x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Walt Disney courts Middle East market but no plans for UAE theme park

For now, Walt Disney Company Parks & Resorts, previously linked to the Dubailand development, said it had no plans to open a theme park in the Middle East as global consumer spending declines.

Last year Disneyland Paris drew 16 million visitors; 90 per cent of them were from Europe. Dale de la Rey / Bloomberg
Last year Disneyland Paris drew 16 million visitors; 90 per cent of them were from Europe. Dale de la Rey / Bloomberg

Walt Disney Company Parks & Resorts is looking to attract high-spending Middle Easterners to its resorts amid declining consumer spending across the world.

“We have visited Dubai, Doha and Kuwait. We have partners in each of those cities and are talking to them about how we can market and sell to consumers,” said Claire Bilby, the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Disney Destinations International (DDI).

The firm recently announced new additions to its Disneyland Paris resort, including an attraction that is scheduled to open next year. It will be based on the Pixar film Ratatouille, about a rat who has ambitions of becoming a chef.

Last year Disneyland Paris drew 16 million visitors; 90 per cent of them were from Europe. The resort hopes to attract visitors from further afield in the future.

Julien Munoz, DDI’s director of international sales and marketing. said the firm had been focusing on the growing Middle East market over the past two decades.

The high expectations of customers from the region was among the challenges facing the resort, said Mr Munoz.

“Standards are high when they travel, so for us it’s a way to keep being in competition,” he said. “The Disney brand is a strong one in this market. We have 51 per cent of consumers that have a strong affinity with the brand.”

Meanwhile, the entertainment giant plans to localise its shows and programmes using regional Arabic dialects, rather than translating its content into modern standard Arabic. That is intended to increase Middle Easterners’ loyalty to the brand, which would benefit its resorts in the long term, Mr Munoz said.

The majority of Disneyland Paris’ visitors from the Arabian Gulf stay in Paris and visit its theme parks for several days. Some use the resort as their base, while those who holiday in London visit the Paris resort by taking the Eurostar train there.

For now, Walt Disney Company Parks & Resorts, previously linked to the Dubailand development, said it had no plan to open a theme park in the Middle East.

“We are very focused on our existing locations and expanding those locations,” said Ms Bilby. “The Middle East is an emerging market for us, it is a growing market and something we have a lot of interest in. We are trying to learn a lot about it to satisfy guests.”

In any case, Dubai is set to become a leading destination for theme parks over the next few years.

For instance, the world’s largest indoor theme park will open in the emirate early next year. Designed by IMG Group, it will feature comic-book heros such as Spider-Man and Iron Man, as well as a Cartoon Network Zone.

The British amusement parks operator Merlin Entertainments is considering developing a Legoland in Dubai, while a Universal Studios theme park has been earmarked for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid City, and the property developer Meraas plans to open five theme parks in Jebel Ali.

thamid@thenational.ae