A stretch of land on the Dubai-Al Ain highway — and next to Dubai Outlet Mall — will play host to the Simpsons and the Aliens for the first theme park in the Middle East inspired by characters owned by 20th Century Fox. Or would you prefer a run around in the Planet of the Apes? Or take your chances on the Titanic?
This follows a wide-ranging deal signed by Al Ahli Holding Group (AAHG) and Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, part of the group owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch. (A Fox theme park is currently being built in Malaysia and which is not part of the agreement with Al Ahli.)
"It was two years ago that the talks started [with Twentieth Century Fox],” said Mohammad Khammas, CEO of AAHG. "Under the deal, we are to create 20th Century Fox World-themed destinations in major cities every four years starting with Dubai.
"The idea is to open the Dubai Fox park and resort ahead of Expo 2020. That would be the perfect timeline for us since this is one project in sync with Dubai's vision of being the ultimate hospitality and family tourism destination.”
Details of the likely investment and the extent of the land that will be needed were not disclosed. But Khammas said the intention is to commit the Group's own funds into the development rather than tap external sources.
"The attractions we will have can cater to someone as young as a four-year old and all the way up to someone who is 60-plus,” said Khammas. "The IP [intellectual property] that Fox owns extends from TV shows to animation and movies.”
He's got a point there. Twentieth Century built an impregnable position as the studio behind the all-time blockbuster ‘Titanic', as well as seminal TV shows such as ‘The Simpsons' and ‘Sons of Anarchy'.
As for the land itself, "We already own it and the designs and attractions are being handled through the US-based Rethink Leisure & Entertainment,” said Khammas. "The ground works have started and we will soon be ready with the main tenders, plus the technology-related ones.”
Dubai currently has multiple themed park developments going on, including the massive one being created by the Meraas subsidiary Dubai Parks & Resorts in Jebel Ali. This destination, scheduled for opening in October 2016, combines Hollywood — using IP from Dreamworks Animation, Lionsgate and Sony Pictures — and Bollywood-inspired attractions. There is another by the Ilyas & Mustafa Galadari Group, located next to Global Village, with dinosaurs being central characters.
"Each theme park project in Dubai widens the base of the industry and creates a sizable future audience,” said Khammas. "The experiences each of these projects has to offer will be unique enough to set them apart.
"We are now in a transitional phase where the hype surrounding project announcements have been replaced with what can actually be delivered keeping in mind the Expo 2020. It's what natural progression is about — and that's always ideal.”
In a statement, Jeffrey Godsick, President of Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, said: "20th Century Fox World, Dubai marks an important step forward in our global theme park strategy. Fox World will be a world-class destination that will help fuel Dubai's emergence as a global tourism destination.”
Once the Dubai venture is in place, Al Ahli Holding Group will be checking out locations in East Asia, the Subcontinent and Latin America to take the story forward. "Land owners are more willing to offer theme park developers favourable rates and then use it to create value appreciation for the adjoining areas,” said Khammas. "That's how it has always worked — and we are quite sure we will get those favourable terms overseas.”