THE DREAM’S THE THEME
HOW do you track a work in progress? For residents and returning visitors driving along Dubai’s inner arterial roads away from the main city, new projects almost seem to emerge from the sands overnight, taking shape and form and welcoming visitors, even as a giant master plan seems as yet far away from final execution.
Dubai Autodrome, the Al Sahra Desert Resort, the Polo and Equestrian Club – slowly, gradually, the Middle East’s very own Orlando is taking shape, providing a totally new dimension to the city’s already established tourism superpower status in the Gulf.
With its stated aim of increasing tourism’s contribution to GDP to 20 per cent in 2010 and more than doubling current tourist numbers to 15 million by 2015, the emirate is fast executing plans to build a host of new hotels, golf courses, malls and leisure facilities in order to meet projected demand.
Central to these plans is Dubailand, one of the emirate’s many cities within a city. Compared variously to family-values Orlando and Las Vegas (but without the sin), the development has been planned to cover an area of two billion square feet (185sqkm), and by the time it opens, he said, it expects a footfall of 200,000 visitors a day and an initial three million visitors a year, going up to 15 million once fully operational – at which point some 2.5 million people (tourists, workers and residents) should be living within the Dubailand area.
Billed the ‘world’s most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment project,’ Dubailand is expected to be a sprawling three billion square feet, said Mohammed AlHabbai, CEO of Dubailand, a subsidiary of the government-owned Tatweer. This will make it larger than the entire city of Orlando – home to Walt Disney World, Universal Resort, Sea World and many other attractions and hotels.
The entire 45-project venture, not scheduled for completion before 2025, is estimated to cost Dh235 billion ($64 billion dollars), 60 per cent of which is expected to come from private investors. Tatweer’s contribution is Dh100 billion, spread over Bawadi, Tiger Woods Dubai, Global Village and more, AlHabbai said.
In total, Dubailand has seven components: theme parks, sports and sports academies, eco-tourism, wellbeing and health, science and planetariums, shopping and retail and resorts and hotels.
“Most of our projects are on time,” he told TTN in a one-on-one interview. “Four projects are already up and running and we are on schedule for a 2010 opening, but many projects will complete Phase 1 and open this year.”
Other projects will be ready by 2009, he said, and all the major hotel projects, Asia Asia, HollyBolly and Desert Gate, are on schedule.
A STRIP OF HAPPINESS
These three are part of the mammoth $54-billion 217-million-sqft Bawadi project, a 10-km-long project within a project, that was announced in 2006 as the world's largest hospitality and leisure development consisting of more than 50 themed hotels with 60,000 rooms, almost double the number currently available in Dubai. Its CEO, Arif Mubarak, describes it as the ultimate hospitality and entertainment destination.
Billed the world’s longest hospitality boulevard, Bawadi will feature some of the most uniquely themed hotels. Its AsiaAsia, tipped to be world's largest hotel, with 6,500 rooms, will be developed by Tatweer. Forty-five per cent of Bawadi is already agreed upon with private investors, AlHabbai told AFP.
Six hotel development contracts have been signed with private developers, Mubarak told TTN. “We are now focused on the delivery of Phase One, which will drive the development of the next three phases. This will be completed by 2011, when we will have our own hotels, Desert Gate 1 and 2, and Asia Asia, up and running. We have done that because we believe that we should drive the success and we should set the standards and be a benchmark for the other developments. Following that we will have our developers,” he said.
Bawadi has already launched its initial infrastructure phase, which will mainly focus on roadworks, and is set to be finished by the end of this year. It’s a project that will continue to grow, he said: “We see Bawadi as more than four phases. If you restrict yourself to a specific number of rooms or years, you are limiting yourself,” Mubarak said, hinting at the emirate’s truly expansive vision.
On the theme park front, Dubailand has already inked a deal with Universal Studios to create a Universal Theme Park, part of a $2.2- Universal City Dubai. The 505-acre develop-ment will include the 149-acre theme park as well as more than 4,000 hotel rooms, 100 restaurants and a range of retail outlets.
Also under construction is the Falcon City of Wonders, a 100-acre development being built at a cost of $ 1.5 billion. This mixed-use project will be shaped like a falcon and contain life-size replicas of the seven wonders of the world, as well as a Pharaoh Theme Park.
Aqua Dunya, a $1.9-billion development spread over eight million square feet, promises to include two theme water parks, three hotels, a waterfront retail and dining district, with a build-out capacity of two million visitors.
A 2008 completion date has been announced the Restless Planet Dinosaur Park, home to over 100 life-size animatronic dinosaurs, and the Wadi Walk retail project, both components of the $1.96-billion City of Arabia project. Spread over 20 million sqft, the project features a huge shopping mall.
The 1.4-million-sqft Dubai Snowdome will take the city’s new obsession with sub-zero temperatures one step further. With a dome more than 200m in diameter, the largest free-standing see-through dome structure in the world, it will will include a rotating ski deck, mountain run, training area, snow play area, toboggan run, pinguinarium, ice skating rink, ice skating adventure area and a flying theatre featuring a virtual flight over the Antarctic – as well as a snow resort.
Other attractions of note include an observatory Great Dubai Wheel, an Islamic Culture and Science World, the Astrolabe Resort and the Emirates Planetarium.
FOR ADULTS, TOO
If these projects tender the notion that Dubailand will be a destination for families and children, rest assured that the development has some very adult entertainment lined up, too.
Sports plays a major role: already the Motor City’s Dubai Autodrome is up and running, organising the A1 races every year, as well as hosting regular tourist delights such as go-karting and music concerts.
Several stadiums are being constructed in the $3-billion Sports City, with an eye on playing host to a mega event of global interest, such as the Olympics. The 50-million-sqft facility will host a multipurpose stadium with a capacity of 60,000, two cricket stadia that can seat 30,000 and 25,000, a 10,000-capacity indoor stadium, two other multipurpose stadia, as well as world renowned sporting academies.
Slated to open in September 2009 is the 55-million-sqft Tiger Woods Dubai, which will host the first-ever course designed by the champion golfer. “We are committed to deliver the first phase by September 2009. This will include the clubhouse, golf course, academy and a boutique hotel with 80 suites of 3500sqft each, 15 bungalows of 6500sqft and a spa,” Abdulla Al Gurg, project director of The Tiger Woods Dubai, told TTN. The project will also feature a residential aspect with 22 palaces, 75 mansions, 100 large villas and 90 lease villas, a total of 280 residential units, that Al Gurg describes as ‘a seven-star residential golf course estate’.
And in shopping-mad Dubai, can the retail element be far behind? Part of every project is a massive shopping element, while the Global Village, formerly a component of the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, will come into its own as a year-round attraction.
The first phase of Global Village’s permanent attraction will open in June 2008, Abdul Redha Ali bin Redha, Global Village CEO, told TTN. It is scheduled to be the first project within Dubailand to reach completion. This will comprise six pavilions in a horseshoe representing Europe, Africa, Asia, Arabia, the Far East and Pan America and a 6,000-seat amphitheatre, which will host cultural and educational shows. Each will house between 50 to 70 outlets representing various countries, as well as restaurants offering cuisine from around the world. ”By 2011, when both phases are completed, Global Village expects to attract 20 million visitors per year,” he said, adding that the facility will have ample parking.
The Dubai Outlet Mall will sprawl over 4.3 million sqft, with three hotels and the first shopping mall for the region’s factory outlets; and the Islamic-designed Dubai Bazaar will bring in those seeking authenticity.
Bawadi, meanwhile, will play host to the world’s biggest shopping precinct, with over 40 million sqft of gross lease-able area, made up by shopping malls, boutique malls, street shopping and an underground shopping area connecting all Bawadi’s elements to become the longest shopping boulevard. The Mall of Arabia, part of the City of Arabia, has been billed as the world’s largest shopping mall, covering 10 million sqft over four levels with over 1,000 outlets and parking for 10,000 cars; and the 1.7-million-sqft sports-themed Arena Mall will be part of Sports City.
Other projects underway at Dubailand include the equine-themed Al Kaheel theme park and resort will host its own; a spa-centric BeautyLand, complete with museum, school and hotel; the Eco-Tourism World, whose components include Pet Land and Dubai Heritage Village; and more.
All these components, then, feed into each other, the way a master-planned city should.
As Bawadi CEO Mubarak put it, “Each project will compete with each other while at the same time offering different elements. With Bawadi being so different from other elements like the Global Village for example, that is really a great synergy, but the main thing now is to link all these together to make sure that tourists who stay at Bawadi go play golf, and go to Universal and to Global Village. People will be able to enjoy all these different offerings within a larger destination which is Dubailand.”
And for the sceptics who can’t quite believe the expansion will generate anything but a market crash, AlHabbai dismissed fears of saturation in the market, which currently faces a hotel room shortage in peak periods. “Dubailand is going to create a new segment in the market for leisure and entertainment,” he said, adding to the current focus on beach and shopping holidays.