Sunday, April 20, 2008

Middle East Theme Parks - An ACME Idea?

As a region, the Middle East comprises architectural and cultural history of humankind since inception while its still prone to violent outbursts by any number of aggrieved parties or grudge bearing nations. Adding a few loud mouth tourists in all the wrong garb with white tube socks is gratuitous next to adding a theme park based on American comics and cartoons in the area. The insurance on a capitalistic enterprise like that has got to be underwritten by a financially healthy firm that treats risk like the expectation of sun heating nearby Arabian deserts. Hooray for Hollywood - here comes their billions earned on the backs of a carrot eating, wise cracking bunny plus a wily coyote charged with babysitting a stalker cat named Sylvester and a yellow bird usually locked in a cage that need a skilled professional negotiator. Jimmy Carter is already booked in the area.

The theme park idea does have a few cha-ching things going for it. Youthful demographics dominates the Middle East. Petro dollars produced a surfeit of surplus incomes for the region's title holders on oil fields. For several years deals have been inked with Viacom/Paramount to do a fun place based on the Titanic and DreamWorks bringing diversity with the lime green Shrek and the lesser known Kung Fu Panda. Time Warner is sticking Bugs Bunny right out there as the front guy amidst an adult beverage Budweiser with Anheuser Busch snagging an island for their use to build a Sea World. Universal is so going to bring it with a giant ape, King Kong and who knows how the whole evolution thing is going to play out in 2012 when Jurassic Park, the T-Rex play park, opens as part of the Dubailand deal.

With their Spidey sense fully activated, Tatweer is the UAE government controlled company jumping on the web of opportunity by signing a mega deal with Marvel. Abu Dhabi already has luxury buildings construction out in the sea dredging up the sea bed to make multi million dollar sand castle islands that can be seen from space, Burj - the world's tallest skyscraper along with a Frigidaire snow & ski resort in the desert. Enter Marvel Comics main man, Wonder Woman sans burkha and a host of other characters to build the economic brand on its own island in the United Arab Emirates. Dubailand contains multiple resorts and facilities with in 3 billion square feet.
Investors, studios and park operators are all aiming to cash in on what some observers call the Middle East's decades-long fascination with American culture. Hollywood movies are popular in the region, and Western fashions are hot commodities among residents who travel abroad.

"On the one hand, they hate America. On the other hand they love America to the bone," said Michael Izady, an expert on Middle East culture who reaches history at Pace University in New York.

The theme park market is open — with no major facilities currently operating in the
Middle East.

The projects are no-brainers for the entertainment companies that have jumped at what amounts to free brand expansions with no capital at risk. Few details have been provided about the deals, which entertainment companies simply describe as licensing arrangements for intellectual property and help on designing the parks and attractions, with no mention of possible royalty payments.

Seems relentlessly pushy American characters, like Captain America, may get benched for the maiden voyage. One of my funniest moments was watching Porky Pig in Italian while on the Via Veneto. There is a time and a place to invite tourists and their bankrolls. But there is a time to say have you lost your mind to companies too. Keep looking for that 'Disney' treatment of Civil War battlefields on Hallowed Ground - Americans said no and they meant it. Too much is not a good thing on the cater to tourist front, especially with certain aspects of American culture deemed corrosive by many in polite Muslim society.

Rami Farouk Daher sets out to look at multiple aspects and implications of tourism throughout the Middle East. As always, scholarship on certain areas is not as deeply discounted for books as American works, but worth it to learn more from perspectives beyond the US. His offering is Tourism in the Middle East: Continuity, Change and Transformation deeply drawing upon his architectural background and familiarity with heritage sites.

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