Busch Entertainment announces Dubai theme parks

Thursday, February 28, 2008 | 4:11 p.m. CST; updated 6:36 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The entertainment division of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. plans to expand outside the U.S. for the first time by opening four theme parks in Dubai, the fast-growing tourist destination in the Middle East.

Busch Entertainment Corp. will partner with Dubai developer Nakheel to create the Worlds of Discovery — a complex that will include SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove.

All four will be on the Palm Jebel Ali, the world's largest man-made island that is part of a multi-billion-dollar development in Dubai.

Nakheel will build the parks. Busch Entertainment is licensing its brands to Nakheel and will operate the parks under a management contract. Financial terms were not disclosed.

"Dubai has become one of the world's leading tourist destinations, and a key part of the strategy has been attracting world-class entertainment brands to the emirate," said Chris O'Donnell, chief executive of Nakheel, during a Webcast from a ceremony at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida.

The first phase of the project is expected to open in 2012.

The project is part of the Dubai Waterfront, a multi-billion-dollar development of luxury hotels and homes, along with restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Larger than the island of Manhattan, the development is adding 500 miles of man-made waterfront, according to Nakheel.

Dubai, one of the seven constituents of the United Arab Emirates, has thrived and turned into a magnet for the wealthy as oil money has flowed in. O'Donnell said 7 million visitors are expected in Dubai this year. Fifteen million are expected in 2012.

Palm Jebel Ali is the second of Nakheel's three man-made island developments. Worlds of Discovery will occupy a section at the peak of the island known as "the Crown."

Jim Atchison, president of Busch Entertainment, said Dubai offers "a true global stage for our brands, unlike any other."

He compared the rapid growth in Dubai to what happened four decades ago in Orlando, which quickly grew into one of America's premiere tourist destinations.

"When I look at Dubai it looks awfully familiar," he said.

"It's a momentous occasion for us. It's the most significant news we've ever had."

SeaWorld Dubai will include many of the same attractions as in its three U.S. locations — killer whales, dolphins and sea lions, along with marine-themed rides.

The Discovery Cove in Dubai will be similar to the one in Orlando, a reservations-only park that allows visitors to interact closely with wildlife by, for example, swimming with bottlenose dolphins, rays and exotic fish.

Busch Gardens is a theme park featuring rides, attractions and entertainment. Aquatica is SeaWorld's waterpark. The first one opened this week in Orlando.

Anheuser-Busch is the nation's largest brewer, based in St. Louis. Its brands include Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob. Busch Entertainment operates SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio; Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va., and Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa, Fla.; Discovery Cove in Orlando; Sesame Place near Philadelphia; Aquatica in Orlando; and the water parks Adventure Island in Tampa and Water Country USA in Williamsburg.

Anheuser-Busch shares rose 69 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $48.20.

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