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Exclusive: Dubai's theme park boom offers new gateway to Europe, says Fox executive

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Greg Lombardo, the man heading up Fox’s new theme park ventures worldwide, has called Dubai a “gateway” to a crowded european market, praising the area as a new emerging hub for the attractions market.

Fox, which recently signed a deal with the Al Ahli Holding Group (AAHG) to develop the first Twentieth Century Fox theme park and resort in Dubai, is currently planning a global expansion of its theme park division, which will come first to Malaysia in 2017 and then Dubai in 2018.

With the region’s theme park sector experiencing rapid growth, Dubai has been touted as ‘Orlando 2.0’, emulating what the popular US tourist destination has done to establish itself as the world’s theme park capital.

“Orlando is the golden goose,” said Lombardo speaking exclusively to Attractions Management. “I think that’s certainly the approach and the learning that Dubai is following.

“If you look at the key hallmarks of Orlando, you’ve got big studio parks like Universal and Disney – the ‘kings of the hill’ there. Then you’ve got operators like SeaWorld and Legoland – you’ve got critical mass of all the ‘biggies’ and they’re all doing well.

“In Orlando all the ships rise on that tide. That’s exactly what Dubai aspires to. If you look at the tourism growth and the key markets, Malaysia offered us a gateway to China, Dubai offers us a gateway to Europe, which is a very mature marketplace for parks. There’s limited opportunity in Europe, whereas Dubai offers that massive gateway to Europe and allows us a touching point to those very important consumers.”

Lombardo, who is Fox’s senior vice president of global live and location based entertainment, said that Dubai, which is emerging as a new hub for visitor attractions, had learned from mistakes made during the global financial crisis.

“I was working for BRC back in the day during the first rush in Dubai,” said Lombardo. “Everyone was trying to build 10 parks and we were working on some of them ourselves. As we saw, that all fell apart in the wake of the financial crisis. Dubai has learned quite a bit from that and with this new wave of development has applied some very thoughtful strategy to the way it’s going to enter and grow in this market.”

With hotel occupancy booming and Dubai on target to attract 20 million tourists annually by 2020, the importance of theme parks and other visitor attractions to maintain attendance following the 2020 World Expo was stressed by Lombardo.

“You’ve got Dubai Parks and Resorts, a multi-studio park under construction; you’ve got IMG Worlds of Adventure; you’ve got Warner Brothers in Abu Dhabi. Those are all great indicators for us,” he said. “With the Fox park in Dubai, you’re starting to approach that critical mass you need to create a thriving marketplace in that region.

“The projects themselves are the right size and there’s a keen effort to build for the market now, something I think you see that in all the projects that are being announced there.

“When we look at a market, one thing we look for are mega events. If you look at what happened in Shanghai and Beijing after Expo and the Olympics, or you look at what’s set to happen in Brazil with the upcoming Games, Dubai has got the World Expo in 2020. They’re probably going to double hotel counts to gear up for that capacity. They're going to then need to sustain that demand when it ends. These types of park projects are the destinations that are going to sustain that critical mass. I think Dubai has really entered a next phase of their development. It’s very exciting.”

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Greg Lombardo, the man heading up Fox’s new theme park ventures worldwide, has called Dubai a “gateway” to a crowded european market, praising the area as a new emerging hub for the attractions market.

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