Dubai Parks and Resorts gets off to a disappointing start

May 12, 2017, 12:30 PM · Dubai Parks and Resorts has reported results from its first quarter of operation, and... well, let's just say that DPR ain't Shanghai Disneyland.

DXB Entertainments reported just 586,355 visits to the resort's three theme parks in the first three months of the year. That would put the parks on pace to attract about two million visitors among them for the year — a mediocre attendance figure for just a single park, much less than a multi-park resort with aspirations of becoming a global destination needs to attract. DXB reported Dh214 [US$58.26] in average daily revenue per visitor, which is less than the parks' posted daily ticket prices. That suggests that most visitors are coming into the park on deeply discounted tickets or annual passes... and that they're not spending a lot of money while there.

The resort also reports that the majority of its visitors were from the United Arab Emirates, with just 40 percent of visitors coming from abroad. That might also help explain why the resort's Lapita Hotel posted a dismal 21 percent occupancy rate for the quarter. Overall foreign tourism to Dubai is strong and growing, up 11 percent to 4.57 million visitors in the period, according to Dubai officials. But not many of those visitors are making the trip to the Dubai Parks and Resort complex, which is located about 40 minutes south of the heart of the city, near the Abu Dhabi border.

DPR isn't the only theme park operator in the region struggling to attract visitors. As we reported last fall, neighboring IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai has seen sparse attendance, and Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi hasn't yet cracked the Top 20 among European and Middle Eastern theme parks in the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index report, which puts its attendance at fewer than 1.4 million visitors a year.

As many people who follow the theme park industry feared, the UAE — with a population of just over nine million people — doesn't have a large enough domestic market to support multiple major theme parks. The Dubai and Abu Dhabi parks — those now operating and those planned and under construction — need robust international appeal to thrive.

That requires a combination of more effective and ambitious marketing as well as putting a better and more complete product out there for visitors. DPR missed a great promotional opportunity with its grand opening celebration in December, when the neither the Lapita Hotel nor most of the attractions at Motiongate Dubai and shops and restaurants in the adjacent Riverland district were open. Bollywood Parks Dubai was visually stunning, but I did all the attractions in the park in a couple of hours, making the value a tough sell to the park's target market of middle-class visitors from India and South Asia.

Most of the indoor Dreamworks section in Motiongate is now open, but the Hunger Games land won't be complete until later this year. And with the scorching summer months approaching, DPR is entering what always was going to be its slowest period of the year. DXB Entertainments is promising spending cuts to stanch the US$90.9 million loss it took in the first quarter — triple the estimate from analysts.

I would hate to see Dubai Parks and Resorts become the next Hard Rock Park, which closed because it failed to connect with the customer base its developers identified when studying its feasibility. The bones of a great theme park resort are there in Dubai, including the on-site hotel that such a development needs to provide the "captive audience" that drives per-visitor spending in a shopping and dining district like Riverland, as well as enabling extended, multi-day stays in the parks.

But DPR has to find a way to fill that Lapita Hotel, ASAP. And it must ensure that it continues to draw local visitors and entices them to spend more in the interim while it gets all of its attractions open and spreads that word to its international target markets.

My unsolicited advice? Diversify the food service in the parks. I searched in vain for something I would consider a signature item from the parks' restaurants and food stands. Motiongate Dubai lacks the Butterbeer, Dole Whip, Mickey ice cream bar, or other unique, crave-able snack that brings fans into the park with wallets open. Bollywood Parks offered some tasty Indian selections, but would sell more if the park found a way to get that food out onto the street, where visitors can see and smell it. Then, "relaunch" the fully-open parks with another publicity campaign as weather cools in the fall.

Ultimately, though, DPR's long-term success requires developing a must-see attraction that will draw fans from around the world, including the European market that national airline Emirates markets to so aggressively. With creative partners Lionsgate, Dreamworks Animation, and Sony at Motiongate, their top available franchise would be James Bond, an enduring movie icon that's not yet been developed into a compelling theme park attraction. But I can't imagine DXB Entertainments investing the US$100 million-plus that such an attraction would require until it's stopped losing so much cash each quarter.

That's the dilemma facing any business looking to get into the competitive, capital-intensive but potentially lucrative theme park business. You can make big money wowing the public, but half-opened, half-realized, and under-marketed attractions won't get you there. The UAE has been making a strong move to get into the theme park business. But, as with any business, getting in is the easy part. Winning it is hard.

Robert's on-site reviews from the grand opening of Dubai Parks and Resorts:

Replies (16)

May 12, 2017 at 12:52 PM · Maybe they're also not doing enough to promote the parks. I see ads here in the UK for the Florida parks, and Disneyland Paris... I see nothing for Dubai despite it having a somewhat "party town" reputation.
May 12, 2017 at 2:17 PM · I would say "I told you so", but yes....
The demographic that goes to Dubai is going to shop in insanely expensive malls. Most of them wouldn't want to be caught dead in a theme park. There is no theme park culture.
For Europeans to go there to incorporate some stunning theme parks in their vacation there is just not enough quality theme parks nor other sides to visit. For most EU guests I know the parks are a part of a 3 week vacation that also includes a trip through Florida visiting the Key's, Miami and some beaches. There is unique nature to be found in the Everglades and some culture by visiting the original inhabitants of the America's and top it of with a rocket launch. All for reasonable prices compared to Dubai.
May 12, 2017 at 2:44 PM · I have to agree.
My wife and I will happily pay to visit Orlando but almost nothing would persuade us to go to Dubai, however fantastic the parks. Anywhere that is over 40 degrees centigrade in the daytime regularly is not on my 'must visit' list and that's before you factor in the less-than-appealing culture...
May 13, 2017 at 9:32 AM · Cant ever fathom going to this county. Imagine someone kisses their wife on the cheek during a firework display and then gets sent to jail... or dear god you're gay, or decide to visit and aren't married. It could be a party town and they may be lax enforcing some of these backward laws they have, however you can still have a chance of being locked away.

It'd be one thing if it was a custom not to show affection in public, but to have a law with possible jail time. No thanks.

May 13, 2017 at 1:19 PM · From everything we saw when these parks opened, they are far from the world class level of Disney and Universal parks. So, if you're going to travel overseas to visit theme parks, where are you going to go? Tokyo and Shanghai, or Dubai? The former are on my bucket list. The latter isn't even on my radar.
May 13, 2017 at 2:09 PM · 2 million annual for a three park resort? That's less than half of the Cedar Fair parks see individually. However, I can't say I'm all that surprised. To me, the parks in Dubai look like middle/upper tier regional parks, not destination parks that most are going to travel for. While the area probably has enough locals to support one or two parks, they definitely can't support the number that have been built (much less those under development) without heavy theme park tourism traffic. Add in the poor press from opening a park that was only 1/4 complete and another with just a half-dozen attractions, and it is going to be difficult to reverse the trend unless something Disney level is built.

Also, for anyone in doubt, Motiongate is a perfect example of why IP alone isn't enough for a successful park. If IP was the only thing that mattered, they would easily be pulling in 2+ million visitors to that park alone.

May 13, 2017 at 9:34 PM · Middle eastern developers apparently love losing money on tourist attractions that make them feel important, they just keep building more.
May 14, 2017 at 3:41 AM · Lapita Hotel customer srevice located in DPAR is a dissaster!! We never had a chance to visit the hotel because they didn't reply to our several emails and didn't give any information over the phone.. asking to sent email..maybe this is the reason they have no guests!!
May 14, 2017 at 9:28 AM · Volcano Bay is heading the same way as DXB...
May 15, 2017 at 1:50 AM · Forget the slight xenophobia some posters come out with regarding Dubai. There are US states that are far more repressive than Nything you find in Dubai.

The issue this park has is the attractions are awful. There are limited attractions, and sometimes most of them are down. Only half the park is open. There is no major wow attraction - the creative team are either working with a low budget or have been a let down.

Park opened in a half mannered way. You can't do that.

May 15, 2017 at 6:47 AM · As a UK ex pat DVC Member I read some of the comments with interest not to mention disappointment. Don't base all your Dubai opinions on what you read in the tabloid press! Temperatures are in the 40s May through September...December, January and February are pure bliss! We also have culture and beaches to offer on top of shopping malls.
I hope they can make a success of it all, never mind the rumours in some industries that the mouse may locate to Abu Dhabi!
May 15, 2017 at 3:06 PM · I found that the parks were just to far for us to visit. We commuted with either uber or public transportation and found it not worth the 40 minute ride time.
May 16, 2017 at 10:04 AM · The park has very poor attractions - idea behind it is admirable - but you have to have good attractions and for it to be accessible.

You can't just do half a park to test if people will like it. Build a proper complete product.

May 17, 2017 at 6:00 AM · Rides are woeful and most were down when we arrived. Looks nice though. Bollywood Parks was cool though.
May 17, 2017 at 12:13 PM · Who would think a theme park where it is 120 in the shade could fail?
May 18, 2017 at 2:53 PM · Paris is freezing in the winter - yet people wrap up and go. I do agree though, they should have factored in the ghastly heat in the summer - perhaps retractable roofing, or temporary shades for the park.

Dubai is aiming for 20 million tourists by 2020 - that's a hell of alot of tourists.

Dubai isn't as backwards as many think - it's an open tolerant place. Safe for gay people. There is no crime. You can drink alcohol. It's very open, more open than many countries around the world.

Simply the park is struggling because it's attractions are terribly bad. Sometimes there is no other deeper reason - than those in charge of making the rides have made terrible ones.

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