Themed attractions satisfy tourist boom

IT IS well chronicled that Dubai has big plans for its tourist industry. Guaranteed sunshine will attract many of the tourist dollars that the emirate is eyeing. But sunshine alone will not guarantee success. The Dubai tourist industry is now truly global and competes with destinations all over the world. With an unchanging desert scenery, Dubai has to create its own individual attractions. This can be achieved with concept resorts that are themed to create a unique experience for visitors. Construction Week spoke to Duarte Marques, managing director, Amusement Whitewater, about what theming can do for Dubai.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  April 25, 2004

Themed attractions satisfy tourist boom|~|Whatiewater5body.jpg|~|Themed attractions are becoming more popular as tourists demand much more.|~|How did you become involved in “theming”?

I started on the Lost City project in 1991. The project involved a lot of artificial rockwork and stone face work, and was designed to look like a ruined city in the middle of the African jungle. When the two-year project finished in 1993, it had become bigger than I ever imagined.

When did you move to Dubai?

I came to Dubai after some local dignitaries visited the Lost City and invited us to do some similar work in Dubai.
Why have you been here so long?
Because there is so much theming work available. At first it was some small bits of rockwork or a bit of theming. But now people are starting to realise the value of it and how important it is to a good project.
Do you think that theming will become even more popular?
The market is only just starting to really open up. We stayed here because we knew the potential existed for some highly creative themed projects. The market is now flourishing, just like it has in Europe and North America.

Why is it becoming so popular?

It is mostly down to tourism. If you want to be competitive you have to give people resorts that fulfil a fantasy. Dubai is a major holiday destination and can be compared with many other great destinations world-wide.
When people travel to a new country they want to see something different. By combining artificial lakes, water features, plants, grass and landscaping developers can create a world within a resort. All the hotel facilities need these extra features to stay ahead of the game, especially as travellers are now a lot wiser and harder to please.

What type of resort do you envisage Dubai becoming?

Dubai is going to be the fantasy world of the Middle and Far East. Look at Palm Island for example. It was created artificially, making it a perfect venue for theming. They will need a great deal of landscaping and themeing to make the man-made islands into the luxury resorts they want to create. Although we cannot create nature, we can certainly replicate it very closely. The World Island resort and Dubailand will also be similar.
It’s very similar to how the water park business evolved. In the past, water parks were just a lot of fibreglass slides and steel pipes. Modern water parks have to look interesting to compete, as well as being a nice place for people to visit. People must want to come there and enjoy themselves.
As each hotel or park increases the facilities and experiences they offer, people expect more from each new resort. Why would they want to go to an old, unexciting little park that is not attractive? If you want to bring in tourists you have to give the people what they want. The standard has to be at the same level as places like Disneyland and other famous international resorts.

What type of projects do you take on?

Each of our four divisions has a very niche market. They are: themed resorts, water parks, artificial rock works and permanent theming.
The themed resorts are often bungalows or beach hideaways. These are different from normal theming in that we construct the entire building using lots of natural raw materials. The projects we have completed so far have been for private clients and VIPs, but we are working on the possibility of doing a bigger commercial project in the near future.
We also provide the water management systems for swimming pools, wave pools, ponds, lazy rivers and all the associated MEP works. Our staff really specialise in what they do, they are not just simple MEP engineers who have worked on pumps in other applications. Our employees are specialists in pool treatment, filtration and wave pool technology.
As a team we can also deliver an entire turnkey project to the client, a key advantage in this market.

How do people develop the artistic skill to do such creative projects?

We have people who started out as masons, but we had to get them to forget much of what they have been taught. A normal mason would make everything perfect, but in our line of work that is not what is necessarily required.
For much of our work we need the area to look old and run down to create the themed effect. It is far more difficult to make something that looks old than something that looks new. The artist must have that little bit of magic that they can add to the work they are doing.
It’s all about creating something that is unique. It is very rare for someone to be capable of doing everything when it comes to theming, as it requires many different types of specialist skills.
Our projects are often very physical, especially when working on site. The cement we use sets quickly and the artist has to finish it quickly before it dries. You are not working in a nice studio environment, where you can wait for the next day to get the job finished.
It takes our people time to develop these many varied skills, which is why they are so important to us.

What do you enjoy about theming?

The best thing about our work is that no two jobs are ever the same. They might be similar, but never the same. Most of our work involves creation and art. Somebody has an idea and by interpreting the client’s vision we bring it into reality.
We have also done a lot of international projects, in countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Switzerland, Spain, Latvia and China. This makes the whole process even more interesting. What is also nice working abroad is that you learn different techniques. By working overseas we learn from the local people new methods and materials. We always try to improve the way we do things and the process is in a continual state of development to provide customers with even more magical and creative products.
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