Amid rumours of delays, Dubailand SVP Mohammed Al Habbai updates Leisure Manager on the mega-project's priorities for 2009.
With almost daily reports of canned mega projects and delayed developments in the local media, it was with some cynicism that Leisure Manager approached its interview with Dubailand SVP Mohammed Al Habbai.
However, the man in charge of delivering Dubai's three billion ft² leisure destination was calm and collected, still excited by the challenge ahead yet acknowledging that now is the time to reflect on the development so far and reassess priorities.
"As of now, we're reviewing projects which are not under construction yet. We're going to go ahead with the ones that are," says Al Habbai.
Universal Studios, The Tiger Woods Dubai and Asia Asia are our main priorities.
For example, he says the Formula One theme park - F1-X - at Motor City and Universal Studios at Universal City "are on track".
"Universal Studios we're forecasting will be completed by end of 2010 / 2011 and Formula One theme park by the end of this year. They're in the stage of construction; 70% is ready," reveals Al Habbai.
"For F1's first year of operation, we're targeting 2.2 million visitors and at Universal we are targeting four million visitors in the first year. We are well focused on where do we have to spend; our priorities come first.
"Universal Studios, The Tiger Woods Dubai and Asia Asia are our main priorities."
Al Habbai explains that the huge scale of Dubailand's projects means that many are in different phases. It seems unrealisitic to assume that everything will come online together and Al Habbai made no mention of the phase one opening date of December 10, 2010, previously quoted to Leisure Manager.
Instead, he says most of phase one will be completed by 2010/2011, suggesting that the project is moving forward with a greater air of caution than previously.
Al Habbai even admits that they are "reviewing" Tatweer project Global Village.
"As we speak we have six projects that are in their first phase, such as the golf course in Dubai Sports City and the Al Sahra Desert Resort amphitheatre. Dubai Sports City and Motor City are going as planned. City of Arabia is expecting delays of three months," says Al Habbai.
He concedes that delivering the infrastructure for Dubailand remains a daily challenge.
"We are working very closely with the government; the biggest challenge that we have daily is how to put all of the transportation master plan in place, which we are working with the Roads &Transport Authority (RTA) and our consultant to implement."
With Al Habbai confident that development is progressing more or less as planned, with very little impact from the global economic crisis, is he equally as secure that the forecast target of 15 million visitors a year is still achievable?"Our research shows that more theme parks and attraction entertainment venues are needed and the demand is there, but I believe we need to expand and verify the offering. Dubai has built itself as a strong brand and destination and in terms of family fun and culture, Dubailand will build on and complement trends by offering a new attraction to redefine the fun experience," he says.
"This is a new concept for this region and within a five hour flight from Dubai we are targeting 1.8 billion consumers and 300,000 million Arabs," says Al Habbai. "Our local tourists will represent our home base and repeated business, and world tourists will drive the bigger picture," he asserts.
Building Dubai's profile as a destination for short breaks and family visits will be critical to achieving these targets, however.
"We are currently formulating our distribution strategy and we have regional and international strategies to market our theme parks and our other attractions and hospitality provision," says Al Habbai.
"This will be part of marketing Dubailand as a destination; it will not only be a theme park ticket, we will offer a variety of experiences."
Marketing has already started for attractions such as F1-X through exhibitions last year like Arabian Travel Market, but Al Habbai says the focus will move to e-marketing to appeal to the "new generation".
"Definitely I think that online is the way to improve the customer experience; that's where we're going with our booking and branding activities. And also via the travel agency or tour operators for the first year; we won't forget them," he says.
With F1-X due to be opened this autumn, then targeting more than two million visitors in 2010, it will be the first true test for Dubailand's marketing strategy.
After all, the park's launch is of great significance in that it will set a benchmark for Dubailand, but following as it does the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi in November, there's plenty to capitalise on. Perhaps shrewd timing and a focus on the UAE as a destination will be the name of the game for Dubai's mega leisure project.For all the latest travel 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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