What happens in Dubai stays in…?

August 6, 2008

cirque.jpgIt’s been called the Las Vegas of the Gulf, and Dubai’s latest investment move shows that it’s not exactly shying away from that label.

Two government-owned investment firms in Dubai have taken a 20 percent stake in Cirque de Soleil, the colorful Canadian acrobatic troupe, whose sometimes racy shows have been titillating casinogoers in Sin City since 1993.

There’s no gambling in Dubai but that hasn’t stopped the comparisons between the oil-rich desert city’s efforts to expand its tourism appeal and America’s own desert glitz capital. And luckily for Dubai, the similarities end at the two cities’ economies.

Istithmar World and real estate developer Nakheel, two different arms of the investment arm of Dubai World, said on Wednesday they bought the stake in the Montreal-based group for an undisclosed amount.

The remainder of Cirque du Soleil will continue to be owned by Founder Guy Laliberte,  founder of the troupe known for mixing traditional circus acts with dance, music, mime and theatre.

Cirque du Soleil plans to open a show production office, ticketing company, and technical equipment and set design rental company in Dubai.

The move comes as Dubai expands as a vacation destination, complete with its man-made islands and the world’s tallest tower, as it aims to increase visitor numbers to 10 million per year by 2010 from 7 million last year.

The investment agency is also part of a joint venture with casino operators MGM Mirage and Kerzner International to develop a multi-billion resort complex on the famed Las Vegas Strip.

Aside from a push in tourism, we have seen Dubai do other things as well. Istithmar in August bought Barneys New York, and has acquired assets including the W Hotel Union Square in New York and a $1 billion stake in Standard Chartered Plc for Dubai’s government.

Wonder what’s next…?

“Cirque du Soleil marks Istithmar World’s first foray into the live entertainment space, which is a key to our media focus,” David Jackson, chief executive officer of Istithmar World Capital, said in a statement.

With its eyes on media and entertainment, one can think of several U.S. assets that might draw interest from the desert city.

For starters, how about Cablevision, which has hired investment banks to evaluate spinning off at least one of its businesses, which include cable networks AMC, IFC and the Sundance Channel?  

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