Experience Economy and Cultural Heritage Mission, UAE – a Review

Last week we wrote about Studio Liddell’s selection to join the Experience Economy and Cultural Heritage Trade Mission to the United Arab Emirates, run by the Department for International Trade. 

This week, CEO Ian Liddell is back from the trip and gives us an insight into what he learnt.

The opportunity to join this trade mission was fantastic news for Studio Liddell. As an agency already working within the leisure and attractions industry, it was always going to be really exciting to visit an international hotspot in this sector – and there’s no dispute that UAE are world leaders and have ambitious plans for further development ahead and beyond Expo 2020

So it’s fair to say I boarded the plane with pretty high hopes for the trip – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The mission kicked off with a launch event organised by the DIT at the British Embassy in Dubai, where the delegates were briefed on the jam-packed three-day programme. This was to include meetings with key decision-makers, developers and stakeholders involved in some of the huge projects which are now underway in the leisure, tourism, themed attractions and cultural heritage sectors in the UAE. 

The region has ambitious plans to become the world’s leading leisure and entertainment destination and the launch event gave us a deeper insight into the planned expansion of the infrastructure in the UAE and the “experience economy”. We were also given an overview into how best set up business in the region -  invaluable inside information for UK companies wanting a piece of the action.

As the week went on, it was a packed – but very exciting - schedule with back to back meetings and trips with some of the industry’s key players.

 If I had to choose any highlights?

Meeting with Meeras Leisure and Entertainment, seeing City Walk and Hub Zero was definitely up there. We also had a great visit to Majid Al Futtaim Leisure & Entertainment who gave an in-depth presentation on the organisation and their many successful projects. This was followed by a visit to Landmark Leisure, who openly told the delegates about their slightly different approach to FEC (Family Entertainment Centres) based Malls and shopping centres in a very entertaining session. Whichever way you look at it, it’s clear that the FEC entertainment sector offers a fantastic opportunity and we came away buzzing with ideas. 

Another highlight was a trip to the neighbouring region of Sharjah – The UNESCO Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998, which has since become into a centre for Arts and Culture as well as an industrial hub. We visited the beautiful al noor island which is a stunning conservation and art project by Shurooq – The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority and were kindly hosted by the Project and Business development team who gave a very relaxing walking tour around the island. We then had an incredibly honoured and no doubt extremely rare visit to His Highness The Ruler’s Office where we met with Peter Jackson (who probably has the best job in the world!) - the Ruler’s architect who gave an incredibly informative and interesting talk about the history of the region and the exciting developments which he has been involved with. The region had a very different vibe to that of Dubai and the juxtaposition of the two was fascinating, emphasising the importance of fully understanding your target market and its requirements.

One very memorable tour was hosted by Dubai Culture at the Etihad Museum, a beautifully designed building immediately next to Union House where the rulers of seven emirates came together to sign the treaty that established the UAE in 1971. The tour was an extremely informative and highly ‘interactive’ historical perspective of the UAE – clearly the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority embrace new technologies and the museum demonstrates their advanced approach to storytelling.

A very sunny and hot walk around Dubai Parks and Resorts – French Village and Riverland Dubai, the entryway to Legoland, Motiongate and Bollywood park was hosted by DXB Entertainment and it was clear to see that there some fantastic plans underway for even further development of this hugely themed entertainment and leisure area.

The DEAL show provided some welcome air conditioning after the heat of the Parks and it was clear that ‘VR’ based entertainment is definitely making inroads into the many different attractions on show.

 In conclusion, the trade mission was a fantastic few days. It gave us the opportunity to meet with leading executives and key thinkers who provided an insightful overview of key trends and developments in the attraction industry in the region and the chance to speak to attraction operators in the UAE. We also networked with other UK organisations on the trade mission, some of whom had a natural synergy with Studio Liddell and we hope we’ll be able to collaborate with them in the future. 

We landed back in the UK with a far clearer understanding of the regions business set up and of how best to engage with commissioners in the companies who have huge plans for the development of the entire region. And that kind of insight is worth its weight in gold.

Andrew Jones