Not much long ago, Dubai billed itself as the shopping destination of the world with the mega annual event Dubai Shopping Festival. Shopping and Dubai became intrinsically one. People said, and thought, shopping and Dubai in the same breath. And then to attract visitors in the summer months when citizens and residents left the city, a new marketing plot was hatched in the form Dubai Summer Surprises. Many new offerings with irresistible marketing spins have appeared since.
According to Helal Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai Tourism, the strategy is to future-proof the city's tourism-linked economy by fostering exceptional visitor experiences. In a statement issued earlier this month, Almarri said, "The department remains focused on ensuring that Dubai becomes the No 1 most visited city in the world in line with Dubai's Tourism Strategy 2022-25."
Banking on tourism at a time of low oil prices, Dubai is now reinventing its offerings further, including glamping and adventure tourism - trends that have swept world tourism destinations. Dubai is now making a mark on the world map as the region's 'official capital of fun', with an array of theme parks and water parks on offer aimed at every travelling age group.
At the centre of Dubai Tourism's efforts in this new direction towards 'fun' and adventure tourism is Dubai Parks and Resorts, spread over a sprawling expanse of 25mn sq ft on Sheikh Zayed Road, as one drives past Dubai Marina and Jebel Ali heading towards Abu Dhabi.
Featuring more than 100 rides and attractions, Dubai Parks and Resorts has three theme parks - Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Legoland Dubai - a water park called Legoland Water Park, a themed retail and dining destination called Riverland Dubai and a Polynesian-themed family resort - Lapita Hotel Dubai.
The Lapita were a prehistoric Pacific Ocean people from 1600 BC to 500 BC, ancestors of the Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian cultures. The property is designed in every minute detail in keeping with the seagoing traditions and ways of the Lapita. Airy rooms with muted colours, clever lighting and imposing carved wooden pillars overlooking water bodies, wide pathways and landscaped gardens make for a cosy and comfortable stay. Part of the Marriott International's Autograph Collection, Lapita opened in early 2017 featuring 504 rooms and suites. Manned by jovial staff in beach shirts, Lapita has five restaurants and bars, a retail shop, spa and lagoon style pools to keep guests entertained.
The three theme parks and the water park within Dubai Parks and Resorts are just a walk away from Lapita. Legoland Dubai - the first Legoland park in the region, and seventh in the world - has six themed lands and more than 40 interactive rides and attractions, while Motiongate has entertainment from three of the most popular motion picture studios in Hollywood - DreamWorks Animation, Columbia Pictures and Lionsgate. The attractions here include a Smurfs Village, a DreamWorks park with separate parks within it for How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar and Shrek all offering roller coasters and family rides for all ages, multimedia theatre shows and interactive play zones. The Lionsgate park offers a white-knuckle ride - one of the fastest in the region - in The World of The Hunger Games.
A few steps away from these is Bollywood Parks spread over 1.7mn sq ft offering 16 rides and attractions including live entertainment, stage performances and cinematic rides set to blockbusters such as Lagaan, Sholay, Don, Dabangg and more. Day tickets to Motiongate and Legoland Dubai cost AED245.
In another part of the city, its new beach district La Mer presents culinary options from many parts of the world besides the Laguna Water Park, while the IMG Worlds of Adventure near Global Village in the heart of Dubai is billed as the largest indoor theme park in the world spread over 1.5mn sq ft, or 28 football fields.
Dubai welcomed 15.92mn international overnight visitors in 2018, as opposed to 15.79mn in 2017. Closer home, visitors from Oman fell to 829,000 in 2018 from 862,000 in 2017, a drop more than made up for by the number of Indian and Saudi tourists. There were more than 2mn visitors from India despite registering a two per cent drop over the previous year, while the number of tourists from Saudi Arabia saw a three per cent growth in 2018 at 1,568,000 visitors.