Taking a plunge pays off
Anjili Samtani-Radia is the founder and owner of the Dubai kids-only water park and birthday venue Splash ’n’ Party. A Hong Kong-born Briton, she moved to Dubai 20 years ago, working in sales and marketing before running a successful property business. After becoming a parent she launched Funky Monkeys Playland, a soft-play centre she sold two years ago. In April 2016, Mrs Samtani-Radia, 45, who lives on Palm Jumeirah, opened Splash ‘n Party in residential Jumeirah. Her children, a daughter, 11, and a six yearold son, were among the first customers.
q Was it a challenge opening a private water park?
a It took two years, from finding the villa until I opened. I had the water park concept but couldn’t find a location. I then found a 40,000 square foot villa in a safe environment, lovely location, with parking. The licence was a totally new thing – “kids water park with kids’ birthday parties and a restaurant” … it wasn’t in the book. They had to create a licence for me. There were a lot of things to adjust to – rules and regulations – but I knew this concept would work.
Does Splash ‘n’ Party compete with better-known Dubai water parks?
They’re a different market. Mine is specific; two to 10 years old. People come to celebrate a birthday, we have shows, a carnival atmosphere. Little kids, when they go to parks like Wild Wadi, can’t go on rides because of height limits. So you’re spending almost Dh1,000 (per family) to get in and only using that small baby area. Here they go on everything, parents are free (admission). It’s gated so parents can sit and relax while the kids play. We have five/six lifeguards all the time. Water is knee height. Kids can be seen from every single angle. I wouldn’t say I’m competing.
What led you to discover a gap in the market?
I went to a lot of birthday parties (with my children). You see the same thing everywhere, the games and basic foods. I wanted to change every aspect of a birthday party. It’s a once-a-year “experience” for a child and you want to make it amazing, from the moment you walk in until you leave. I don’t know why no one thought about it before.
Was the move from real estate to water park management challenging?
This is a real business. Whatever you’re making or losing each month, it’s what you put in. Real estate was a bubble. It was amazing, a fantasy world. If the market had continued I would probably never have come out of it, but there was a crash. Real estate was a totally different market, but it taught me to deal with stress. Day-today here is stressful because there’s a checklist; the bungees, the pool, maintenance of machinery, food quality, the kitchen. Dubai Municipality comes every other day. You have to keep everything in check. It’s a children’s play area and they’re taking extra precautions and civil defence is very strong. Anyone can open a children’s play area with a bit of money, but to run it every day is difficult. You keep it as safe as possible.
How much creative input do you have?
Because it is my project, I know what I want. I arrange the songs, costumes, gifts. I do the purchasing. I’ve got people living in the villa that take care of technical stuff, the pump rooms, the chillers etc. We have 250-300 birthday parties a month, every two hours. You’re making memories. Books, fairytales … you’re making that come alive in a two-hour birthday party. We only have a 15-minute gap between parties.
Did you face resistance from your neighbours because it is a residential area?
In the beginning no one knew what was happening, they thought it was a nursery. Quite often we’d get cops outside our door because of noise. Sometimes the music was too loud. Now is not so bad, they’re used to it. We tone it down at weekends.
Do you have expansion or franchising plans?
We started with 25 staff – now we’re 50. We’ve been looking for places on Mirdif side, hopefully opening by the end of this year, beginning of next and Dubai Municipality has asked us to put the same concept in public parks. We signed another contract, with Al Wasl Group. They’re opening a new project – like a little City Walk – in Al Mina Road and want us to put a water park in. I get franchise offers every week, but I don’t think I’m ready – I still want to develop Dubai. Once I have a few more locations here … by the end of next year, maybe. We were thinking Abu Dhabi and Qatar. We already do outside events, including kids’ zones at the Christmas festival at Media City, Taste of Dubai, Taste of Abu Dhabi.
Anjili Samtani-Radia of children’s water park Splash ‘n’ Party wanted to change every aspect of a birthday party.