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IMG targets theme parks in Russia and China

CEO says world’s largest indoor theme park will be a blueprint for expansion to other countries

Image Credit: Gulf News Archives
IMG Worlds of Adventures, the world’s largest indoor theme park, will provide a template forthe future of theme park entertainment in countries like the UAE, the company says.
Gulf News

Dubai: Following a successful first year, IMG Group, which operates the IMG Worlds of Adventure theme park in Dubai, is in advanced talks to expand abroad, according to the company’s chief executive.

“A key for us is to expand regionally, maturing in to other markets that suffer from seasonality,” said Lennard Otto, chief executive officer of IMG Worlds, in an interview.

However, these plans for expansion are not just limited to countries with exceptionally hot summers, like the Gulf. Otto says that he has seen a lot of interest from Russia and other central Asian countries which suffer from very cold winters.

Otto, who has been chief executive since December 2015, said he believed the indoor model which IMG Worlds pioneered in Dubai will provide a blueprint for the future of theme park entertainment in countries like the UAE.

He added that one of the biggest validations of the model, in his opinion, came when Theme Park Review named Worlds of Adventure in its top three overall theme parks worldwide.

“Our numbers prove that the model works: We’ve exceeded expectations in our first year open and we’re on track [to hit the 2017 target of four million visitors],” Otto said.

“The indoor model we have here at Worlds of Adventure works for the climate we’re in, and we’ve had a lot of interest from other countries who want to import this model of theme park too,” Otto said, adding: “We’re in discussions with several developers and we’ll hopefully see some good announcements soon,” added the executive.

When pressed on which countries could be likely candidates for IMG theme parks in the future, Otto told Gulf News that “the Middle East and North Africa is devoid of entertainment, and we see demand in this region.”

Outside of the Middle East, Otto noted demand from Central Asia to the Far East.

“China is a very attractive market, due the size of its population and the disposable income sitting there,” he said.

The giant Asian country is notable for its lack of theme parks, with the Shanghai Disneyland Park only opening its doors in June 2016.

Whilst noting that indoor parks were more complex to open than outdoor ones, Otto also stated IMG Worlds’ intentions to “operate theme parks on others behalf,” adding that owners Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari wanted to “grow the business and grow the brand name.”

Here in Dubai, IMG Worlds has its sights set on its second park, set to open sometime around 2020.

IMG World of Legends is expected to exceed two million square feet in size, a third bigger than the 450,000-square-metre IMG Worlds of Adventures, already the world’s largest indoor theme park.

The new property, which will be linked via a sky bridge to IMG World’s original park, is also expected to feature a retractable roof.

“We’d still like to open in 2020,” said Otto, adding that he did not want to reveal any specifics about the cost of the project until the company was sure.

“We’re still in the design phase, and that’ll hopefully be done by the end of year. We’ve been working behind the scenes on that,” he said.

Schedules, timelines, costs and plans for financing would be released at the same time, once the design phase was completed, Otto added.

IPO

There were reports in 2016 that IMG Worlds’ parent company, Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari (IMG) Group, was mulling an initial public offering (IPO) to raise funds for its expansion.

The company is currently funded by a mix of private equity from the Galadari brothers, and a syndicated $1.9 billion (Dh6.97 billion) loan from a number of banks.

At the time, Lennard Otto, IMG Worlds’ chief executive officer, dismissed these reports as merely market rumours.

In his interview with Gulf News, Otto said that talk of an IPO “was still speculation,” but added that “nothing is off the table.”

He declined to specify how IMG intended to raise capital for its expansion.

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