Spending on leisure, amusement and theme parks in the Middle East and Africa is expected to reach $609 million (Dh2.23 billion) in 2023, according to a recent report issued by International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the global industry association.
The data assumes significance as the UAE recently announced its ambitions on raising the tourist intake to 40 million per year with and investment of Dh100 billion. In this regard, widening the scope of leisure tourism and theme parks facilities is a key component. The recent agreement between Dubai Parks & Resorts to open a Real Madrid theme park needs to be seen in this context. Abu Dhabi’s Miral Asset Management has also recently launched a new group identity to streamline the delivery of Dh13 billion worth of leisure and cultural projects across the emirate.
The leisure industry in the region has started to grow at an exponential rate following the removal of travel restrictions after the Covid-19 pandemic, and boosted by the continuing effects of Expo 2020 and the ongoing World Cup football tournament in Qatar.
Tourism forms one of the main pillars of the UAE economy as the country continues its march to diversify its income sources beyond hydrocarbons. According to the latest figures available on the Ministry of Economy website, UAE’s total revenue from tourism in 2019 was Dh180.4 billion. Hotel revenues stood at Dh30 billion, with 1,089 hotels and 180,000 rooms. The sector contributed 11.6 per cent to UAE GDP in 2019.
“Trade, tourism and retail are key economic growth drivers that will push the economies of the GCC countries in the years to come. These sectors are playing a pivotal role in diversifying the economy of the Gulf countries and will play even greater role in the economy,” Nizam Deen, founder and chief executive officer of CS Events, told Khaleej Times. “Recently the UAE Government has announced that it plans to attract 40 million tourists to the country every year by 2040 with investment to the tune of Dh100 billion that will further diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Therefore, the countries in the GCC region will now sharpen their focus in developing leisure tourism facilities to attract more visitors.”
Along with direct and indirect contribution, the Middle East’s Travel and Tourism industry generates $237 billion (Dh870 billion) worth of economic activity, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). In the Middle East, Travel and Tourism represents 8.7 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports 5.4 million jobs. In North Africa, Travel and Tourism represents 11.2 per cent of the region’s GDP, and supports 5.6 million or 10.4 per cent of all jobs, WTTC research shows.
The report projects attendance to increase at a 12.2 per cent compound annual rate to 13.0 million in 2023 from 7.3 million in 2018. It expects overall theme and amusement park spending to grow at an 18.1 per cent compound annual rate to $605 million in 2023 from $263 million in 2018.
The global amusement parks market grew from $42.68 billion in 2021 to $69.27 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 62.3 per cent , according to research reports. The amusement parks market is expected to grow to $140.5 billion in 2026 at a CAGR of 19.3 per cent .
In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the government has played a central role in supporting the growth of the entertainment sector by implementing the General Authority for Entertainment (GAE) established under the umbrella of the Public Investment Fund (PIF). According to Renub Research, the Saudi Arabia Entertainment & Amusement market will reach US$1.17 billion by the end of the year 2030.
Saudi Arabia is creating a host of attractions and giga-projects as part of Vision 2030, including the first water park in Saudi Arabia at Qiddiya. The company has awarded a contract worth 2.8 billion Saudi riyals ($750 million) for the construction of the kingdom’s first and the region’s largest water theme park.
Qiddiya, which is being built in the outskirts of the Riyadh, is one of several mega-projects being developed in the kingdom as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 programme, the overarching blueprint to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbon revenue.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Hokair Group has partnered with Hasbro to launch a unique family entertainment centre (FEC) concept called Playocity across the kingdom. Additional developments include the kingdom’s $500 billion city of the future Neom and the Red Sea Project.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) from global oil and gas contractors for a $5bn ‘oil rig theme park’ called The Rig. The Rig will be an offshore ‘extreme park’ in the Persian Gulf. Covering an area of more than 150,000 square metres, the attraction will be situated on repurposed oil platforms.
Key industry event
Against this backdrop, more than 250 industry experts, from 75 participating companies from theme parks, water parks, resorts, family entertainment centres plan to attend the first Saudi Theme Parks & Entertainment Confex, scheduled to take place in Riyadh on March 6, 2023. The event is expected to highlight the business opportunities in the the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, in the theme park sector.
“The event will highlight the upcoming leisure projects that will help the industry grow further,” Deen said.
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