Customer expectations vary around the world and certainly any trip to Dubai, gives one the perception of luxury and the highest standards of service. That philosophy is borne out by the Emirati culture and applies to practically every aspect of life in Dubai, including the Jumeirah Group.
Whilst Jumeirah is renowned around the world for its stunning hotels and world class customer service standards, the Group’s second venture to open was in fact the Wild Wadi Waterpark.
The Park opened in 1999. One person who was there from the beginning was Chris Perry, an American who came to Dubai with vast experience of waterparks in the United States:
“Compared to the US or Europe or even Asia, each place is different in terms of customer expectations. Each clientele is different and we needed to spend time learning about our market,” he states. “We take into account customer comments and in Dubai (and Jumeirah) it is essential that we operate to the highest standards to exceed our guests’ expectations.”
Perry’s background makes him the perfect fit for a venue like Wadi Wild Waterpark; his father ran facilities and from the age of 14 he was gaining invaluable experience in a variety of roles. He was invited to Dubai in 1999, and originally came over to run the lifeguard operation.
“The Park was already built when I got here and a company called WS Atkins had been the main driver for the design and construction. They travelled around the world looking at waterparks parks and had seen the Master Blaster (uphill water slide) rides and came up with the idea to interconnect the rides – which 14 and a half years on, remains a unique aspect to us.”
Wild Wadi Waterpark officially opened its doors on August 5th, 1999, becoming the second Jumeirah venture after Jumeirah Beach Hotel – the luxury family resort, which is located adjacent to the Park. A few months later Jumeirah opened Burj Al Arab, the world’s most luxurious hotel– and Wild Wadi Waterpark is located between these two remarkable hotels.
The Park overlooks the Arabian Gulf and covers an area of 8 acres, making it far from the largest Waterpark in the world. Despite the confined space, Perry says that the Park maximises its potential by delivering world class rides which are defined by an Arabian theme:
“We’re not close to being the largest – in fact we are a smaller, more intimate waterpark and we are compact and fit a lot into that space. We have 30 attractions including 8 Master Blasters which is more than any other waterpark in the world.
“Our “Tantrum Alley” is a ride which incorporates a tantrum – which is a big open funnel, while the “Burj Surge” is like a giant bowl – visitors ride inside a family tube and travel down a slide into a giant bowl, before they drop down through the middle of it and into another slide – Burj Surj is the only slide in the world with 2 bowls.”
Jumeirah wanted to encapsulate the warmth of Arabian culture and came up with a theme for the Park through the legend of Juha and Sinbad, who travelled on a voyage by where they were caught in a huge storm which washed them ashore into a lush tropical oasis of vegetation and stunning waterfalls.
“Everything we do in the Park is based around this concept and all of the fibre glass of the slides is hidden from view by vegetation and even the fencing around rides looks like drift wood, to create an authentic appearance,” Perry describes.
Wild Wadi Waterpark has continued to prosper, welcoming 880,000 visitors during 2011 – and the site regularly features in the top 15 waterparks in the world by attendance, despite the fact it is a lot smaller than many.
Whilst it may be true that bigger parks (by land size) may open for less time during the year, the enduring appeal of luxury, fun, Dubai’s growth and the wonderful weather, continue to make Wild Wadi Waterpark a big draw both for the local Emirati population, the expatriate population living in Dubai and the Emirates as well as tourists from around the world.
“Our strongest marketing still comes through word of mouth and delivering terrific customer service,” Perry affirms.
Perry suggests that an important factor in retaining a loyal customer base and attracting new visitors is the need to stay fresh and continue to be innovative. As the Park was establishing itself in the early years, not much changed in terms of attractions, however in 2005, the opening of Ski Dubai raised the stakes and Wild Wadi Waterpark invested in retail outlets, restaurants and a play structure for children.
In 2011 the Park saw a 31 per cent increase in attendance which was the largest in the world and the following year Wild Wadi renovated their world famous speed slide, Jumeirah Sceirah. The original Jumeirah Sceirah was brought down and 2 new speed slides with the region’s first drop floor entrances were constructed and opened. According to Perry, much of the innovation comes as a direct result of listening to customers – and paying attention to the Park’s 550 employees.
“Our staffing number fluctuates of course, depending upon how busy we are – and we are usually at our busiest when the weather is at its hottest. Because of the harsh environment, we have a dedicated maintenance department who operate in 3 shifts across the 24 hours. Our training programme is run internally and covers all aspects of the operation with particular focus on customer service. We currently employ 11 Emiratis who work in most departments throughout the park. They are breaking new ground for their culture and for us training is paramount and our focus is on finding great individuals.
“Wild Wadi Waterpark recently won an IAAPA Brass Ring Award for the most innovative training programme for an amusement facility with less than 1 million visitors a year, which is something we are very proud of.”
The Park has continued to flourish and Dubai’s continued growth and recent winning bid to host the World Expo 2020 will likely contribute to further growth. Perry foresees an exciting future:
“It is a very good time to be here; in 2013 the projected number of tourists will be roughly 11 million and that figure is set to increase to 20 million by 2020, irrespective of the Expo. More competition will surely arrive, but I believe that competition will be complimentary and there is plenty of room for everyone. The more quality attractions there are for people to do, will only assist Dubai in growing its visitor numbers!
“We recently undertook a project to draw up a master plan for Wild Wadi Waterpark and our immediate needs for 2014 will be to add more seating and to upgrade our lockers and toilet facilities. Again these changes will be effected as a result of listening to our customers.”
“As for the future; well if you had asked me 5 years ago it would have been hard for me to determine what we have subsequently accomplished. Our focus will continue to be on making our guests’ day fun and memorable and it is vital for us to constantly pay attention in order to figure out what it takes to achieve that!
“When you couple that with listening to 550 employees who are engaged and enjoying what they do, you can deliver world class service, with world class employees at the best waterpark location in the world.”