How to make a theme park picture perfect

With the design for its Paramount Pictures-based theme park now approved, Darrell Metzger, CEO of Ruwaad Destinations highlights what will make it a success.

Darrell Metzger has signed a long-term licensing agreement with Paramount.
Darrell Metzger has signed a long-term licensing agreement with Paramount.

With the design for its Paramount Pictures-based theme park now approved, Darrell Metzger, CEO of Ruwaad Destinations highlights what will make it a success.

Tell us about your first theme park project in Dubai.

Our first project is a destination resort that we're developing in partnership with Paramount Pictures. There'll be a key entertainment component along with hospitality, retail and other elements.

Although we recently approved the final design with Paramount, we haven't revealed any details as yet.

So how does the deal with Paramount work?

We signed the contract with Paramount in June last year. What is different about our agreement with them is that we have the rights to the Paramount entertainment products in 20 countries, so it's not a one-off contract.

Right now, there are three other countries that we either have proposals in, or we're negotiating with, for future destination projects.

Where will the theme park be built in Dubai?

We haven't released the site yet, although we have narrowed it down to three potential sites and we're negotiating with three potential landlords.

We're not marketing or promoting the project until we get the specific site because the sites are different, so the components of the project will be slightly different.

So is one of the sites in Dubailand?

We'll be developing a free-standing theme destination, so will not be in the middle of other projects. We're following a proven formula, we're not testing a concept or the market. We've done our research and we think a well-developed free-standing destination would work very well.

What's needed for a theme park to be successful?

First of all, in a lot of places around the world a free-standing theme park is not a terribly great investment.

I think that investors who have signed contracts for theme parks here must be aware that it has to have the capability of keeping people in the area for usually around five days, because they have to be spending money on food, beverage and souvenirs, particularly if it aims to draw international visitors.

So the project has to be a complete destination. Our minimum budget is US $2.5 billion (AED9.1 billion); we're not going to spend it all on a theme park, so we'll have to have other components such as entertainment-themed restaurants, retail, hotels and probably a waterpark. There may also be a residential component.

What type of contractor will you need to build it, particularly when it comes to considering all the health and safety aspects of a theme park?

From the contractor's standpoint, there are two main areas: one would be the creative, specialty expertise. Most of that comes from outside the UAE, because it just doesn't exist here. Fortunately we have also contracted with some very good ones to complete our concept, so that part is not particularly a problem.

The problem will be when it comes to actual construction, because it's a very tight market here. Labour is tight, especially when it comes to finding skilled experienced to build complicated projects - we're building a heavily themed project which requires a project manager that is really experienced in building things with special effects, and that's where the shortage is right now.

Then when it comes to the operational side, it's probably even worse. Skilled labour can be trained, but there's a shortage.

Are you in talks with potential building contractors?

Yes. They're locally-based but most of the big ones are international in nature.

In terms of safety, what are the essentials that need to be considered for theme park construction?

The essential thing is training - you might have the best equipment in the world, but human error could cause an accident - so training and maintenance is extremely important.

The least of our problems is the equipment itself because all of the equipment has been used around the world, some of it for decades without any problems.

What's important is how it's installed, operated and maintained.

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