More trouble for a struggling big-name theme park

March 15, 2019, 1:17 PM · Bloomberg reports that the owners of IMG Worlds of Adventure, which includes attractions themed to big-name franchises from Marvel and Cartoon Network, might try to sell the indoor theme park.

IMG Worlds of Adventure opened in Dubai in 2016 as the world's largest theme park. Warner Bros. World in neighboring Abu Dhabi last year took that title when it opened last year, and IMG Worlds has struggled to attract visitors since its debut.

Despite being one of the world's more popular tourist destinations, the United Arab Emirates has yet to see any of its theme parks crack global or even regional top attendance lists. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has enjoyed some success as the home of the world's fastest roller coaster, and Warner Bros. World opened to rave reviews, including winning our Theme Park Insider Award for Best Theme Park this year. But the parks in Dubai have struggled, with Dubai Parks & Resorts halting plans to add the region's first Six Flags park. Both the three-gate Dubai Parks development and IMG Worlds have had to restructure debt to provide cash flow in response to disappointing attendance and revenue.

IMG's CEO denied to Bloomberg that the company was looking for a buyer but did confirm that the company was in advanced talks with banks about loan restructuring. (For what it's worth, there's a difference between looking for a buyer for the company and entertaining offers for its theme park, in case that's a way to reconcile Bloomberg's report with the IMG CEO's response.)

IMG previously announced plans to add a second gate next to the Worlds of Adventure park, with IP from Nickelodeon and Mattel. The company hasn't revealed any new concepts or schedule for that development, but at this point it appears impossible for IMG to meet its original goal of having the park opened in time to take advantage of any expected surge in visitors to Dubai for the Expo 2020 world's fair next year.

Replies (17)

March 15, 2019 at 1:27 PM

You mean a sexist, racist, and homophobic resort destination is not attracting people?? I think their only hope is to probably have the UAE change some of their more outdated laws and become a more welcoming place. Highly doubt that will happen so I expect some if not all of these parks to shut down in the coming years with crippling debt no less.

March 15, 2019 at 1:29 PM

The people controlling development in the Middle East have more dollars than sense. What did they think was going to happen? "Built it and they will come" only works in the movies.

March 15, 2019 at 1:30 PM

This just had bad idea all over it from the start. Because what says "family destination" more than a place where 120 degree days are common and women are denied equal rights?

March 15, 2019 at 1:37 PM

It's a shame as the rides look good but watch You Tube videos and it's like a second-rate mall on a quiet weekday.

March 15, 2019 at 1:40 PM

Again, I think many Americans ignorantly conflate the UAE with Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Middle East. The UAE is a wildly popular global tourist destination in large part because it does not impose many of the restrictions found in other countries in the region. Don't bring in drugs, don't get drunk in public, and don't engage in overt PDA (and, yeah, don't run out of money) and you will fine anywhere in the UAE.

FWIW, those rules apply in a heckuva lot of other countries around the world, too.

Having been there multiple times, no one asks about your religion or orientation when you enter the UAE and, frankly, no one cares.

March 15, 2019 at 3:18 PM

As I said before, if you want to see building that are build clearly to over compensate: go Dubai.
If you get very excited about buying expensive crap: go Dubai.
Stay in overpriced hotels with your golden Mercedes and your harem, guess what Dubai.

But go to (at best) mediocre theme parks who could have been build anywhere? With no identity, cultural heritage to the country or truly unique? It's clear the current tourists don't want to be caught dead there so why would I buy a ticket to go there.

Yes it's not the politics that keep people from going there, If that was the case no one would visit the USA with it's idiot president, racial problems, poverty, mass shootings and overly aggressive cops to name a few problems. It is just what is on offer that isn't great in Dubai.

March 15, 2019 at 3:16 PM

The facts are they are having difficulty restructuring their 1.2 billion dirham (US$327 million) loan and there are no prospective buyers thanks to the generally poor performance of the UAE's new theme parks. "Sheik & Bake" may not be the most repressive place in the world though it is certainly not on par with any other prospective destination attempting to evolve into a global destination theme park hub and there are many of us in the industry with horror stories- including a few I know are active on these very forums. Even mainland China is unlikely to throw a foreigner in jail for having an Emirati SUV plow into their rental car at a stop light then have a judge declare the accident is the visitor's fault for having been there! That's without discussing who the foreign laborers building these mostly empty developments actually are. Expats from our industry looking to land any gig in the free world that gets them and their families out of the UAE abound. Etihad and Emirates have built successful airline hubs in Abi Dhabi and Dubai but that has not translated into making their totalitarian country a welcoming destination.

March 15, 2019 at 3:43 PM

It just looks at times. Really, like a mall, not a theme park. I get the interior is needed for that area but it just lacks the real charm that so many parks have. That's another thing to put folks off despite the good rides they have.

March 15, 2019 at 5:27 PM

I'd rather have seen all of the financial resources pooled together to build ONE fantastic, immersive, and high quality themed indoor resort than a hodge podge of smaller, half-baked parks. They definitely have the money to succeed, but only if they work together, take their time, and really push the quality.

WB World looked really good from the photo tour you did, Robert. But as a whole, I just think they did too many mediocre projects, when doing one GREAT one would have given them the best chance to succeed.

Oh well.

I agree that in a few years, these will all be shuttered.

March 15, 2019 at 7:01 PM

Quite apart from the issues with culture and the danger for overseas visitors of accidentally finding yourself on the wrong side of the law, (it doesn't matter if the majority of visitors can be safe, Robert - the fact remains that too many western visitors end up in trouble WITHOUT doing any of the things you list), what struck me when I saw the videos of the attractions at these parks was "really? Is that it?". Nothing I've seen in any ride so far strikes me as 'world class', (apart from, possibly, Formula Rossa). There's nothing as immersive or as detailed or as appealing as Islands of Adventure, let along Disney, and frankly nothing as appealing as Alton Towers! When Warner Bros World won your 'Best Theme Park' award I honestly couldn't believe it as it so manifestly didn't deserve it. That's the real reason these parks aren't a success and won't be. If they were genuinely world class they would draw people regardless of the culture and the crippling climate, but as it is a mediocre offering just isn't going to overcome those two huge drawbacks and persuade people to spend a lot of money to visit them.

I'm sorry because you are usually bang on the money about everything. But in this instance I think you're unusually way off the mark.

March 15, 2019 at 7:56 PM

The theme park/amusement park business has already reached the saturation point. Building new parks now, in the hope of competing with Disney and Universal (and a few others) for the tourist dollar, is an exercise in burning huge stacks of money.

March 15, 2019 at 11:28 PM

Been hearing the industry is 'saturated' for decades, long before many of the world's current major theme parks opened- including several from Disney and Universal. There's still room for more, though they have to offer quality attractions in a viable market to ever succeed. There are many reasons the new theme parks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi haven't succeeded- saturation isn't one of them.

March 16, 2019 at 1:48 AM

The UAE parks are second rate. They are wannabe Orlando parks built around IP no one cares about, the developers couldn't get the real thing so they opted for anyone that would do business with them. The only park that anyone cares about is just because it has the worlds fastest roller coaster (and I seriously doubt even that place makes money). And outside of some of the coasters the park has been getting terrible reviews


March 16, 2019 at 2:06 AM

This may be the first, but I doubt it will be the last. Even if we ignore any political issues that may or may not exist, the simple fact of the matter is that Dubai is not a destination for theme park tourism. Yes, there is a sizable tourist market there, but the numbers show that only a tiny fraction of those tourists are paying visits to the parks, and there simply aren't enough locals with interest to support them all. An average park in a good location will be successful, but even a great park in a poor location will struggle. Unfortunately, these appear to be merely good parks built in a fair to poor location, so the chance of this decline reversing anytime soon is not too great. It's always a shame when parks close down and I hope these places are able to stay afloat as they are, but this should be a lesson to all that there's much more to success than IP.

March 16, 2019 at 3:05 PM

Meanwhile, Dubai's Global Village has extended its run through April and continues to pack in guests for its annual fair-like run, which it has been doing since long before any of these new venues opened. Industry's biggest success story in the UAE by far, averaging 5 million guests per season, and definitely not a theme park nor indoors. This link offers a look at Dubai's Global Village:

March 17, 2019 at 10:27 AM

I note any time Dubai or UAE is mentioned it brings out the usual xenophobes. A lot of what you say can be applied to states in the US.

March 17, 2019 at 12:01 PM

Where are you getting your info on it being one of the most popular destinations? Everyone is getting worked up over your premise, which possible could not be true. Most lists I could find online using just numbers of tourist do not have it in the top 10. The only one that did was Conde Naste. But they used amount of money spent per day. Well when it is one of the more expensive places to go, then yeah you will spend more per day.

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