The region’s emerging theme park industry has potential for great growth but as six experts point out, its success depends on establishing a destination around the attractions
LM: What are the main features of the attraction you manage?
Hudacak: The Dubai Mall, the new centre of the earth, involves a variety of attractions and entertainment including Sega Republic. We’re working on a variety of things, including the fit-out and installation of rides, attractions and games. Sega Republic was inspired by Joypolis in Japan, and we’ll also be launching a 22-theatre cinema complex and a children’s entertainment complex, called KidZania. I’m responsible for the venue’s financial and artistic success.
Frimand: Ferrari World’s going to be a very good-looking building on Yas Island, with the red Ferrari logo on top. Most of the theme park will be indoors; we’ll have attractions, several roller coasters, and a lot of dark rides with Ferrari-related content and there will be lots of F&B opportunities, from table-serviced Italian restaurants to cafés. There’s going to be several merchandise locations and something for all age groups, from driving experiences to thrill rides.
Al Habbai: Dubailand is three billion ft² of land, and within Dubailand we have 24 major projects, some of which are being developed by a third party, such as Dubai Sports City, Motor City, City of Arabia and others. Plus we have our own projects within Dubailand which are being developed by Tatweer, such as Global Village, Universal theme park city, Tiger Woods and within Bawadi Boulevard, Asia Asia. My responsibility is to ensure that the projects in Dubailand achieve the goals of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai’s vision and are completed.
LM: What are the key markets the region’s theme parks should target?
Al Habbai: We’ll be targeting the GCC; this will be our initial focus. The prime market we have identified is within four-six hour flying radar from Dubai; the UK, France, Germany, Italy, China, India, Korea. Our alignment is also with Emirates Airline and Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). I’d say 50-55% of visitors will come from the UAE and GCC countries.
Zamzam: We will of course be attracting markets from the Middle East and the GCC area — we’ll be attracting residents in the UAE to start with, going out of the GCC area and into the neighbouring countries within the region.
Hudacak: I’ve confidence in the residential market [in the UAE], which is probably 65% of our visitation up to this point. I think they’ll come from the MENA area and we’d like to see that expanded into some other locations, we know some people from Australia are coming and we’d like to see some more from South East Asia visiting. I think they’re also going to come from East and West Europe.
LM: How will you staff the theme park and ensure high retention?
Al Habbai: Recruitment is a major challenge due to the high-inflation levels in Dubai and lack of appropriate skills for specialised jobs within the theme parks as this concept is new to the region.
We have brought in experienced people from Disney, Six Flags and others, and we are working very closely with our partners to ensure we train them to the highest standard of safety, security and customer service. At the same time, Dubailand will contribute to job vacancies and we have to play that role hiring and training the local and regional market, especially because 50-55% of our people are coming from the region.
Hudacak: Our staffing recruitment process has been to the extent possible right here in Dubai and the UAE, but we also have significant representation from throughout MENA.
This region is our primary focus and typically we can accomplish this through internet as well as newsprint. They [staff] all receive an in-depth introduction to the UAE and our services, general product training and job-specific training. On-the-job training is the last piece of the puzzle prior to us understanding that the staff employees are up to standard on recognising what our guest service standards and objectives are.
We have a rigorous training programme which orientates employees to their particular role, then we have performed cycles and a soft opening for people to experience and develop a better understanding of what the role is and how to execute it. Anybody would be well served to have a soft opening; I would not recommend proceeding without it.
Frimand: We’ve recruited a number of industry specialists at all staff levels, people with extensive industry experience. In addition to that we’ve taken on people who are already in the UAE and over the next six to nine months we’ll bring in the operation and administration staff and these will be recruited from the local market, as well as international markets.
Davidson: There aren’t a lot of amusement parks currently open in the region, so until we develop the full experience of people here, we’ll pretty much have to look elsewhere for staff.
Vivekanand: The downside of the Middle East market has always been that everybody invests a lot of money when they build something new and very few of these operators are what we call progressive operators, who do something new every year to their theme park.
So most of the time what happens traditionally in this region is there’s a lot of money going into the design of the park and being invested at the time of the build. The same amount of enthusiasm and resources is not dedicated to recruiting the most qualified staff.
So it has been a difficult market when it comes to timely renewals and capital investment. But that trend’s changing. When everybody was announcing the tallest rollercoaster in the world, existing operators upgraded operations and shut down ones that were not making money.