Studios, Theme Parks Go to Dubai

Ryan Nakashima, Associate Press business writer, checks in with a look at the Hollywood studio and theme park companies’ efforts in Dubai.

But even as the ink dries on the billion-dollar deals in the United Arab Emirates, movie studios are grappling with ways to make their signature characters and amusement parks fly in the conservative Muslim region.

Politically sensitive characters such as Captain America could be left at home. Prayer rooms will join the list of accommodations, and menus will likely feature falafel and humus alongside pizza and hot dogs.

There’s even a move afoot to offer Bollywood dance shows to lure Indian visitors.

Theme park design companies based in the United States have already spend many years adapting their products to various foreign markets, where culture differences can mean significant changes to how things are designed and operated.

Investors, studios and park operators are all aiming to cash in on what some observers call the Middle East’s decades-long fascination with American culture. Hollywood movies are popular in the region, and Western fashions are hot commodities among residents who travel abroad.

It’s a new market that companies could be very foolish to ignore.

The theme park market is open — with no major facilities currently operating in the Middle East.

The projects are no-brainers for the entertainment companies that have jumped at what amounts to free brand expansions with no capital at risk. Few details have been provided about the deals, which entertainment companies simply describe as licensing arrangements for intellectual property and help on designing the parks and attractions, with no mention of possible royalty payments.

Their investment partners have money and land to build the parks but lack the star-powered attractions to draw the millions of visitors needed to make them profitable.

This sounds similar to when Disney went to Japan.

In recent months, eight major licensing deals have been struck between oil-rich investors and entertainment giants such as Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment Inc. for theme parks and other attractions.

The first, a $2.2 billion Universal Studios park based on franchises such as King Kong and Jurassic Park, is set to open in an area dubbed Dubailand on the city’s desert outskirts in 2010.

Would this be enough to get you on a plane to the Middle East?

Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. will include beer-tasting zones in its four-park complex anchored by SeaWorld, set to open in Dubai in 2012. The discreet zones will receive little advertising, in accordance with UAE government guidelines.

It’s okay to have it – just don’t flaunt it.

The Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest theme park operator by far, is notably absent from the rush to the region. Disney parks and resorts chairman Jay Rasulo said Disney is studying the market.

Of course Disney is studying the market.  The company would be crazy not to explore the possibilities.  But I hope if Disney does do something there, we see something more like DisneySea rather than yet another Magic Kingdom (unless it is very different) or a park on the level of Walt Disney Studios Paris when it opened.  “Pirates of the Persian Gulf”, anyone?

The article talks about infrastructure concerns.  Worth a click-through if you are interested.

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