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MARKET REPORT: MIDDLE EAST


season, is believed to have been on track to beat this record this season but, instead, was required to close its doors four weeks early this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Preparations, however, are already well underway for the coming season’s opening in October 2020. Located next to Global Village Dubai, opening of the 18,600 sqm Central Park botanical garden at the heart of Cityland Mall continues to be long awaited, even though Carrefour has been operating at the mall since July 2019. Slowing down is not the same as stopping, of course. A recent estimate by Team Leisure of the value of attraction projects in the UAE for the period 2016 – 2023, excluding Expo 2020, is US$ 17.8 billion, of which an estimated US$ 8.6 billion has opened and US$ 9.2 billion is in the pipeline. Neither is the big challenge about developing more attractions, it’s getting the existing ones successfully operating again, filling the UAE with international visitors again and hosting the best Expo ever.


Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia is definitely where the Middle East attractions spotlight has moved to as it races to modernise the Kingdom and diversify its economy. It’s also been one of the hardest hit countries


in the region due the dual fold impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its substantial religious tourism industry and on the price of oil. In response to this, projects are being slowed down and the Kingdom has said it will increase the rate of VAT from 5% to 15% with effect from 1 July 2020, only 2.5 years after VAT was first introduced. This and other economic impacts on disposable income due to the reduction in oil revenues are expected to hit the attractions’ industry hard, especially the existing operators of FECs and the like in the Kingdom.


It’ll be interesting to see also what


impact the coronavirus crisis has on the long-term development of cinemas in the Kingdom, if any. The first licences for 35 years were granted in April 2018 and the number of operating and planned cinemas has grown rapidly since. The previously announced ambitions of the five companies that have been granted licenses to date total over 1,800 screens while Saudi officials estimate that there could be as many as 250 cinemas and as many as 2,500 screens by 2030 (Source: Arab News 20 April 2019 “A magical first year at the movies as Saudi cinemas herald big screen revival”). The coronavirus crisis may slow down the rate of progress after cinemas were temporarily closed with effect from 11 March 2020 and have yet to re-open but long-term the expectation is that the number of cinema screens still has a long way to go. As seen in the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s


diversification strategy includes the creation of large, mixed use, theme park anchored resorts, such as Al Qiddiya, a 3,400 hectares Six Flags anchored entertainment city 40 kms south west of Riydah. A May 2020 report indicates that earthworks for the theme park are underway but progress on this and the other two US$ 300 million – 500 million Six Flags parks previously proposed for the Kingdom can be


28 PARK WORLD Handbook & Buyer’s Guide 2020


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