Thomas Jellum didn’t watch his first Bollywood movie until he had already started his role as general manager of Bollywood Parks in 2014. But he has watched a few Indian blockbusters since then. The 48-year-old was promoted to the position after initially consulting on the project for Dubai Parks and Resorts the year before. He’d previously worked as general manager of the candy-themed park BonBon Land, in his home country of Denmark. Mr Jellum is now gearing up for the grand opening of Bollywood Parks on November 18.
I’ve always been up early, so I don’t use an alarm clock. I live in Victory Heights with my wife, 17-year-old son and 15 year-old daughter. When I started in this business they were about eight and 10, which is our target group, so they’re now black belts in the theme park business. They’ve visited most of the world’s theme parks.
I head for Al Qudra to go cycling, eating bananas and apples on the way. There are always about 300 cars parked there when I arrive. I don’t go cycling just for the exercise, it takes my mind off my job and relaxes me before work. Ours is the first 100 per cent Bollywood-inspired theme park in the world. Bollywood isn’t just popular in the Indian subcontinent, it’s huge in Africa too. My first Bollywood movie was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road trip movie that features as one of our attractions.
My most important job is to walk the park, and it will be the same when it opens. During the first two hours of operation, you get to see what kind of visitors we have that day, and then you know what decisions need to be taken. In the hotel industry, you’ll know more or less who’s arriving tomorrow. In the theme park business it’s the opposite a lot of people come spontaneously on the day, and you don’t know what demographic they’ll be. I start at the main gate, to experience the same kind of walk that the visitor will have. There’s stuff you notice when they’re building the attractions that you couldn’t see in the two-dimensional drawing plans – such as a staircase, which doesn’t work for disabled people.
I have an internal meeting with the director of the marketing, retail or finance departments to find out what challenges we’re facing. We have a checklist to finish the construction and also to look forward to 2017. Are there things we can create that we haven’t thought of yet? It could be new products, a new kind of entertainment.
We have a fantastic Indian staff canteen that serves up mainly Indian food, but lunch often involves a tasting session of samosas, sandwiches and pastries to choose the menus for our restaurants. We’re choosing snacks for the Rajmahal theatre, where our shows will be performed.
I have a corporate meeting with some of the relief departments who help us with facility management and medical supplies.
I catch a show rehearsal, because the key component of our park is the shows. I only go to rehearsals when invited, I don’t sneak in on them because the actors won’t be in their costumes and make-up, so they feel uncomfortable. The Rajmahal shows already gives me goose bumps. Imagine 70 people on stage at the same time, with lots of lighting and effects.
I walk around the site again, because a lot of leadership is overseeing things that are happening. I’ve found that a closed door or too many meetings and I’m not helping anybody. Just under half of my 1,000 staff are Indian. I’ve worked in four different European countries and learnt some Polish, German, and English, but I haven’t picked up any Hindi yet. I need to make sure the guys understand me when I tell them something. We also have lots Africans and East European employees. We try not to have more than 50 per cent Indian employees because it’s not an Indian park, but a theme park that’s Bollywood-based.
I get home and as teenagers need their food, that’s when we eat. Often its Danish food, like meatballs and potatoes. In Dubai you cannot buy my favourite sauce, which is béarnaise sauce, so I cook it from scratch.
My wife is active in the Danish business council, so normally she has an evening event and my daughter and I watch Danish reality TV shows together. It means I totally relax, and when we return to Denmark, we have something to chat with our friends about too.
I go to sleep – unless there’s a Manchester United football match on late.