Industry professionals from around the world gathered in Dubai for the annual exposition organized by International Expo-Consults LLC
by Martin Palicki
ABOVE: Attendees at DEAL largely come from the MENA region to visit over 300 vendors on the expo floor
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, DEAL convened over 300 exhibitors and thousands of attendees in Dubai last March for the three-day trade show. On the expo floor everyone remained upbeat about prospects for growth in the region, though Dubai remains a city full of questions.
With work well underway for Dubai Expo 2020, and ancillary projects supporting it increasing in number, it’s clear many hopes have been pinned to the six-month-long world’s fair. For post-Expo, a robust legacy plan has been created for the site, which will essentially transform it into an independent community.
Dubai has shown success in being able to transform and reinvent itself throughout its short modern history, and local optimism runs high, even as socio-cultural, political, and market changes are inevitable. Jose Silva, CEO of The Jumeirah Group, said in a recent interview for Arab News he doesn’t think the “Dubai Dream” has faded.
“Has it reached a certain maturity? Probably. Is it going to be double-digit growth forever? Of course not. But tourism growth is … at just under 4 percent per year, and supply (of new hotel rooms and facilities) is about 5 percent,” Silva said. “Dubai is the fourth most visited city in the world, just after Paris. When a city has reached that critical mass, there’s no going back. You don’t become the fourth most visited city in the world just by being a dream. And if the fourth most visited city in the world is growing at 4 percent, I don’t think we’ve got a problem.”
Silva goes on to acknowledge that the leisure industry will have to adapt to the softening economic outlook, even while his own company continues work on a major new development. Marsa Al Arab, located near the iconic Burj Al Arab, will relocate and expand the existing Wild Wadi Waterpark while creating a host of new entertainment and retail venues on existing and reclaimed land along the coast.
While it is still unclear exactly what Dubai will look like 5-10 years from now, the attractions industry is still betting on a future for the Emirate, and the MENA market, that remains decidedly bright. Attendance at DEAL is only one indicator that the industry is still invested in the UAE’s success.
“We have a lot of business in this region, so it’s important for us to be here at DEAL,” said Markus Beyr, managing director at Attraktion!, a creative and project development firm with products and installations scattered around the world. [For more information see “The Pearls and Pixels of Attraktion!”]
Where are you from?
Vendor attendance at DEAL remains stable, but where those vendors are coming from is changing. Of the roughly 300 exhibitors at the 2019 conference, a solid 40% came from China. Europe accounted for 30%, while MENA companies were 13%. The USA came in at 8% and the remaining areas (Asia, North America, South America, Australia and Russia) all accounted for less than 3% each. It is likely that proximity to the Middle East impacts which regions are most readily represented, but access to markets is also driven by where buyers wish to source from, as well as what products they are looking for.
The strong Chinese presence is indicative of the growing expanding offerings from their vendors. While most Chinese products still seem to target the FEC market, more theme park and waterpark products are steadily emerging from the Chinese marketplace. Technology-heavy VR experiences are already readily available. While issues of IP infringement and lower prices are sometimes mentioned, it’s ultimately the developer’s prerogative in determining how important any one issue is. Based on the Chinese presence at the show alone, at least in this region, it seems the developers have spoken.
It’s all fun and games…
Again, looking at the vendors in attendance, it’s clear that FECs remain the primary type of LBE facility in this region. The majority of vendor space was devoted to video games, VR experiences, small rides and inflatables – all products primarily (though not exclusively) targeted for FECs. In addition, Saudi-based Al Hokair group was actively seeking new franchisees at the show from around the MENA region.
Interestingly, there appears to be a further merging of simulatorstyle attractions with video game systems. What was once almost exclusively a theme park experience (and before that, a military and aerospace development) is becoming more accessible, available for individual experiences and gaming.
Companies such as Triotech have been bringing small simulators to FECs for over a decade, so this isn’t revolutionary. But it is evolutionary, as VR, motion simulators and gaming all move closer to one another in the entertainment playpen.
While DEAL doesn’t plan much in the way of after-expo activities, other businesses and groups offered networking mixers. One popular event featured a consortium of sponsors: ProSlide, Thinkwell, Concept 1900, Uno Parks, Mint Creative Production and Herborner Pumpentechnik, in association with the Themed Entertainment Association. Attendees gathered for food and drink at the Seafood Kitchen, with direct views across the water to Atlantis The Palm.
Thinkwell’s Amin Rashmani (managing director, EMEA) served as primary host for the event, which graciously welcomed over 120 guests. As the evening progressed, shisha pipes emerged and guests continued to network and share opportunities available around the MENA region.
The World Waterpark Association held a two-day symposium in the UAE alongside DEAL, and also offered a member evening meet-up. Symposium attendees, including a large contingent from Atlantis’ Aquaventure waterpark, enjoyed refreshments while mixing with waterpark industry suppliers.
WhiteWater’s Paul Chutter (chief business development officer) attended the mixer, held at Stars N Bars La Mer, which is located across from the recently opened Laguna Waterpark. WhiteWater supplied slides, play equipment and a 180-degree WaveOz surfing experience for Laguna.
“We have many long-term partners in this region and continue to be a major supplier here in the UAE,” said Chutter. “We are thrilled to be here in Dubai again for both the WWA Symposium as well as the DEAL Exhibition.” • • •
DEAL returns to the Dubai World Trade Centre March 23-25, 2020.