Technology to transform MENA leisure attractions industry with $350bn investment

DUBAI — The Middle East’s Leisure Entertainment and Amusement Industry that is undergoing digital transformation will be the fastest in the world to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic early next year, according to Middle East and North Africa Leisure Attractions Council, the leisure and entertainment industry council representing the Middle East’s dynamic leisure attractions sector, which organizes the 4th Leisure Entertainment and Amusement Conference and 3rd edition of the Awards on Tuesday, November 10, 2020.

With the support of all their valued sponsors, MENALAC had made the decision to go ahead with these events as the Middle East is seeing plans for massive developments across the leisure entertainment and attractions industry with forecasted investment of more than $350 billion dollars in the theme parks and attractions, according to reports.

The sponsors for this year’s events are all highly respected operators and suppliers to the industry, their support for these events is indicative of the positive feelings being shared in regard to the expected recovery of the Leisure & Attractions industry across the MENA region.

Al Hokair Group, one of the founding members of MENALAC is also their esteemed Diamond Sponsor for the MENALAC Awards 2020. Al Hokair Entertainment is one of the largest operators in Saudi Arabia’s family entertainment industry with 64 entertainment centres around the Kingdom in addition to operations across the Middle East.

As Gold sponsors, MENALAC Awards has some big players involved, these include Cheer Amusement, a highly renowned indoor playground equipment manufacturer and Abdullah Al Othaim Leisure and Tourism Co. a popular name, creating benchmark Family Entertainment Destinations across many cities in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Play Enterprises a highly respected Family Entertainment Centre operator based in Kuwait supports both the events as the Tittle Sponsor of the MENALAC Conference and Silver Sponsor for the Awards Ceremony. There is also Bob Space Racers as a Silver sponsor for the Awards Ceremony, with over four decades of experience providing games and management services for the arcade, park, and trailer industries throughout the world.

Embed, the Technology partner of MENALAC Conference and Awards, is a worldwide leader of cashless business management solutions with Mobile Wallet, Kiosks, Card Readers, Game Cards, POS Systems.

Rosa Tahmaseb, secretary general of MENALAC, said, “MENALAC will bring together top industry experts and stakeholders at the Virtual Leisure Entertainment and Amusement (LEA) Conference and Awards Ceremony to talk about the key issues, challenges and trends in the industry as well as hold panel discussions aimed at highlighting the industry’s achievement and future growth.”

Thanking the government and sponsors for their support, she continued, “I would like to thank the government authorities who have supported the reopening of the industry across the MENA region while ensuring a strong focus remains on providing safe environments for guest to visit. I would also like to thank our esteemed sponsors for supporting the Virtual LEA Conference and Awards Ceremony at such a crucial time.”

So how is technology expected to transform the Leisure and Attractions industry across the MENA. With a clear indication that the socio-economic fundamentals of the Middle East where a high proportion of the population are young remains extraordinarily strong, it is expected that this highly tech-savvy young generation will be the drivers of adopting technology across the industry moving forward.

Digital and contactless technology is expected to play a dominating role in transforming the $80.58 billion (Dh295.72 billion) leisure attractions industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as the sector recovers from COVID-19. The region’s theme parks are currently getting busier with a growing number of visitors, following the gradual re-opening of most of the parks and especially with the change in the weather.

The Middle East and North Africa Leisure Attractions Council (MENALAC) expects the industry to transform itself to become future-ready with technology adoption, as personalization, safety, security, and wearable gadgets dominate the future trends in the industry.

Mishal Al Hokair, deputy CEO of Al Hokair Group, said, “Entertainment is always trendy and developing all the time. Therefore, I do recommend studying the market well before you choose which type of entertainment you will go with. All the fields in entertainment are attractive especially sport, e-sport, and family entertainment centers.

“Training and development in all aspects is crucial and the owner should always educate him/herself. Don’t forget to plan for a good budget on IT and online products.”

Middle East theme park and attraction operators are heavily investing in technology to create fully immersive and connected guest experiences they cannot get anywhere else. The various experience upgrades that the industry in the Middle East are investing in include the deployment in digital ticketing, cloud-base solutions, digital payment, augmented and virtual reality and experiential attractions.

The Middle East’s Leisure and Attractions industry will increasingly deploy Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality (VR) technologies — including VR-based rides.

Sheikha Monira Al Sabah, CEO of Play Enterprises and co-founder of Trampo Extreme, said, “The modern-day family entertainment industry incorporates with it a sizeable factor of technology now more than ever. Whether it is arcade games, virtual reality games and rides, augmented reality games, touch screen or even laser tag style games among others.

“With technology developing at a more rapid pace today, we have to keep up with these developments to ensure our customers have these modern-day experiences. People do not have to be well traveled anymore to know what the latest trends are in the US, UK or Asia as they can see them from a click of a mobile phone and browse for this information online.

“Therefore, we must always assume that our customers will know what is the latest the industry has to offer and provide it to them in a timely fashion. You do not want to be viewed as outdated.”

International visitor impact in the Middle East was estimated at $102 billion (Dh375 billion) in 2019, of which 79 percent is in the leisure industry, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Jean Habre, CEO of Abdullah Al Othaim Leisure and Tourism Co., said, “Lots of digitization and technology will come into operations, such as iTeller, digitized entry and forms, RFID wristbands, E-tickets for redemption, etc. We are going to see more contactless procedures in place including e-commerce, self-service payment and redemption kiosks will have more impetus.

“Since customers are more safety and hygiene centric, the operators have to ensure follow the revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Customers will look for more value as spending power has changed; so operators will have to be innovative in providing extra value through hospitality or food and beverage partners.”

Global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) forecasts that the leisure and entertainment industry in the UAE has a market potential that will reach 45 million visitors by 2021. Of the Middle East’s diverse verticals in tourism, one that stands out for its immense potential is that of theme parks. As per pre-COVID-19 estimates, the Dubai theme parks industry could generate about $5 billion (Dh18.3 billion) as annual revenue by 2020.

Dave Sandstorm, vice president, international sales at Bob’s Space Racers, said, “Touch free entertainment, more cashless payment options, social distance entertainment and cleaning solutions will dominate the trends within the industry. We had a great prosperous industry before the pandemic hit us. Be patient it will be back stronger than ever!”

Renee Welsh, CEO of Embed for the EMEA region, said, “Endless research studies confirm that a new type of customer is emerging from the pandemic. They are more conscious of hygiene and safety than ever before, so they are only going to businesses with clear safety policies, like check-in (for tracking and tracing purposes), temperature checks at the door, mandatory mask-wearing, implementation of safety measures (like protective gear for staff), social distancing measures, hand sanitization stations in the venue, capacity management, and contactless payment solutions.

“In fact, the pandemic has forced the world to enter the ‘Low-touch Economy’. Every individual on the planet is more conscious about hygiene than ever before. Around 82 percent of people view contactless and low-touch as the safest way to pay, which is why you’ve seen a dramatic spike in Mobile Payments using the Mobile Wallet.

“Consumers have peace of mind and feel more secure keeping their mobile phones clean and hands sanitized than trusting a surface area that has been cleaned by a business with high foot traffic. Mobile usage, including payments, is an immutable force around the globe. Low-touch and contact-free payments and game-play are a safety measure that enables businesses to mitigate health risks related to COVID-19.”

Tahmaseb added, “In addition to these trends, new international amusement parks and brands are expected to open in the region within the next few years and this will clearly help in the recovery of both regional and international tourism. Moving forward we envisage that whilst long haul holidays will remain on the to do list for some families, many will be spending their free time seeking holiday destinations closer to home.

“For the MENA region with a high population of young teens and young adults their expectations for high quality attractions and entertainment with a strong emphasis on technology will help shape the future of how technology will be a key player in the transformation of the Leisure & Attractions industry across the MENA region.”

MENALAC is the key representative organization for the entire leisure entertainment and amusement industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. With over 470 operations and 200 brands from over 22 countries in the MENA region in addition to Pakistan and Afghanistan, MENALAC offers great benefits to the industry as a platform for stakeholders to interact and stay informed. — SG



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