Tak­ing a plunge pays off

The National - News - Business - - The Life - David Dunn busi­ness@then­ational.ae

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.

Anna Nielsen for The Na­tional

An­jili Sam­tani-Ra­dia of chil­dren’s water park Splash ‘n’ Party wanted to change ev­ery as­pect of a birth­day party.

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