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Middle East on a roll as fastest growing theme park market

Abu Dhabi seaward SeaWorld Abu Dhabi
Miral, developer of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island and Ferrari World, will open SeaWorld Abu Dhabi this year
  • Spend at Mena amusement parks to rise 10.9% annually by 2024
  • Growth driven by economic diversification in the Gulf
  • Digital immersive experiences join traditional ride-based attractions 

The Middle East and North Africa is set to be the fastest-growing region for investment in amusement parks, as developing economies create attractions to lure visitors. 

Consumer spending at theme parks and related destinations in the Mena region is projected to grow at an annual rate of 10.9 percent, from $282 million in 2019 to $474 million by 2024, according to a report by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), which has more than 6,000 members in 100 countries. 

Such growth is faster than that of the world’s two largest theme park markets – North America, which is set to grow 2.3 percent annually to $29.5 billion by 2024, and Asia Pacific, predicted to grow by 5 percent to $26.3 billion.

The Middle East – ranked by IAAPA as the fourth largest market after Europe – is witnessing an entertainment industry boom, with growth driven by new parks and attractions, the report said.

“We are projecting growth for all regions post-Covid, but nothing compares to the Middle East, which has a totally different dynamic,” said Peter van der Schans, executive director and vice president of IAAPA Emea. 

“Countries have a pile of money and need to reform their economies away from oil. Many are creating ‘destination economies’ and establishing new markets for tourism, aviation and hospitality.

“Take Saudi Arabia. Five years ago it had no mass entertainment industry. Now it is catching up and the pace of cultural change is remarkable.”

Dubai theme park
Kids meet Smurfs at MotionGate Dubai, the Hollywood-inspired theme park, part of Dubai Parks and Resorts
Theme parks riding high

Public Investment Fund-owned Saudi Entertainment Ventures (Seven) pledged to invest SR50 billion ($13 billion) to build 21 entertainment destinations across 14 Saudi cities, in partnership with global brands including Clip ‘n Climb, Warner Bros Discovery, Mattel’s Hot Wheels, and Hasbro’s Transformers and Play-Doh.

Seven is building its first destination, the Al Hamra entertainment district in Riyadh, and aiming to attract 6 million visitors annually. 

Construction is also progressing for the opening this year of Six Flags Qiddiya, a huge theme park in Riyadh with the world’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster, Falcon’s Flight.

Meanwhile, the RIG, a floating theme park for extreme sports, is to be built on an offshore oil rig, while tourism mega-projects Neom and The Red Sea will have their own entertainment complexes. 

Saudi Arabia last week also announced the launch of the Events Investment Fund, which will conceptualise, finance and oversee the development of more than 35 entertainment venues by 2030.

The fund’s assets will include indoor arenas, art galleries, theatres and conference centres, horse racing and auto tracks. It plans to deliver its first event this year.

Saudi Clip 'n Climb
Saudi Entertainment Ventures (Seven) build entertainment destinations in partnership with global brands including Clip ‘n Climb

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy aims to grow its tourism industry to attract 100 million visitors per year and account for 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), from 3 percent. It also wants to increase household spending on cultural and entertainment activities inside the kingdom to 6 percent of GDP.  

The UAE has similar ambitions. Its 2031 strategy aims to increase tourism’s GDP contribution to AED450 billion ($122 billion), from AED180 billion in 2019, and attract 40 million hotel guests. 

Van der Schans believes that because of these strategies there is opportunity for more amusement parks, greater variety and competition. “Governments are creating the environment for the industry to grow and mature,” he said.  

Miral, developer of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island and Ferrari World, announced plans to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, joining the park’s six other themed lands, including Gotham City and Cartoon Junction.

Miral also intends to open SeaWorld Abu Dhabi this year, while in the neighbouring emirate, Dubai Parks and Resorts plans to build a Real Madrid football club-branded park.

Saudi theme park
Six Flags Qiddiya opens this year in Riyadh and will include Falcon’s Flight, the world’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster

“The industry is so active because the emirates are recognised as world class travel destinations,” Mohamed Abdula Al Zaabi, group chief executive of Miral, said.

For Fernando Eiroa, chief executive of Dubai Holding Entertainment, parent of Dubai Parks & Resorts, consumer interests have matured since the pandemic, encouraging operators to up their game. 

“Customers are continuing to demand best-in-class experiences and unique attractions. People’s priorities have evolved, not just through new ways of working, parenting, learning, and living, but also how they choose to experience life,” Eiroa said. 

“Amusement parks are a great representation of the ‘experience economy’ – a growing preference among consumers to spend on experiences rather than products – as parks offer more thrills and memorable experiences.”

Dubai-based HyperSpace opened AYA, a digitally immersive experience park with interactive gardens, observatories and other spaces, in Wafi Mall in December, bringing a metaverse dimension to the emirate’s offering. Its second venue, the 100,000 sq ft House of Hype in Dubai Mall, opens this year.

Meanwhile, Qatar hopes to continue World Cup tourism momentum with Meryal, a 1.7 million square feet water park featuring the world’s tallest slide at 85 metres.

Just before Qatar 2002, the new Lusail City near Doha became the home of the Lusail Winter Wonderland theme park, which has more than 50 rides including the Qatar Airways Forest Flume and the Ooredoo 5G Rollercoaster, along with the region’s first outdoor ice-skating rink.  

And Egypt, already offering attractions such as Dream Park which opened in Giza in 1999, is a market to watch, according to IAAPA, because entertainment is expected to form a key part of the country’s economic growth plans.