Watch out Orlando, Dubai wants to be the world's biggest theme park destination

By Daisy Carrington, for CNNUpdated 5th November 2014
Robot dinosaurs, Lego men and Spider-Man -- all could become Dubai's newest residents as the city is set to house a slew of new theme parks.
On the roster is everything from big brands like Legoland and Six Flags, to new concepts set to make a splash. Literally in the case of Pearl of Dubai, slated to be the world's largest underwater park when it's completed (the tentative date is 2020, to correspond with the Dubai World Expo).
Size is a theme for many of the parks on the list. One proposed project, IMG World of Adventure, hopes to usurp Ferrari World as the world's largest indoor theme park. It will include four zones, including The Lost Valley -- a Jurassic Park-themed segment -- as well as two zones dedicated to characters from Cartoon Network and Marvel Comics, respectively.
"We want this park to be one of the center points in the future of Dubai," explains Adam Alexander Page, the vice president of marketing for IMG Group, the developer behind the project.
"As such, you don't want to build something that won't get global attention, and if that means it's big, that's what you do. There's no point in building it small."
What's in a name?
Many of Dubai's developers plan to rely heavily on pop culture and name recognition in bringing people to their parks. This is especially true of the planned Dubai Parks, planned in an expanse 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Dubai International Airport. A theme-park conglomerate, Dubai Parks will house a Legoland, as well as a Bollywood-themed park and the Hollywood-themed Motiongate Dubai.
"Movies have become the kind of entertainment that binds people, young or old, across the globe, because they all watch the same movies," notes John Gerner, a theme park consultant and the managing director at Leisure Business Advisors.
"It used to be that if you were to develop a theme park, you'd take an indigenous theme unique to the area and build on that. Now, it's almost the opposite. You take an international concept known around the world, like Marvel."
Thinking different
Aside from the financial incentives, developers cite Dubai's willingness to think outside the box as part of the appeal of setting up in the city.
"Dubai has an overabundance of vision," says Patrick Douglas, the CEO of Reef Worlds, an underwater design company.
Pearl of Dubai will be a five-acre underwater park with a Lost City of Atlantis theme. In addition to luring scuba divers and snorkelers, the underwater attraction will also act as a huge artificial reef, designed to attract and nurture aquatic life.
"We're building for two clients: One has credit cards, the other has fins," jokes Douglas.
When first pitching the sustainable tourism venture, he approached properties in the Caribbean, all to no avail.
"I told them, we'd build these sites, they wouldn't have to put up any money up front, and if they happened to make money from them -- which we knew they would -- we could talk about a revenue share. We didn't get any traction," says Douglas.
Dubai, however, was a different story.
"They get it. They can conceive of it and they can produce it," he says.
The Orlando of the Middle East?
While Dubai is currently home to a handful of theme parks -- most notably Wild Wadi and Atlantis The Palm's Aquaventure -- the city has yet to establish much of a track record in the industry. Many projects announced prior to the 2008 crash were assigned to the scrap heap afterwards.
"In our industry, there tends to be more announcements of theme parks than those actually built," warns Gerner.
"It's a quandary for analysts like myself. Typically we look at new projects as a share of the existing market, so it's very hard to evaluate the potential for going into somewhere entirely new."
Then again, building an entertainment industry from scratch isn't unprecedented. Gerner points out that Orlando, Florida was virtually unknown until the 1970s when Disney World moved in.
"Dubai wants to become an international tourist destination for leisure, one that serves not just the greater region, but the entire world. Whether they'll be successful, that's a big question, but that's their goal," says Gerner.