Africa, Singapore, Australia. From what I hear from tourist on the geound is that it's simply too far when everything else is a shuttle or uber ride away. Like someone else stated, the parks have no pull.
February 17, 2018 at 9:12 PM · I am an American who has lived in the UAE for the past 5 years for a job. I am also a huge theme park fan and have been to all the Disney parks. But the theme parks here just aren't that good, even for a local person like me to visit. (Formula Rossa and Flying Aces rollercoasters at Ferrari World are two exceptions). I was actually at the Riverland area of the parks yesterday and it was very empty. And I had no desire to visit said parks as the rides are barely above carnival level attractions. And it was a nice, 87 degree February day which is mild for here. I can't imagine trying to visit when the temperature can reach a "feels like" of 135, even at night. As far as concerns over cultural or religious differences are concerned, it's not much of an issue. The UAE is probably the most liberal place in the Middle East. Having said that, if I hadn't come here for work I probably would not have wanted to come here to visit the parks when there are better, more exciting places to travel to for theme parks, i.e., Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.
February 18, 2018 at 1:35 AM · I attended Riverland and Motiongare last October and I felt like I was the only visitor! For long stretches of the day I didn't see a single person other than staff waiting to operate the rides. The rides themselves were really good, easily up to the Disney standard but the heat was unbelievable and this is a huge obstacle for the parks to contend with.

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