Business Day (Johannesburg)

South Africa: Dubai Plans Project to Rival Disney World

Johannesburg — DISNEY World in the desert?

Ski slopes glistening under real snow as the thermometer nudges 40°C? Absolutely, in a world where money is no object.

Plans for a grand entertainment centre were revealed in Dubai this month, with a scheme to turn barren desert into a fertile, glass-domed tourist attraction.

Now newspaper advertisements have started to appear in countries, including SA, to entice property firms, entrepreneurs and leisure companies to invest.

Dubailand could be an attractive opportunity for South African firms. Construction company Murray & Roberts has already won some high-profile projects, and the trade and industry department is pledging its support to SA House, a new initiative designed to help local companies enter the Middle East market through an alliance with a local partner.

Plans unveiled by the crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, show that Dubailand will span 2-billion square feet and feature 45 major attractions. They will include theme parks, a zoo, a water world, a film world, space centre, the world's biggest shopping mall, luxury hotels, a rainforest and dinosaur land.

On the sporting side, it will offer Olympic-sized stadiums, a Formula One racetrack, an equestrian centre and a ski world. The vision is for Dubailand to lure 200000 visitors a day.

But how the development will be funded has not been disclosed in detail. One possibility is that the government will build facilities such as walkways, libraries, galleries and museums. It could then either build the commercial developments such as hotels, shops and theme parks and lease them out to tenants, or simply sell plots of land and let property developers tackle the construction.

The Dubai Development and Investment Authority touts this as the biggest entertainment project ever undertaken in the Middle East. Overall investments are expected to top $5bn, but that excludes the cost of infrastructure.

The Dubai government has committed $700m for the first phase of developing infrastructure, with local and international investors expected to handle the main elements of the project.

The opening date for this dream world in the desert is slated for the last quarter of 2006.

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