The Middle East amusement industry set to grow

  • Leisure & entertainment industry, the world-over, is becoming more and more global.
  • The axis of the leisure and amusement industry is moving eastwards.
  • Digitalisation – alongside security and sustainability – will be a top priority in the years to come.

“We are living in a globalised marketplace. There is tremendous growth in tourism, driven by amusement options, across the world catalysed by easy availability of information, coupled with improved reach of low-cost airlines,” observes Andreas Anderson, first vice chairman of the IAAPA board of directors during the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) winter forum that was held in Dubai in February.

Many facilities are transitioning from being a day-only to multi-day destinations. IP-oriented brand attractions always had a certain pull factor, which has intensified in recent years. Take the examples of LEGOLAND at DPR, Marvel at IMG Words of Adventure or Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

“We are seeing significant global growth in the attractions market, although with large regional variations. While the North American and European markets are quite mature, and see only organic growth, we are seeing a lot of new developments in Asia and the Middle East. Over the next 5-10 years, we will see how feasible these investments are. In the long-term, however, there is no doubt that the attractions market in the Middle East will grow and flourish,” Andersen believes.

“The approach in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is very impressive, and ambitious, particularly with the launch of the newer amusement parks and concepts. But we should not forget some of the existing players growing more organically. As an example, Global Village is seeing huge growth with a local, affordable product, adapted to the market place. Their journey has been very inspiring,” he continues.

New norms in the leisure & amusement industry

The boundaries between different kinds of attractions are getting diffused, Andersen feels. Governments of most countries are promoting tourism. In a number of countries in Asia and the Middle East, particularly, theme parks play a key role in national plans. But leisure and entertainment is a capital-intensive industry, requiring a minimum investment of 12% of turnover annually.

“Putting rides together, therefore, isn’t enough anymore. Storytelling and tapping into guest emotions have become crucial. Creating a point of differentiation is a must. Theme parks around the world are aligning their events calendar according to different occasions like Christmas, Chinese New Year as well as Diwali and Eid,” he stresses.

“Digitalisation is another area of focus, one that determines our communication with guests, influencing how products are developed and integrated via an app. The digital world influences the competitive environment, how we sell and distribute products,” Andersen elaborates.

Sustainability is also becoming more and more important for leisure and entertainment facilities. This will be a key determining factor behind the success of leisure and amusement facilities in future.

“Sustainability must be looked upon holistically,” Andersen suggests. “It goes beyond ecology and environment, including economic and social aspects. Focus on animals in captivity with several circuses closing down in the last few weeks implies how sustainability is impacting the amusement industry.”

Safety, which is not an isolated national issue, has always been pivotal in the leisure and entertainment industry, which has become even more important in recent years.

“After all, what happens in Australia, Nigeria, China or Peru affects the whole world because news spreads very swiftly these days’. While the focus over the last two decades have been on information sharing, education and technical standards, these will be complemented by specific legislations on safety measurements,” Andersen states.

The shifting axis

Orlando remains the reigning global capital of the amusement industry recording over 65 million visitors to its attractions last year. However, the axis of the leisure and amusement industry is moving eastwards.

“Evaluating the developments, there have been fewer in Europe and almost none in North America. The same can’t be said about the Asia or even the Middle Eastern markets. The Middle East, particularly, is a young market but one that holds significant growth potential so much so that IAAPA will soon set up a regional office in Dubai,” Andersen reveals.

“We live in very unstable political times intensified by the new US foreign policy doctrine, the Eurozone pressures, constant migrant crisis and the war in Syria to name a few. As an industry we have to stay observant and agile in such tough times, while adapting to changes, developing our expertise and investing to stay relevant,” he stresses.

Leisure and amusement is dynamic, ever-evolving

Andersen concludes with a highly foresighted observation made by Georg Carstensen, founder of Tivoli Gardens – an amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark – wherein he captured the ever-evolving nature of amusement industry.

During the launch of Tivoli Gardens, Carstensen was asked when the theme park will be completed. He had said Tivoli Gardens will never be finished.

 

Read the full leisure and entertainment special report in the upcoming April edition of RetailME featuring Global Village, Dubai Parks & Resorts, IMG Worlds of Adventure, Landmark Leisure, Al-Othaim Leisure, Ski Dubai, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and much more

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