Middle East battle for rights to Angry Birds theme park
1:51 PM, Jun 18, 2013
(CNN) -- Those countries in the Middle East that have been spared political upheaval find themselves enmeshed in a different sort of battle of late. As Qatar, the UAE and Jordan split what's left of the region's tourists, each is fighting to pull in the lion's share. Their weapon of choice? Theme parks.
Currently, Abu Dhabi and its scrappier sibling, Al Ain, are duking it out with Doha for the rights to build the region's first Angry Birds theme park.
Not surprisingly, the Middle Eastern version of Angry Bird Land (there are already outlets in Finland, Singapore and the UK) would also be the world's largest.
"[The competition] is getting quiet fierce," says Nigel Cann, director of operations and development at Gebal Group, the local agents for Lappset, who first developed the brand's entertainment complex.
"They all want to find a space for it, and to do it as soon as they can. They all want to be first."
As one of the most downloaded apps of all times (the game has amassed 1.7 billion downloads since launching in 2010), Angry Birds' name recognition is almost unbeatable.
Though is a global phenomenon, it's proved particularly popular in the region. Over a fifth of all downloads come from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Rovio Entertainment, the developers of the game, are even toying with the idea of creating a localized version of the game.
"Everyone recognizes the game, from little kids to adults," notes Cann. "It's a brand new concept to the region. No one has it, and everyone wants it. They want to be ahead of their neighbors all the time -- they want to beat them at everything."
At $60 million, the budget for Angry Birds Land is fairly modest, by entertainment complex standards. According to John Gerner, a theme park consultant and the managing director at Leisure Business Advisors, it makes for a fairly inexpensive investment.
"It's really a great concept for the Middle East, especially for areas looking to grow their attractions," he says. "The scale is small, but it still has a brand name associated with it, and a very current one at that. It gives [whoever wins it] a name attraction without the risk of a more expensive brand."
Angry Birds Land is just one of several ambitious projects proposed in the region. Other cities are starting to come up with theme park concepts that are either branded, big, or bizarre. In addition to courting Angry Birds, Abu Dhabi has expressed interest in a Michael Jackson-themed resort.
According to Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, Jermaine Jackson has been in talks to build it on Yas Island, adjacent to Ferrari World.
Jordan, a country who relies more on cultural tourism than man-made gimmicks (UNESCO-listed Petra is the most popular destination, attracting over 600,000 visitors in 2011), seems to be taking a tip from its neighbor. RGH Themed Entertainment are developing a $1.5 billion entertainment resort in Aqaba, complete with Star Trek themed rides and a flight simulator attraction.
Before the 2008 recession, Dubai had several entertainment-themed developments in the pipeline, mainly slated for the still undeveloped neigborhood of Dubailand. Though some -- like the largest Six Flags theme park outside of the United States -- were shelved in the downturn, others have found their legs in Dubai's recent economic resurgence.
One of these projects includes IMG World of Adventure, which has a soft launch scheduled for December as part of the City of Arabia residential and commercial development. It plans to usurp Ferrari World as the world's largest indoor theme park, and will include four zones, which, separately, would be a massive undertaking. Perhaps the most unique is The Lost Valley, a Jurassic-themed segment that will include animatronic dinosaurs. Two other zones are dedicated to the characters of Marvel Comics and Cartoon Network.
"We want this park to be one of the center points in the future of Dubai," explains Adam Alexander Page, the vice president of marketing for IMG Group, the developer behind the project.
"As such, you don't want to build something that won't get global attention, and if that means it's big, that's what you do. There's no point in building it small."