Dirhams and Dollars Down the Drain in Dubai

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The Legacy of the Carpetbaggers from the West continues to wreak havoc in its effect on the way business is done and projects are being managed in the UAE (and elsewhere).

Our position: 

There is no substitute for assiduous attention to the quality and completeness of the Experience being created at any level in Themed Entertainment, Show or Spectacle. It is our responsibility as members of this industry to police ourselves; holding ourselves and our colleagues accountable for Quality of Experience, Integrity of Production and Respect for Clients.

No excuses, no free passes, no looking the other way.

And we are not doing it.

The onslaught of the Unscrupulous, descending on the UAE at the turn of the century, selling second- and third-hand, low-quality equipment and experience with glowing Words of Descriptive Marketing – taking advantage of a newly rich and unsophisticated market, taking the money and running – planted deeply the seeds of suspicion that continue to germinate and affect business relationships, even today.

The crash that followed toward the end of the first decade then undermined even the trust inherently granted to the proverbial Big Boys; the Disney’s, the Paramount’s, the Universals… Despite the explicability of even these behemoths closing up shop and leaving, the subtextual effect of these massively expensive disappointments and departures was to further undermine trust in We Outlanders who come Bearing Themes…

The Client Culture that has evolved can be characterized as nervous, paranoid, skeptical and skittish. At virtually every level, government and private, boards and committees seeking to build want, on the one hand, assurances so comprehensive as to virtually require nearly full design before contracts are let. Primarily at scopes of small to mid-millions, the hoops and hurdles the small shop or vendor must navigate in order to obtain the work run closer to obstruction than to qualification.

Again; this is a result of clients who, from experience, fear being taken advantage of by the integrity-free in a market or industry with which they are largely unfamiliar, but in which they see great potential to showcase this part of the world. Trust is rare; even presentations of credentials citing bodies of successful, exemplary work can be cautiously dismissed as mere marketing…invalid even as presented.

Too, out of all this has come a bidding process that wastes ridiculous amounts of money of both client and vendor in creating projects and presentations in a vacuum of information and concept and competing on a field with no discernible rules…at the end of which is a Procurement Process that favors the lowest bidder irrespective of reputation, quality, experience, concept.

Thank you, 2000’s!

Subjecting Creative to a bidding process is, in and of itself, strong deterrent to quality. It only guarantees the cheapest script. If it’s the cheapest script that is wanted, irrespective of quality, take it to a classroom or ask “the best writer in the office” to write your show. (Um, not a good idea…)

Production can be “bid” to a point; though only with a careful eye to quality of product. Beware, too, the lowest price for structure, infrastructure, hard goods. Quality is not universal. It would seem unnecessary to have to say this; but again and historically right here in the UAE, paying the lowest price for production rarely…rarely…offers acceptable quality and longevity.

Business is Personal


Clients: nurture relationships with creative individuals and agencies whom you can trust, negotiate contracts as you develop relationships. Keep your business relationships close and keep them accountable. Look to your creative resources to help navigate the production pathways to uncover and develop relationships with the production resources best suited to each project.

Seriously: a supplier of creative content or direction, knowing s/he is participating in a relationship expected to last from and through project after project, is going to bond, trust and come to know the wants and needs of the client far better than a one-off vendor who prevails, delivers and departs. The product will reflect this.

Negotiate contracts, evolve relationships, save money while representing your project or brand.


The Insidious Truth of Now and How our Industry is Letting Us All Down

As this decade has unfolded, the purse strings in this part of the world have relaxed (and, in some cases, vaporized!) with vast amounts of money being invested in some of the largest projects on the planet, here in the UAE.

Question: What do you get when you take a corps of one-more-gig-before-I-retire white guys, many (but not all) alumni of and pedigreed at Disney and Universal, and cross them with projects worth billions of dollars; making them responsible only for completing the projects on time…not for the quality, success or longevity of the completed projects?

Do we need to answer that?

Add to that a veritable army of Yes Men, terrified for their jobs, vastly under qualified for the positions they hold and with virtually no experience in the industry to – and I have to say this – a head of design for a HUGE theme park project who continues to boast that he’s “…never been to a theme park.” Who hires these people and expects expert product?

This is what has developed in the UAE. Principals are in place here, at the end of their careers, pushing, pushing, pushing for completion of multi-billion dollar projects by the Announced Date, irrespective of the quality of work being done to get the doors open. Employees who raise questions about quality, completeness, manageability, missing components or technologies are pushed out or sidelined as obstructive when these people are often those most committed to quality of experience delivered.

This is not universal; it is, though, a rampant dynamic.

More than one company responsible for these showcase products are already well-known for being “Carousel gigs,” with people cycling in and out over periods of mere months as they learn they cannot work with integrity in these contexts or for these companies. Too many questions means dismissal. With silence, one’s job may be secure but the work is sub-par. Personal and professional reputations begin to outweigh the paycheck in short order.

A great number of highly-qualified individuals in the midst of building their own careers have left these projects seeking work of higher integrity.

One key principal company in this morass hasn’t regularly paid it’s employees on time for years and is well-known for non-timely-payment of vendors….

Virtually our entire industry knows this; yet our industry press continues to blithely print Opening Announcements and gaudy press releases, schmooze and shake hands over cocktails with the very companies putting these projects and the reputation of this part of the world at risk.

Recently, IAAPA held a “leadership conference” here in the UAE; part of which included tours of properties which, clearly, even the simple laws of Physics stand in the way of completion by the Announced Dates, not to mention actual logistics of time, design and construction. Nothing was said.

Dubai 2020 versus Other Dubai Projects

It will be most interesting to observe the comparison between the quality of production realized in these “permanent” projects and parks being built and that of the experiences offered in the “temporary” installations and experiences that will be a part of Dubai 2020 when that fair opens.

The work done for Dubai 2020, each pavilion being directly representative of individual countries, just may far outshine the envisioned Destinations being built, here.

We’ve been accused of being “angry…” Nah; disgusted, certainly…and deeply disappointed in seeing so much money wasted on a vision that quite possibly could be realized. Were it not for the absence of accountability, were those in control to insist on giving quality top priority and putting Qualified Individuals in positions of Decision…and backing them; this vision could be beautifully realized.

Whither accountability?

We owe our audiences better.

We owe ourselves better.

We owe the vision of Sheikh Mohammed far better.


IMHO – Creating Compelling Experience is a free download for iOS and OS X from iTunes and the iBook Store. Free.