The sleepy Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah was an unexpected choice for a Real Madrid holiday resort.
A far cry from the bustling and vibrant cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the country’s northernmost state - much like its neighbours Ajman and Fujairah - is largely unheard of around the globe. In fact, it is better known for its advances in industry than its booming tourism sector.
However, Ras Al Khaimah managed to beat its neighbours to the punch this time, and by 2015, is expected to harbour the first tourism complex built under the Real Madrid trademark. Details of the project, which emerged at a large tented press conference at the end of March, brought together a range of officials, stars and interested parties, from former football legends Zinedine Zidane and Emilio Butragueno to a long list of potential investors, bankers and CEOs, including construction firm Drake and Scull’s own Khaldoun Tabari.
Launching the project were its joint venture partners, the president of the Spanish football team, Florentino Pérez, the ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, HH Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, and officials from the Luxembourg-based RAK Marjan Island Football Investment Fund.
According to them, the UAE was chosen for its strategic location, just a short plane ride away from its home market Europe, but also not far from football's biggest growth market, Asia. Indeed, officials revealed that Asia is now home to half the estimated 300 million worldwide fans and followers of the club.
Unlike anything previously seen in Ras Al Khaimah, the Real Madrid resort seems set to grab the attention of tourists far and wide. Costing a massive $1bn to build, the beachside mega-project will expand over a 50 hectare (124 acre) area, located on the first artificial island to be built off Ras Al Khaimah, Al Marjan.
Following in the footsteps of other iconic projects in the UAE, such as the world’s tallest tower, the Ferrari World theme park, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and the lavish Palm Jumeirah, the project is expected to reinforce the audacious image of the oil-rich Gulf state around the world.
Slated to open in just three years, the colossal sports and entertainment development will include a large number of facilities - not all of which will be dedicated to football. Developers have since dubbed it a ‘sportainment’ destination, which will combine opportunities for sport with more traditional leisure outlets.
In addition to the project’s main venture, a 10,000-seat football stadium — the first in the world to open directly to the sea — developers are also planning luxury hotels, a marina and an amusement park for the resort. According to authorities, a rollercoaster ride will be a focal part of the resort, whilst other projects such as a football academy, basketball facilities, a club museum, a shopping mall, residential areas and private beaches are also expected to draw in crowds.
CEO Louis Armand De Rouge said that he hoped the island would attract around one million visitors every year.
“It will truly be a dream island,” he told the press conference. “The complex is designed not only for the millions of Real Madrid fans around the world but also for all families wishing to experience an unforgettable moment in a unique place.”
When asked if the players would be contracted to come to the resort - a key draw for tourists - De Rouge replied: “Most of the players will come depending on the games. The ambassadors are going to come, the first team are going to come — that will be their base for the Asian tour and there is a strong possibility they might come around Christmas time and have a training camp here. The rest of the time there will be other players, maybe the second team. It is, of course, the plan to host Real Madrid friendly matches at the stadium.”
He added that the academy would be an important aspect for promoting football among young Emiratis, particularly given the popularity of the sport in the region combined with the lack of existing training opportunities. In addition, the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, HH Sheikh Saud, said: “I think having the academy here and having Real Madrid here will be great opportunity for our children.”
But despite the optimism of developers and officials, there are some who remain apprehensive about the possibility of the project being completed, on time and if at all. They recall how developers of many similar projects in the region were equally positive at the launch of their projects, but have since failed to make much headway.
The proposed Tiger Woods-designed golf course and residential development in Dubai was the American star’s first announced course design project. However, as of last year, many believe it is unlikely the project will ever be completed due to a lack of funds.
Hence, when organisers admitted to not having yet secured the funding for the Real Madrid resort, onlookers could be forgiven for being sceptical. However, the project's developers told reporters that they were in the process of luring investors, and were confident that the funds would be there.
“We cannot disclose how much is coming from whom, [but] we know it is going to be invested in,” said De Rouge.
“This is such a unique project, that I don’t see any drawbacks in people being attracted to funding.
"The only problem I think we might be faced with is selecting investors. It’s not so much about whether we’ll have the money to make it but who is going to participate in the project. We already have people who want to buy most of it,” he added.
Construction of the project is planned to start in six months, he said, after a series of global roadshows aimed at luring the moneymen. Within three years, the developersare expecting to break even on their initial investment.
“We expect it to be profitable,” added De Rouge. “In the first three years we should be more than breaking even.”
Four other branded theme parks in the Middle East
Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi
Ferrari World is the largest indoor theme park in the world — the section available to visitors is 86,000 sq m, big enough to fit seven football pitches placed end to end. It is the first theme park dedicated entirely to the famous Italian marque. The roof is 200,000 sq m and carries the largest Ferrari logo — the famed prancing horse — ever created. The park is able to host up to 10,000 visitors a day and employs more than 900 staff. Ferrari World has taken just three years to build. The first foundation stone was laid on 3 November 2007, and it opened to the public at the end of October 2010.
Sega Republic, Dubai Mall
Part of the world’s biggest shopping centre, the Dubai Mall, this Sega-branded indoor theme park was opened in August 2009. Located near the cinema and ice-rink areas of the mall, Sega Republic is a key part of developer Emaar’s plan to diversify its offerings at Dubai Mall. The 76,000 sq ft park features nine attractions and more than 200 games, from motion simulators to virtual reality experiences.
Last month, Emaar announced that it would open a new Sega-branded Game Zone in Dubai’s Marina Mall. Work on the park is under way, and the park is expected to be open “within months”.
Star Trek centre at the Red Sea Astrarium, Jordan
Jordan’s Rubicon Group, in conjunction with CBS Consumer Products and Paramount, will design and produce a Star Trek-themed centre at the Red Sea Astrarium (TRSA) entertainment resort in Aqaba, Jordan. This marks the iconic property’s first themed entertainment venue outside the US.
The 184-acre resort is expected to be completed by 2014. The themed entertainment destination will serve as a model for green energy, incorporating state-of-the-art renewable technologies throughout the facility. It will also host a ‘future’ pavilion where businesses, students and attendees can learn about alternative energy sources ranging from solar and wind energy to grey-water harvesting. The project, described as a milestone in the development of tourism in Jordan, will provide a progressive and entertaining celebration of the region’s culture and heritage.
Universal Studios, Dubailand
Okay, so Universal Studios isn’t quite open yet. But there have been recent encouraging noises from the developers of Dubailand — which the theme park was set to anchor — that the project is going ahead. Back in 2008, it was a different story. At the groundbreaking ceremony, it was announced that the park was being developed around the theme ‘Ride the Movies’ and would feature five different lands: Surf City Boardwalk; Epic Adventures; Land of Legendary Heroes; Hollywood, and New York.For all the latest lifestyle news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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