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Transforming Saudi Arabia
Massive, attraction-packed entertainment centers to open
There are coasters, furry characters, and high-end attractions popping up in the Middle East, including at the just-opened SeaWorld Abu Dhabi (which looks mighty impressive). But it’s not just the parks in the United Arab Emirates, which also include Motiongate Dubai, Ferrari World Yas Island, and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to create world-class parks and attractions as well. Case in point: The Kingdom announced that three Transformers-themed entertainment centers are on the way.
We’re not talking about your typical family entertainment centers, with mini-golf, go-karts, and some redemption games. We are talking about massive indoor centers, each more than 100,000 square feet, with roller coasters, thrill rides, and sophisticated attractions all built around the popular movie and toy franchise. Among the offerings will be an interactive Transformers dark ride from Triotech.
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The first of the three Transformers centers will be located in the capital city of Riyadh. It will include branded retail shops and restaurants as well. The tie-in represents a partnership with Hasbro. The toy and game company is also creating Play-Doh attractions in Saudi Arabia. Universal offers Transformers attractions at its parks.
The Transformers locations are part of a more than $13 billion plan to create 21 entertainment destinations across 14 Saudi cities. As recently as 2018, the Kingdom did not even welcome visitors from other countries. Now, it is actively promoting tourism and making other concessions to modernity. Human rights concerns remain a challenge for Saudi Arabia’s image on the world stage, however.
According to Saudi Entertainment Venture, the Kingdom-backed agency charged with developing the sites, the initiative is as much about enhancing the quality of life for its people as it is about diversifying its oil-dependent economy and generating tourism revenue. A statement released by the agency indicates that it is “improving the choice and quality of entertainment offerings within the Kingdom and developing local talent and capabilities in the entertainment industry.”
Perhaps the most eye-popping Saudi development is Qiddiya, a sprawling entertainment city. About three times the size of Walt Disney World, the “giga-project” will include a safari park, theaters, a performance arena, a sports stadium, multiple hotels, a shopping district, a number of dining venues, and more all built around a planned residential community that will also incorporate commercial and industrial space. Qiddiya will feature the world’s most upscale Six Flags park with lavishly themed and lushly landscaped lands.
Among the park’s rides will be Falcon’s Flight, a roller coaster designed by Intamin that is set to shatter records. The thrill machine will, if you can believe it, climb 655 feet, drop 525 feet straight down, accelerate to 156 mph, and span more than 13,000 feet. It sounds so preposterous, there are many who dismiss it as wishful thinking. The naysayers point out that the Six Flags park was supposed to open in 2022, but there had been no construction activity. After many delays, however, crews are on site building the coaster as well as the rest of the park.
A Qiddiya Water Theme Park is set to open in 2024. As I previously wrote, it will include Aquaticar, the world’s first underwater attraction. Other planned Saudi offerings include a Warner Bros. Discovery edutainment center, indoor surfing, and an attraction featuring Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand.
What do you think about Saudi Arabia’s aggressive tourism plans and its emphasis on themed attractions?