UAE poised to become world's largest leisure and entertainment destination
The small Gulf state has attracted tourists from all over the world with incredible retail offerings, amazing hotels and awe-inspiring attractions such as the ride to the top of Burj Khalifa. This is just the beginning, as developers continue to plan megaprojects such as Bluewaters Island, with the world’s tallest Ferris wheel as well as Dubai theme parks including Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks and Legoland Dubai.
Gulf News Journal spoke with Philip Shepherd, a partner from PriceWaterhouse, about the company's recent “UAE’s Transformation into a World-Class Leisure and Entertainment Destination" report to find out more about the country’s strengths and challenges in the industry.
GN: Can you give us a summary of the report and what your findings were?
PS: The main conclusion is that Dubai has many of the enablers to become a leading leisure and entertainment destination with the airports, airlines and hotel infrastructure, and now the development of a number of theme parks and entertainment attractions. Though, to achieve to the ambitious tourism targets, we believe that there needs to be a holistic management of UAE as a destination with a common vision and coordination between all the stakeholders including each emirate, government departments, tourism authorities and hospitality asset owners.
GN: What are the Dubai leisure and entertainment industry's biggest strengths?
PS: It is very strong in a number of key enablers: geographic location being within 4 hours for 3 billion people, the biggest air transit hub, fast-growing and high-quality assets, experienced destination management businesses. It now needs the leisure attractions - and a number are being built for launch during 2016 with many other attractions in the pipeline
GN: What does the industry need to improve on?
PS: There needs to be more budget accommodation as much of the growth will come from customer segments
who will not be able to afford five-star hotels.
GN: How will the planned theme parks in Dubai impact the industry?
PS: The leisure and entertainment sector is limited, and the existing leisure assets are insufficient in scale to really drive the planned additional tourism numbers. The critical mass of new theme parks and other attractions will, we expect, have a transformational effect on the positioning of the UAE to become a genuine world-class entertainment and leisure destination to rival Singapore and Hong Kong, and ultimately provide an attractive alternative to Orlando pulling in substantial new tourist numbers.
GN: Why the comparison to Orlando?
PS: It is the benchmark of a highly successful entertainment and leisure destination, which has transformed from nothing to a destination with 59 million visitors.
GN: Will building them be enough? What does the industry need to do to ensure that having the theme park translates to more visitors?
PS: We believe that there needs to be close coordination between a number of key stakeholders to really create the UAE as a "go to" entertainment and leisure destination. We believe the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole. Thus individual emirates, government departments, tourism authorities and the hospitality asset owners need to work collectively with a common vision and approach to market all the wide range of attractions in the emirates rather than go to market in a fragmented way, which risks limiting the appeal to potential holiday makers. Singapore and Orlando both highlight the substantial benefits of marketing the "destination" as a whole.
GN: Will bringing in big brands be enough, or do they need to innovate their own brands and ideas?
PS: Branded rides will be an important draw as it sets certain expectations in a customer’s mind for the experience they receive. Ultimately though the ride and attractions need to be of high quality, and sufficiently engaging and exciting to draw repeat business. However, there is also room for innovation. UAE is a unique cultural and ethnic hub, and there is a lot of opportunity to offer attractions that work well across the cultural range. Personally, I think the Bollywood Parks concept is an excellent example that taps into both a substantial local Asian population, the proximity of India and a large potential visitor base, and the increasing move into mainstream awareness of Bollywood films.
GN: How will the extreme heat impact the travel and leisure industry in Dubai? What do they need to do to counter it?
PS: Many theme parks globally face similar problems -- both Hong Kong and Singapore are very hot and humid. Orlando is also very hot in the summer. I believe Dubai theme parks have created good provisions to ensure that the summer heat can be managed. A number of theme parks will be built completely enclosed (such as the upcoming IMG World of Adventures and Ferrari World). Dubai Parks & Resorts will have plenty of canopies to provide shade, late evening opening hours, and all queuing will be inside and air conditioned. Many rides will also be inside.
GN: You quote 70 million visitors to Dubai International Airport. How many of these visitors actually come to visit the country vs. fly through? Could they somehow translate the transits to visitors?
PS: This is a critical point. We estimate about 11 million actually visit Dubai. So there is an enormous opportunity to encourage more people to break their trip and stay in Dubai. We believe that developing attractive "must visit" attractions will encourage more stopovers.