x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

India takes a ride on the wild side as Mumbai theme park aims to appeal to domestic tastes

Rides featuring angry Indian gods, fire-breathing goats, Bollywood, and dinosaurs, are just some of the creations that make up a new 16 billion rupee (Dh1.08bn) theme park that opens outside of Mumbai today.

The Adlabs Imagica theme park which will open outside of Mumbai, India. Photo courtesy Adlabs Imagica
The Adlabs Imagica theme park which will open outside of Mumbai, India. Photo courtesy Adlabs Imagica

Rides featuring angry Indian gods, fire-breathing goats, Bollywood and dinosaurs, are just some of the creations that make up a new 16 billion rupee (Dh1.08bn) theme park that opens outside Mumbai today.

Built by a local company, the country's latest theme park Adlabs Imagica is hoping it can tap a market that has yet to be served by the likes of a Disney World.

"I thought that this was something lacking in the country," said Manmohan Shetty, the chairman of Adlabs Entertainment, which has developed the 20,000 visitor capacity, 45-hectare park by the Mumbai to Pune Expressway.

He explained that it was more challenging to raise financing from banks for the project because it did not have an international brand. But at the same time, the company was keen to develop its own Indian themes and stories behind the rides to appeal to the country's citizens.

The chairman of Walt Disney International, Andy Bird, last month was reported to have ruled out investing in a theme park in India because of poor infrastructure, high costs and doubts over whether Indians had the income levels to sustain the park all year round.

His company has favoured China instead, ploughing $5bn into building a theme park in Shanghai.

Adlabs' ticket prices start from 900 rupees for children and 1,200 rupees for adults.

The company hopes those rates can attract up to 3 million people a year, with India's burgeoning population of more than 1.2 billion and the growing middle class being its target market rather than international visitors.

The domestic theme park market is still relatively untapped, although more and more amusement parks are coming up in the country, analysts say.

"The amusement parks industry in India is more than two decades old and is still at nascent stage," according to a recent report by Care Research. "India's stint with amusement parks started with the opening of Appu Ghar, the first amusement park, in 1984. Major expansion happened in the 1990s with the opening of Essel World in Mumbai, Nicco Park in Chennai and Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad.

"The next three to four years will see a huge capacity addition as some of the largest parks are being developed across various parts of India taking the amusement park industry in India to the next level of growth," Care said.

"As India is waking up to a consumption boom, huge capacities are coming up across the western, northern and southern part of India near metros and on major highways. Some of the upcoming amusement parks are going for tie-ups with foreign partners for implementing world-class infrastructure. Considering the footfall it attracts, a lot of state governments are proactively engaging into public-private partnership models to promote amusement parks in their states."

There are a number of hurdles, however. "Land acquisition and skyrocketing land prices, lack of 'single window clearance' are some of the major challenges for the sector," the Care report stated.

Mr Shetty brought Imax theatres to India more than a decade ago, which he said was also considered a risk at the time.

The Adlabs Imagica theme park is widely considered to stand out compared with other parks in the country because of its mix of high-tech indoor rides and outdoor attractions, on which the company partnered with international consultants and suppliers to build the development.

"We had to import the technology because it was not existing here," said Mr Shetty.

The company was hoping to expand its parks in India and was already in talks to develop its next project in Hyderabad, he said.