Construction is set to start on a US$1.5 billion Jordanian theme park that could have been lifted straight from the pages of a Michael Crichton novel.
The Red Sea Astrarium will allow guests to go sightseeing at the thriving landscape of the Acropolis during its prime, view the Lighthouse of Alexandria before it crumbled into the sea and visit the abandoned Peruvian city of Machu Picchu as a bustling metropolis.
Groundbreaking work has started at the 184-acre tourist resort in Aqaba, the high commissioner of the Aqaba special economic zone authority, Kamel Mahadin, announced at a ceremony at the World Economic Forum yesterday. The project, masterminded by Rubicon Group Holding, an Amman-based company that makes animated films, will use the latest 4D technology to simulate ancient worlds as well as rides enabling guests to train for skydiving, scuba diving and even piloting a submarine.
Speaking in front of a 360-degree projection of the scheme, Mr Mahadin told WEF delegates that the technology behind the attractions would "catapult Jordan to the forefront for interactive experiences, including a global first for 4D inverted simulation.
"The entertainment resort will undeniably transform the Aqaba region and make it a high-end tourism hub for Jordan," Mr Mahadin said. "It will do so while telling stories from our regional culture, integrating alternative energy sources and promoting the development of the entertainment industry in Jordan."
It will also include four hotels and 16 entertainment developments including a Star Trek-themed attraction as well as a 4D cinema, a water park, shops and restaurants and the American Museum of Natural History's Silk Road Exhibition.
The Red Sea Astrarium was announced in 2011 when it was reported that the project had received financial backing from a group of international investors from the United States and the Arabian Gulf including Jordan's King Abdullah II Fund for Development.
According to Rubicon, the film production company is not investing any money in the project but is designing the entertainment facilities in the resort. The company estimates that the Red Sea Astrarium will attract 480,000 visitors a year. By comparison Dubai's six planned theme parks announced as part of two separate projects at Jebel Ali and Mohammed bin Rashid City are expected to attract 10 million visitors per year. The project is one of a spate of theme parks planned for the region, including IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world's largest indoor theme park, which is currently being built in Dubailand.
"If you look at the number of theme parks that have been built in this region over the last 10 years you can see that the idea of people travelling halfway around the world to visit these things is becoming more and more established and governments are starting to view theme parks as a good way of boosting their tourist draw," said Craig Plumb, the head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle's Dubai office.
"However, getting funding to build these projects can be difficult, especially as operators tend not to put any equity into projects. In Dubai the tendency has been to attempt to fund parks from residential sales, which has not proven successful."