While the Gulf states are starting to carve out a reputation as an alternative theme park destination, Orlando remains the global top dog when it comes to the big names.
Both Disney and Universal Studios will be bringing out their big guns in 2019 with new developments based around their major movie franchises: Star Wars and Harry Potter respectively.
Disney is creating the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge region at its California and Florida parks – the zones will cover 14 acres and experiences include a Millennium Falcon ride. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is due to open first at Disneyland in Anaheim in summer 2019 followed by Orlando’s Walt Disney World in the autumn.
Not to be outdone, Universal Orlando Resort will be launching a new ride during 2019 in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park has yet to release details of the attraction, which will be based in the Hogsmeade area.
Elsewhere in Florida, Busch Gardens will be unveiling Tigris, billed as the state’s tallest triple-launch rollercoaster, in spring 2019, while sister park SeaWorld will be introducing a Sesame Street parade featuring characters from the long-running children’s TV programme.
Away from the Sunshine State, other significant developments in the USA will include the opening of a new Statue of Liberty Museum in New York City, while the famed Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) will be unveiling its latest major extension in 2019.
Looking further ahead, the Big Apple will also be getting a new theme park when Legoland New York Resort opens 60 miles north-west of NYC in spring 2020.
Music City USA, also known as Nashville, will be in the spotlight in 2019 with the opening of the National Museum of African American Music, which will be the first museum dedicated to celebrating the contribution of African Americans to the music industry.
Middle East & Asia
Dubai Parks and Resorts only opened two years ago, but its expansion continues apace with its fifth theme park, Six Flags Dubai, due to launch in late 2019 offering 27 rides and attractions. It will be the first Six Flags-branded park in the Middle East.
Neighbouring Abu Dhabi is playing catch-up with this year’s opening of the Warner Bros. World theme park on Yas Island. Cultural attractions will be in the spotlight in 2019 as the emirate opens its restored historic Qasr Al Hosn district, known as the White Fort, this month (December 2018).
There is also potentially the long-awaited unveiling of the $450 million Salvator Mundi painting by Leonardo Da Vinci at Abu Dhabi’s Louvre gallery – the artwork was originally due to be put on display in September 2018 until an unexplained last-minute delay.
Qatar will also be enhancing its cultural credentials with the opening of the National Museum of Qatar in Doha on March 28, which was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel as a series of interlocking disks, inspired by the desert rose. A slightly less highbrow attraction is the recently opened Angry Birds theme park in Doha Festival City.
Elsewhere in the Gulf region, Ras Al Khaimah continues to target the more adventurous traveller with the launch of the Jebel Jais zip line tour in February 2019, featuring seven zip lines from the United Arab Emirates’ highest mountain.
Looking further east, Merlin has just opened its first Peppa Pig World of Play attraction in Shanghai, as well as a new Shanghai Dungeon in the Chinese city.
While European destinations can’t match the scale of what’s going on in the USA and Middle East, there are still plenty of developments.
Merlin Entertainments has opened its first £20 million Bear Grylls Adventure in the UK city of Birmingham, which offers activities such as diving, rock-climbing and indoor sky-diving, inspired by the exploits of the British adventurer.
Also in the UK, Warwick Castle will be launching The Falconer’s Quest, a new attraction featuring displays with birds of prey, from Easter 2019.
Like its Florida sister park, Disneyland Paris will also be focusing on Star Wars in 2019 with the Legends of the Force – A Celebration of Star Wars, running from January 12 to March 17.
Meanwhile, Holland’s Efteling will be introducing a new fairy-tale attraction in autumn 2019; The Six Swans will be based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and feature a “mini-ride” for younger visitors and castle monument.
Dominique Sidley. Global trade strategy director, Merlin Entertainments
Which international source markets has Merlin been targeting this year?
We have spent a huge amount of energy in the Asian markets and we are seeing dividends this year, particularly from China, which is becoming an important source market for our south-east Asian, Australian, Japanese and UK attractions. We are receiving more and more FIT (fully independent) travellers, which is starting to replace a lot of the group travel business. Again, this is particularly prevalent from Asia. This is to be expected as confidence in travel grows within this market and, of course, as a result of improvements in visa approvals. The USA is also a strong travelling market and its improving economy, together with favourable exchange rates, are key enablers.
What are your new developments and attractions for 2019?
Merlin is constantly investing in new rides, attractions, products and experiences across our estate of more than 120 attractions worldwide, which is what makes this company so exciting to be a part of and, of course, how we delight so many visitors every year. I am particularly excited about Lego Movie World at Legoland Florida (opening in spring 2019). To celebrate this during WTM London, we had some amazingly wrapped London taxis travelling about, showcasing the best Florida has to offer.
How important is the global travel trade to your business?
Global travel trade sales are one of the core pillars of Merlin’s business. We have an amazing B2B trade team who work in partnership with the key trade agents to develop campaigns of mutual benefit that bring some of the best brands in the industry to tourists from around the globe.
How have you been helping the trade to sell your products?
Our trading partnerships have to be a two-way collaboration, which means we invest heavily in developing the relationships where we are in harmony with each other’s business goals. We create collateral, product offerings and tactical campaigns to support these relationships and we are working tirelessly to improve the digital guest journey to provide a seamless operational delivery that deepens the engagement and experience for our mutual customers.
Do you have plans to enhance your relationship with the travel trade in 2019?
We are further investing in our API (application programming interface) connectivity, we are developing more global agreements and we are using the breadth of offer and appeal of our numerous brands to create new and exciting product content. In addition, we will continue with our work on mobile payment types and our WeChat mini-programmes to ensure we can best serve our customers in this digital world.