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Mon 3 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Target practice

The development of its infrastructure, marketing and operational resources will play a vital role in Dubailand reaching its ambitious 15 million visitor target by 2010, according to attractions industry experts.

The development of its infrastructure, marketing and operational resources will play a vital role in Dubailand reaching its ambitious 15 million visitor target by 2010, according to attractions industry experts.

Dubailand's target of attracting 15 million visitors by 2010 has been branded unrealistic by attractions industry experts.

If only a few attractions are live, customers may wait to come, meaning pricing may have to be made very attractive.

"It has been widely acknowledged that 15 million tourists by 2010 is not a realistic target for Dubailand and thus the expected footfall of 40,000 visitors a day will become possible only once all the projects currently under development become fully operational," said Ruwaad Destinations' CEO Darrell Metzger, who is also vice chair of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

"Dubailand has set some very aggressive visitation targets," added IAAPA chair Bob Masterson, also chairman of Ripley's.

The pair were speaking exclusively to Leisure Manager following the Tourism Development Projects & Investment Market (TDIM08) held earlier this year at Dubai International Exhibition & Convention Centre.

TDIM08 showcased some of the major leisure developments planned for the region, including projects from Nakheel and Aldar.

"The one thing that stood out was that some of the exhibits were really world-class," said Metzger. "I would expect to see that it will be bigger next year and more focused on the leisure/tourism industry than the overall real estate.

Masterson added: "I think TDIM was an eye opener for those of us in the attractions industry that attended. The scale of the proposed developments is beyond anything previously contemplated, anywhere in the world.

Dubailand, a member of Tatweer, was one of the major exhibitors at the show, with amazing scale models of developments such as Bawadi and Universal City.

However, not all of these projects are due to open in 2010, bringing the 15 million target by the Phase 1 opening date of December 10, 2010, into question.

"The challenge is to understand which projects will be completed, and which will not. We have to remember, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of leisure projects have been announced. It's not reasonable to believe the market could ever support so much," said Masterson.

According to the experts, as well as developing the attractions themselves, there are several key associated areas the team behind Dubailand needs to focus on in order to firstly complete on time and secondly, to ensure the market is ready for operations.

Infrastructure issues

Developing Dubailand's infrastructure at the same rate as the attractions coming on line is an ongoing challenge for developers, said the experts.

"The biggest problem facing Dubailand's mega developments like Universal City and Bawadi is infrastructure work to make the sites viable.

"Currently, things are quite a way behind in this respect," commented Masterson.

"In order for everything to come together anywhere close to plan, Dubailand is going to have to get ahead of the infrastructure curve," he said.

Delays in infrastructure have already caused the Restless Planet theme park at City of Arabia to be put on hold for two years, although as of this month the project is back on track and focused on an October 2010 opening date, said Jack Rouse Associates president Keith James, who is responsible for the design of the park.

"There's been a history over the last few years of numerous delays on the leisure component for many of these projects, but in the last six months they have been relaunching those projects," added Metzger.

"I can only assume the investors think that the market is beginning to catch up and that the time is right now," he said.

The development of adequate infrastructure must not be taken for granted, warned Paul Blunt, general manager of Bahrain's Lost Paradise of Dilmun Waterpark and Middle East director of the park's developer SIM Leisure Consultants.

Lost Paradise opened in September 2007 - 12 months after initially scheduled.

Infrastructure was one of the main hold-ups and there were some supply and climate conditions beyond our control that also slowed the process," he said.

"I think essentially, there needs to be a clear time frame for infrastructure and then an additional 50% of time allowed by developers to create a true and achievable time scale. Once the infrastructure is there, the process moves quickly and other delays are minor in comparison," added Blunt.
Dubailand CEO Mohammed Al Habbai said that he did not envisage that any delays would be caused by a lack of infrastructure.

"As of today we are more advanced. Our Traffic Masterplan has been approved by the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA)," said Al Habbai.

I can tell you from experience, it's very hard to get individual investors to agree to jointly market their destinations.

CEO of Al Sharq Investment Steve Tight, who is responsible for launching the Aqua Dunya Theme Park and Desert Pearl as part of Dubailand Phase 1, added: "Certainly we must have adequate infrastructure capacity based on our forecasted needs, and we are currently working with DEWA, RTA and other infrastructure providers to ensure that we will be ready for our 2010 opening."

Marketing magic

While infrastructure is key to the completion of Dubailand Phase 1 by the end of 2010, the experts said that the way in which the park is marketed would play a vital role in securing the targeted visitor numbers.

Hitting the 15 million target would depend on whether Dubailand markets its attractions separately or as a whole, said Metzger.

"Most of the developers are saying they will open in 2010. If they all individually market their own product they're going to be competitive, but if they're marketed as part of a Dubailand destination then I think they will get a much larger percentage of tourists coming in," he said.

Tight added: "It must create an integrated marketing message to tie together the collection of experiences within Dubailand, and must be able to communicate this message as broadly as possible".

"However, I can tell you from experience, it's very hard to get individual investors to agree to jointly market their destination," continued Metzger.

"That's the problem; you have a lot of independent developers who are used to competing with each other in the real estate side of things and now they're on the leisure/entertainment side which is new to them.

Are they going to go with the joint marketing effort which they've never done before or are they going to stay in their comfort zone and stay competitive?" he said.

Another problem, according to Masterson, is in the name ‘Dubailand'.

"I believe that Dubai made a big mistake in the beginning by naming the concept Dubailand. By doing so, most people automatically labelled it a theme park or, a theme park cluster. The name makes you think of a big park like Everland in Korea or Dream World in Australia," said Masterson.

"In actual fact, Dubailand is the area set aside by the government for leisure development; an area bigger than the country of Singapore," he said.

Marketing in partnership with Bahrain's Al Areen development was significant for Lost Paradise, Blunt added.

"We had the benefit of being associated with the landmark Al Areen development here, so as one of the first elements of that, the park had a lot of natural momentum," he said.

The marketing was put on hold because of the delays to the project, but once the green light was given, the campaign "literally burst out of the gate as we had the time to prepare it well", said Blunt.

Marketing would be important to the ongoing success of Lost Paradise and other attractions, added Blunt.

"The PR machine needs to be in top gear from the word go and never rest on its success," he said.

Phased openingAt the time of going to press, Dubailand would not confirm which projects were due to be in operation by 2010.

Already up and running is the Dubai Autodrome at Motor City, some aspects of Dubai Sports City and Global Village, Dubai Outlet Mall and Al Sahara Desert Resort.

According to Dubailand's recent marketing efforts and the claims of those close to the projects, Phase 1 should include the Restless Planet theme park and Aqua Dunya Theme Park, plus Universal Studios, Plantation World and the Formula One Theme Park.

Phase 2 is planned for opening in 2015 and should bring all the other projects on line, including Bawadi, the Dreamworks theme park, The Tiger Woods Dubai and Falcon City of Wonders, as well as all the residential and hotel components of the projects launched in Phase 1.

Over to operations

In addition to challenges posed by infrastructure and marketing, there are operational issues that Dubailand would need to consider, said Fast Future Ventures Ltd CEO Rohit Talweer after TDIM08.

"Dubailand is a very ambitious development and it isn't coming to market in isolation. Around the world there are many theme parks coming on stream and being upgraded, plus a range of other high experience leisure developments. A constant challenge will be to keep the proposition differentiated," he said.

"Furthermore, for most theme parks, the ticketing is very streamlined - you can use the entry ticket over multiple days and different parks in the same family.

"With so many operators under the Dubailand banner, they will have to ensure that the customer experience is simple, streamlined and efficient - customers won't want to be dealing with multiple tickets and different rules for different attractions," continued Talwar.

One option is for developers to partner with an existing operator, said Tight.

"We have engaged Jumeirah as our hotel and theme park operator for the launch of Aqua Dunya," he revealed.

"Jumeirah will take advantage of its existing organisation for sourcing qualified staff, training them to provide the Jumeirah level of quality, and all that's required to prepare for a successful opening," said Tight.

Pricing and availability would also be key to Dubailand's success, said Talwar.

"There is an issue around how quickly it all goes live - if only a few attractions are live at the start, customers may wait to come, and pricing may have to be made very attractive to get them in," he explained.

"Dubailand will also have to look at hotel prices and availability - the typical theme park visitor is unlikely to be the same person coming and spending four nights in an upmarket five-star hotel at US $350-plus per night," added Talwar.

Million-dollar question

The jury is still out on whether Dubailand will hit its 15 million visitor target by 2010.

As well as depending on infrastructure, marketing and operational issues as outlined, Metzger said there is a problem with qualifying what that target is for exactly.

"After all, if Dubailand opens the Mall of Arabia by 2010, it could easily hit 15 million visitors," he said.

"The mall we opened at the entrance to Sentosa Island will probably hit close to 30 million visitors this year - it's a heavy repeat visitation from locals," said Metzger, who is also on the board for Sentosa Leisure Group.

At the time of going to press, Dubailand would not comment on the target.

Ambitious though it may be, 15 million visitors is achievable, according to Blunt.

"I would say I think it is possible - this area is experiencing a boom of epic proportions and the longevity and success of projects such as Wild Wadi is testament to how sustainable these types of ventures are," he said.

What would be more difficult is maintaining such high numbers, said Metzger.

"It won't be a challenge to attract the first tourist but to encourage and sustain repeat and prolonged visits and thus ensure sustainability of Dubailand in the long run.

"This can only be achieved by a united approach by all the individual projects towards creating a strong and dynamic Dubailand brand and continuous re-investment in its tourism offerings," he concluded.

Conflicting figuresDubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has revealed that it has forecast 10 million visitors to Dubai in 2010 and an "ambitious" target to reach 15 million visitors in 2015.

The DTCM has no forecast in average length of stay, and would not comment on the visitor targets set by Dubailand.

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