The Kuwait government should do more to promote the Gulf state as a family-friendly tourist destination and needs a high profile attraction like a Disneyland Kuwait to help boost the sector, one of the country’s leading businessmen told Arabian Business.
“I definitely think the government is missing something not presenting Kuwait as a tourist destination,” said Bader Nasser Al-Kharafi, a member of the executive committee of MA Al-Kharafi & Sons, the influential conglomerate which has investments in 25 countries around the world and employs more than 120,000 employees.
While Dubai has positioned itself as a high profile tourism hub, with bars, nightclubs, theme parks and other attractions, Al Kharafi believed Kuwait could promote itself as a family-friendly destination if it had the right attractions to place to bring in tourists.
“You can have entertainment, shopping malls and activities and things... you don’t need the bars and nightclubs. When you go to Dubai you don’t want to go to the nightclubs, you want to spend time with [the family] and go skiing or go to Disneyland.
“I am sure Dubai is going to come with Disneyland soon but if you had a Disneyland Kuwait that would be a great attraction. [The government] can have a part in it but I think the private sector would be able to manage it better,” he added.
While the Middle East has attracted some big names to set up theme parks in the region, such as Universal Studios, Ferrari, Marvel Comics and the recently announced Angry Birds theme park, US entertainment giant Walt Disney Company has so far not made any gestures towards the area.
“We continually look for opportunities to grow our business and as a part of that process, we have conversations with many different entities,” a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said in May 2011. “While Dubai is an attractive market, we currently have no plans for the region.”
Bringing the famous brand to the region was first mooted by the president of UAE conglomerate BinHendi Enterprises when he said Dubai needed an entertainment resort on the size and scale of Disneyland if it is to establish itself as a global tourism destination.
“We need an entertainment anchor for the family, something like Disney but not Disney. If we have a project like this in Dubai, we have an anchor for the whole of the world,” Mohi-Din BinHendi said. “There is a big gap between Euro Disney and Tokyo Disney. There is a craving for an entertainment anchor [in this region].”
Regardless of whether Disneyland Kuwait ever becomes a reality or not, criticisms of the Kuwait government’s tourism record have been voiced before.
Sheikh Mubarak AM Al Sabah, chairman of Kuwait-based hotelier Action Hotels told Arabian Business in August 2010 there was “limited tourism in Kuwait” due to a lack of promotion and infrastructural support by the government.
“We are a very liberal country and no different from any other GCC state but we are not promoted. The lack of infrastructure is not there to attract tourists to be a hub,” he said.
The story led to a heated debate on the ArabianBusiness.com website and the sentiment was echoed by Sunil D'souza, general manager at Kanoo Travel, the largest travel management company in the Middle East.
D'souza agreed that “the lack of governmental interest or active participation in the segment… has dragged the tourism into oblivion.” He added that it was time for the Gulf state to put in action a serious strategy to develop the sector and to attract more international visitors.
The Kuwaiti government tried once before to boost its fledgling tourism industry, launching a 20-year plan in association with the World Tourism Organisation in 2005.
The aim was develop new resorts and hotels and the Kuwaiti Hotel Owner Association forecast that more than 3,000 rooms would enter the market over the following five years.
“It’s a great country with wonderful people and down the line dependency on oil revenues alone will not help things move in the longer horizon. Like UAE, Kuwait should also diversify into other industries and tourism would be one of the key drivers to focus with,” D'souza said.