Jordan theme park treks ahead

Construction work on $1.5 billion resort in Jordan, which includes a Star Trek-themed attraction, is scheduled to begin in March 2012.

The main Jordanian investor for the Star Trek-inspired theme park is the King Abdullah Fund.
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A Star Trek-themed attraction is set to boldly go ahead in Jordan, as US$1.5 billion of funding has been secured for a major tourism and theme park development.

Construction work on the 74-hectare Red Sea Astrarium project in Aqaba, which will include four hotels and 17 entertainment developments, is expected to start early next year.

The project is being funded by investors from the US and the Gulf, according to a partner in the project.

The Amman company Rubicon Group Holding, which makes animated films, said in May it would design and produce the entertainment elements of the resort.

The total investment in the project will be $1.5bn (Dh5.5bn), said Randa Ayoubi, the chief executive of Rubicon.

"They have a group of investors. The main Jordanian investor is the King Abdullah Fund," Ms Ayoubi said, in reference to the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD).

"There are many American and investors from the Gulf [as well]," she added, without giving further details.

Rubicon is not investing money in the project, but is partnering on the entertainment aspects of the resort, she said. Ms Ayoubi said the total $1.5bn investment was small compared with other themed resorts.

"In the overall picture of things it's not a huge investment," she said. "If you want to do a Disney or a Universal, that amount would be just for the licence fees.

"The whole resort for profitability requires 480,000 people a year. Typical theme parks require millions of people to pass through in a year to start breaking even.

"So the numbers we're after are not high."

The resort will include hotels, theatres, dining and shopping. The entertainment will be themed around the idea of Jordan as "a crossroads of civilisations", Ms Ayoubi said.

The Star Trek-themed "space-flight adventure" will be created under licence from CBS Consumer Products, which manages the licensing of television shows including the CSI series.

It will be "creatively developed" by Paramount Recreation, part of the Paramount group, Rubicon said in May. Development of the resort would generate employment for more than 500 skilled workers, according to Rubicon.

The architectural firm Callison has been engaged to design the project, while the engineering firm Arup is behind the infrastructure, Ms Ayoubi said.

Jordan's tourism industry, along with other markets such as Egypt and Syria, was hit by protests in the Middle East this year. Ms Ayoubi said work needed to be done in promoting Jordan as a tourism destination.

"Jordan has a lot to offer and we have never really as a country capitalised on it well enough," she said. "There's no 'Brand Jordan' out there.

"We need to work on that - getting the brand out there, telling people what's on offer."

KAFD was established in 2001 by King Abdullah II, two years after he become monarch. The purpose of the fund is to "encourage innovation and growth in Jordan's public and private sectors", according to the king's website.

The Astrarium project will not be King Abdullah's first voyage into the world of Star Trek. He is known to be a "Trekkie", as fans of the long-running science-fiction show are known. He reportedly made a brief cameo on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager in 1995, when he was still a prince.