Theme park Arabism: Disneyfying the UAE’s heritage for Western tourist consumption

Salma Thani, Thomas Heenan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter analyses the ways in which the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are increasingly using their Arab heritages in marketing themselves as global aviation and tourism centres. Once pearling and trading backwaters, these cities have constructed Disneyfied cityscapes which house some of the world’s most iconic and modern structures. The cityscapes symbolise both excessive consumption and grandeur, and Arab modernity in the post-9/11 world. This chapter contends that like Dubai’s nearby neighbour, Sharjah, these cities are now drawing upon their Arab cultural heritages to broaden the tourist experience for Western consumption. This is evident in the construction of museums, heritage institutions, and buildings with Arabic and Islamic features, and tourism products that are packaged as authentic UAE experiences. As this chapter argues, this revival of the UAE’s Arab heritage seemingly runs counter to the city-states’ pre-existing development strategies based on modernity and consumption. However, as the chapter contends, Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s rediscovery of their Arab heritages has been both sanitised and commodified for Western tourist consumption. The tourist consumes a Disneyfied Arab tourism product, packaged as heritage, but reinvented to suit the theme park character of these cities. Keywords: UAE, Disneyfication, Heritage, Culture, Consumption, and Tourism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultural and Heritage Tourism in the Middle East and North Africa
Subtitle of host publicationComplexities, Management and Practices
EditorsC Michael Hall, Siamak Seyfi
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780429279065, 9781000177084
ISBN (Print)9780367232719
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameContemporary Geographies of Leisure, Tourism and Mobility


  • Tourism
  • Heritage
  • UAE
  • Disneyfication

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