Saturday, 18 January 2014

Sea Soul Water Park Muscat

Don’t get too excited, there is no park in the city by this name. Let alone water park. It's just a working title for some thoughts around the idea of a water park concept for Muscat. Let’s give it a run.
The bigger picture
A Water Park is an obvious leisure attraction for a city with subtropical climate like Muscat. They are highly capital intensive, with operational costs that leave little room for decent returns for an owner. Given their ability to attract high volume of visitors they tend to enhance land value around them. Often they can be catalysts of urban regeneration projects along with a number of other sports and leisure facilities. In this region they are either part of resorts or are placed in an accessible but green-field context to create the desired land upside.
The water parks are part of the wider amusement/theme park industry which is one of the fastest growing within the leisure industries. On a global comparison Asia (with South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, China, Japan, UAE) is set to a double digit annual growth in their water park visitation, swiftly catching up with the Americas, yet market leader in this segment (with US and Brazil).
In terms of visitation, the largest water park in the world (Typhoon Lagoonin Disney World Orlando, FL) has just over 2 million visitors annually (2.1 million in 2012). The second largest is in China (Chimelong Waterpark) with 2 million visitors albeit recording 6% growth year on year, while Orlando is growing at a much lower rate.
Closer to us, The Aquaventure at the Atlantis The Palm Dubai is the 7th largest in the world with 1.3 million annual visitors growing at 8% while the Wild Wadi WaterPark Dubai is the 17th with 850,000 annual visitors in 2012. The Wild Wadi has lost market share to Aquaventure in the recent years. To put this in context, the top 25 water parks in the world attract a combined annual attendance of over 25 million visitors.
Context for Muscat
The largest water parks are located in areas with high population density (Brazil, Japan, Korea) and/or destinations with very strong year round tourism demand (Orlando, Dubai).
Muscat cannot really stand out on any of the above and this should determine the fundamentals of any water park concept planned to be sustainable and viable.
Most mega parks are focused on the thrill with all the same scary and wet rides. The answer of Muscat to the water park question should obviously be something better suited for a local market of 6-800,000 population and total annual tourist arrivals of 2.5 million. Affordability, uniqueness, a local touch through creative originality would be key in my view, as opposed to the conventional wow factor.
In terms of the style of the attraction mix, a balanced combination of thrill, skill and chill, is what would give an optimal mix as opposed to a thrill only focus.
  • Thrill – the classic wet slide rides built on speed, gravity, freefall, and a wet and safe landing. These are often combined with some themed context (Posseidon’s castle, marine world etc.). You will find these on all water parks, as being at the very heart of the concept.

  • Skill  - Rides, tracks and skill based challenges that puts all age groups at various tests. Flash flooded rope tracks, floating islets, balancing bridges, spinning logs, slippery steps etc. (an easier verios of the Wipe-Out like giant pool toys). All designed to safely put at test your concentrations and physical abilities. The worst it can happen that you plunge in the water and start over again. There are few water parks that feature such attractions. They are more labour intensive to supervise and they cater more for those looking to challenges themselves, which is not always the case with holidaymakers.
  • Chill – this is the part which is missing the most from all these mega parks. By definition they are land of adventure and adrenaline, chilling out is not their strong suit. However I think there is a strong need, especially on the mid-eastern markets, to offer an alternative for those who are happy to be there with the family but nor really looking for the action. They prefer more to have a coffee with a cupcake and wind down over a book or their ipad. Terraces with outdoors bar tables, small gardens with shaded and sunny decks, lots of greenery some sandy areas and water views around. More importantly away from the screams and splashing sounds of the thrill and the skill. Not a big deal but can make a big difference.

A third and loosely related element would be the educative one (edutainment). Including it strictly in the core concept of the park would probably not be ideal, however to create an interactive marine life museum and visitor center next door, would definitely be a good combination. The marine life museum at the Bandar Rowda marina are well outdated and quite tired.
This also give the main character of the park which is my view should be the sea and the marine environment.
Now let’s see what would be some ideas worth considering or discarding for a potential park. In no particular order or alignment to target segments I thought of:

  • The Tide – “wet lounge” part of the chill mix. It would be a lounge with a shallow pool as the floor area, where water level can be set from dry to ankle high of knee high. Some short distance wooden piers facilitate access to various areas.
  • The Robinson Crusoe Island – only the best survive the challenges of this island. A series of water based and areal tracks, rides, cable slides, floating bridges, spinning logs and flash flooded tunnels. Every age group can test its skills and stamina at various levels.
  • The Tsunami – a surf pool with a variety of wave surfing, body surfing or paddle boarding activities. If space allows a shorter wakeboard cable track would add a unique and popular feature.
  • The Kids Beach Club – an indoor and outdoor kids only area with animated activities and programs, linked with the neighboring Marine World visitor centre.
  • The Swamp – this would be a combination of mazes, rides and water attractions that are more on the exciting and mysterious end of the spectrum than on the fast and furious type rides.  A number of animated challenge  games could also be included (the Fort Boyard syle or Pirates themes games)
  • The Cave – a major indoor facility that can run year round and offer a selection of slides (perhaps in an octopus design) and other smaller scale attractions.
  • The Bay – who said it’s all about adrenaline? Away from the noise of the thrill rides, this hideaway offers the piece and the chill you need between two sessions of fun or can be your wind down escape while the rest of the family plunges into action.
  • The Reef – a marine life encounter area, perhaps part of the Marine World visitor centre or separate. It offers the chance to see live marine life and learn about the marine habitat of the Arabian Sea.
These are few concepts that could be fresh and unique in the world of aqua parks. However coming up with the a right and sustainable concept for water park for Muscat is not an easy tasks and will require thorough work and hundreds of hours of research and creative work. The aim for me would be a delicate balance between the optimal size of creating the critical mass without overspending and/or planning with an excessive operating costs. The balance between the indoor and outdoor functions will also be key.
I am really excited to see how this is going to evolve.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

So...what next?

I am sure most readers of this blog have much better things to do, but in case they are kept at bay by the chilly weather of Oman, and were to skim through my posts of the last two years they'd see quite a few small ideas on how to improve tourism related things over here.  Some more policy related, others very practical. Some posts were on urban development thoughts focused on increasing the appeal of the city and the quality of life.

I was presently surprised that some of these have been slowly happening, quietly in the backyard. Obviously this is a mere coincidence and has nothing to do with me muttering over here.  It is  good to see however new things like a 4 wheel drive park by Suhail Bahwan Group, a larger scale initiative by Bank muscat to support public spaces for sports, the somewhat sporadic programs of Royal Opera House Muscat promoting music for Omani youth, a proper go cart race course back in use, initiatives for a decent  home for cricket, etc.  Is there still a long way to go? Most certainly, but we should also celebrate the quick wins and encourage "governtrepreneurs" to further improve the happiness index of the population. Oman currently ranks the 23rd (just behind UK) in terms of happiness out of the over 150 countries in the review by UN.

With your kind support, I will just read these achievements of Oman as a motivating factor for me to carry on scratching my head for some new ideas, although my time for this is becoming increasingly scarcer.

On the same note: since it has now finally been announced for Muscat, my the next post will be on water parks, Inshallah.

Until then wish all of you a humorous and memorable 2014!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

World's young sailing elite in Oman

It is now over a year that OmanSail has won the right to organize the Laser World Championship in three categories: Standard, Masters and Radial Youth. The Radial Youth Championship started on the 27th December 2013 and will last until Friday the 3rd of January 2014.  I have been covering the news of winning the bid to host the event back in the summer of 2012.  At the time I  was quite exited about the great work they have done in securing these world class events. I have also came up with some ideas how to make the event more appealing to the local audience.

Well since the venue is only a 45 minute drive from Muscat it did make sense to start the year with a trip
down to Mussanah to see for myself the world's elite under 18 sailing squad in action. Approximately 80 sailors from over 25 countries.

Al Mussanah Sport City and the Millenium Resort, hosting the championship is just optimal for such  events. Apart of the fact that it is a bit secluded (which I found ideal for corporate away days and outings, but that is a different post) the sport base is very spacey, clean and well maintained. The event and race management was smooth and professional. Proper signage, spares shop, media center, gym, event tent, etc. It seems that with will and skill things do fall in place properly.

To be fair there is still a lot that could be done to enhance the visitor experience, bringing the action and the frill of sailing closer to new fans, creating a bit more buzz around the sport base, but let's not be inpatient, those will also come in he future. It was great to see however that Oman is making steady steps towards promoting sailing as a national sport, and hopefully soon the world elite will have Omani kids in the fleet as well.  It already took a lot of work and resources to place the country on the international sailing map, which not doubt has happened. It will take more time to create the sustainability for this. Patience from officials is key, as such initiatives yield fundamental results only on the long run. So keep up OmanSail and hope to see these guys back in a few years as Olympians.

Enough of words now, let the images tell the story.

Event tent at the marina

Race office
Sunrise over the boat park

British team to start rigging first

Others to follow

Around the committee boat

More than 50 boats at the startline

Jury watching for jump starters

Everything seems in order

...until wind starts to play around and race is canceled. 

...good time for a nap.

or some tactical discussions

...a chat with the team mates.

Sailing is serious business.
Coaches at work

Downwind action after the new start

The fleet though the leeward gate

The Hungarian sailing in a dominant lead

Some action at the leeward bouy

It is not chaos, they all know what they are doing
German-UAE battle...

...or rather friendship.
...all sorted.
The Finish girl in the lead

...rounding the bouy

Norwegian to follow... style.

Japaneses and Qatari girls in action.

The Hungarian crossing the finish line first in the boys fleet.

And the Norwegian in the girls fleet.

it takes fitness to sit like this for hours

Winner's smile