I certainly hope everyone had a joyful holiday season, and here's hoping the New Year will be happy and prosperous.
January 2009 marks our company's 20TH anniversary in the location-based leisure industry. It was back on a cold day in January 1999 in Olathe, Kansas that Charlie Boyd hired us to manage the rebuilding of his just burned down Olathe Lanes East bowling center. We broke many paradigms in the bowling industry and doubled his business when the center reopened just 10 months later (You can read about it at www.whitehutchinson.com/aboutus/).
In mid-December, I visited Kuwait City and Dubai for two projects we are working on (see New Projects below). Although only an hour's flight apart, these are two very different Persian Gulf cities. Kuwait City is more of a true city based around a resident population. It is also more Middle Eastern or Arab, as there is a far greater percentage of Kuwaiti citizens versus foreigners, 31% Kuwaiti for all of Kuwait and another 24% of Kuwaiti residents are non-Kuwaiti Arab. Dubai, on the other hand, is a major tourist destination. Citizens make up less than 10% of the population.
Everything you read about Dubai is true. They are building everywhere and building big. I can best describe Dubai this way: Take Las Vegas minus the gambling, combine it with Orlando, and put the result on steroids. This represents the city in terms of what it offers, as well as its exploding rate of growth.
While I was there I checked out Dubai Festival Centre mall, waterfront promenade and power center and Souk Madinat Jumeirah. I also visited the newly opened Dubai Mall, billed as one of the world's largest malls, with 1,200 stores planned when it is fully phased in. It's located at the foot of Burj Dubai, the world's tallest skyscraper, now nearing completion. The four-level Dubai Mall features the Dubai Aquarium & Discovery Centre, a full-size ice rink and the soon to open KidZania and Sega Republic. This is being billed as a 76,000-square-foot theme park modeled after Sega's Joyopolis indoor parks in Japan. Although hyped as a theme park, Sega Republic is really just a large FEC.
|Souk Madinat Jumeirah
|Aquarium at Dubai Mall
|Dubai Festival Centre
A few days after I left Dubai, the new Dubai Marina Mall opened. Add that to Mall of the Emirates (the one with indoor skiing), Ibn Battuta Mall and many other malls, and you have the city that truly should be nicknamed "the city where you can shop until you drop."
Many retail projects are coming online just as Dubai starts to experience collateral damage from the world economic turndown. Gold sales in Dubai are down 80% (tourist's purchase 80% of the gold in Dubai), and residential real estate developers have started laying off staff. Only time will tell if Dubai has grown into an oversized bubble that will burst.
Christmas is not forgotten in Dubai. Many of the malls featured large Christmas trees, which were very fascinating to the many non-Christian residents and tourists visiting the malls, many seeing such elaborately decorated trees in person for the first time. Souk Madinat Jumerirah had an outdoor Christmas Village area that featured a model train garden (That time of year the temperature was in the low 70s F.)
|Christmas Village at
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
|Alpine train garden at
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
|Christmas tree at
In this issue, we give major coverage to the current economic mess and its probable impact on the location-based leisure industry. Things may not be so bad for many LBLs -- and may present a rare opportunity to actually begin developing a new project.