American media giant 20th Century Fox has teamed up with United Arab Emirates Al Ahli Holding Group to build a theme park in Dubai, set to open in 2018, that will feature attractions based on blockbuster movies such as “Aliens,” “Titanic,” “Ice Age” and “Planet of the Apes.”
So the UAE builds another resource-guzzling folly for audiences with high disposable income, hungry for US-themed fun. How long can this roller coaster ride last?
Discussing the Middle East location, Greg Lombardo, a senior vice president at 20th Century Fox Consumer Products, said, “It is where consumer spending is beginning to meet the appetite for entertainment.”
But will chronically deflated oil prices sustain an economy where touristic “fun” facilities fully dependent on desalinated water and air-conditioned spaces compete for stagnant wealth?
Construction of the 75-acre 20th Century Fox World theme park will cost more than $850 million. It’s expected to draw an estimated 3 million visitors in the first year, but the developers haven’t released a forecast for full return on that investment.
(For context, consider that Disneyland in California drew an estimated 16.7 million visitors last year while Walt Disney World Resort in Florida pulled in over 57 million visitors. Green Prophet could find no reliable visitor numbers for Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi – billed as the world’s largest indoor theme park and named the “Middle East’s Leading Tourist Attraction” at the World Travel Awards™ 2015. Writer experience can attest to never having to wait more than 15 minutes in line for a Ferrari World ride. Said differently, it’s not Disney World.)
Developers say that the “immersive entertainment destination” will feature themed lands and attractions based on Fox properties, including Ice Age, Rio, Planet of the Apes, Aliens, Night at the Museum and Titanic, and The Simpsons. A retail street will offer shopping and dining based on Fox properties, and the park will include the world’s first Fox-themed resort hotel where, according to a press release, “themed rooms and dining opportunities will offer visitors a chance to further immerse themselves in the entertainment brands and rich history of 20th Century Fox.” Who doesn’t want to vacation just like Homer Simpson?
The developers state that the new park will enjoy proximity to Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports handling over 70 million passengers per year. But about 70% of those are transfer passengers, meaning they spend all their time between connections inside the terminal, with their disposable income flowing only to airport food concessions and duty-free shops.
Al Ahli Holding Group operates a portfolio of developments including Dubai Outlet Mall, the Gold’s Gym franchise in the Middle East and Africa; and Comicave, the world’s largest comic and superhero collectibles destination store. Fox World represents a new direction for the UAE-based company.
“Fox World will be a world-class destination that will help fuel Dubai’s emergence as a global tourism destination,” said Jeffrey Godsick, President of Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products.
Could this be the future for Middle East travel? Safety and security fears have caused regional tourism to plummet in MENA nations that traditionally drew holiday-makers seeking history (Egypt), culture (Syria), beach recreation (Tunisia), city life (Lebanon), and holy sites (Israel, Palestine). Even stable Jordan has seen tourism drop due to its proximity to violent neighbors.
The UAE has so far been immune to civil war, acts of terrorism, and an influx of refugees. So if you can’t afford a solid-gold shopping spree to London, maybe a fully artificial experience in a sanitized emirate is the stuff of vacation dreams.
Image from Al Ahli Holding Group