Cover Story - June 2017

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Dalian Wanda Group is on a mission to become the largest tourism operator on Earth

By Keith Miller
Photos courtesy Dalian Wanda Group

On May 28, 2016, billionaire Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, unveiled Wanda City in Nanchang, located in China’s Jiangxi province. The sprawling resort features a theme park, movie park, aquarium, hotels, and retail stores, and the expectation of attracting 10 million visitors a year. This marked the first of a planned 15 Wanda Cities Wang said will open in China by 2020, with another three slated overseas, as Wanda endeavors to eventually become the world’s largest tourism operator.

The real estate giant develops commercial centers, hotels, office buildings, and apartments, and in recent years, it has ventured heavily into cultural, tourism, and retail businesses.   

Wanda is next scheduled to open Harbin Wanda Theme Park on June 30, 2017, part of Harbin Wanda City. The massive, 20 billion yuan mixed-use development is located in the Songbei New District of Harbin, Heilongjiang province. The project covers almost 200 acres with a gross floor area of 9.8 million square feet and is headlined by the theme park and a Wanda Mall. Eventually, there will also be nine hotels totaling 4,500 rooms, ranging from four stars to six stars in quality; five of the hotels will be themed properties.

The mall will include an indoor skating rink, stage shows, a movie park, and the Harbin Indoor Ski Park. Wanda says the ski park will be the largest indoor ski facility in the world, with the capacity to accommodate 3,000 guests simultaneously. It will feature six ski tracks with different slopes, including an advanced track with a long run of 1,640 feet and a vertical drop of 262 feet.

The theme park will highlight characteristics of the Heilongjiang region and include five themed areas: Harbin Avenue, Xing’an Snowfield, Fisher’s Song of Ussuri, Lilac Fairy World, and Moment of Celebration.

Hu Zhanghong, senior vice president of Beijing Wanda Cultural Industry Group, tells Funworld there will be numerous attraction experiences for guests at this new resort: “There are 26 rides offering plentiful experiences in the core project. ‘Snow Mountain Racer’ is the world’s first roller coaster with a motion platform and also a combination of backlash, rail switching, and building projections, plus hot air, smoke, mist, and audio effects. It offers plenty to experience.” 

The park will also make extensive use of special effects in its shows. The 4-D theater will allow audiences to revel in some fun driving and also encounter thrilling scenes in the Xing’an Snowfield. A lagoon show will be a large-scale electronic water presentation that Hu says will be the most dazzling water show in China. This nighttime gala will mix water, light, sound, fire, and smoke along with aquatic stuntmen and motorboats. 

The Harbin Movie Park will feature two attractions—“Fly Longjiang” and “Dragons Tale”—that utilize original intellectual property (IP) based on local characteristics and folklore. The IPs were created to promote native culture. 

Chinese kirigami (a variation of origami, except the paper is also cut rather than just folded) is integrated into the design of “Fly Longjiang,” presented in the park’s flying theater. The “Dragons Tale” IP is a 3-D interactive show, which personifies the ancient Chinese dragon as a cartoon character.

Wanda Philosophy

Making extensive use of Chinese folklore, art, customs, and culture is an integral part of Wanda’s approach to its tourist attractions. It is one element the company has said is key to setting itself apart from other large attractions firms pursuing Chinese audiences. 

The new Harbin Wanda Theme Park has more indoor attractions than any of the other recent Wanda parks, Hu says:  “It highlights the regional characteristics and promotes the Chinese culture. Wanda theme parks are customized for local culture. [This is done] for each regional amusement park, project, and program.”

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Harbin Wanda Theme Park (CREDIT: Dalian Wanda Group)

“The Wanda theme park has its own style, and each land will have a different theme based on the local culture,” Hu adds. “All the rides and shows are integrated closely to the local culture. None of them is the same, and we call this ‘Wanda Style.’”For example, the Heilongjiang province where Harbin is located shares a long border with Russia. The region is known for having a significant amount of Russian influences in its architecture and other cultural elements, which will be reflected in the Harbin project.

The large developments Wanda is creating in China, known as Wanda Cities, are mixed-use projects that merge shopping, adventure, education, and entertainment; Harbin Wanda City is in this mold. 

“A Wanda theme park relies on Wanda City and is a part of its portfolio,” Hu explains. “Wanda City includes outdoor theme parks, show areas, indoor water parks, indoor snow parks, indoor marine  parks, indoor children’s entertainment, and other cultural tourism projects.” Beyond the entertainment segments, each Wanda City also has a Wanda Commercial Plaza, hotels, primary and secondary schools, kindergartens, residential areas, and supporting functions.

One possible pitfall of adding adventure and entertainment attractions to shopping malls is the risk of guests spending so much time and money at the attractions that the retail component suffers. But when asked if the Wanda Group feels any trepidation about this approach, Hu responds, “Certainly not. E‑commerce is having a huge impact on the traditional offline business. So more and more, shopping malls like Wanda Mall feature themed designs, which combines entertainment with commerce projects. It may attract a great range of tourists and enhance business efficiency.”

Hu says there are certain geographical requirements involved in selecting locations for Wanda Cities. The core city must have a certain population level, must have citizens with a targeted level of income, and also must have the demographics to support the accompanying theme park. 

Shows May Well Take Center Stage in Harbin

Though thrill, family, and kiddie rides will dot the landscape of the new Harbin Wanda Theme Park in Heilongjiang, theater shows and stage performances are quite popular with audiences in China. There will be several to choose from at this new park when it opens this summer. Here’s a look at what visitors can expect:

The Grand Theater will make use of large-scale special effects, forward and backward projections, a digital water screen, and special lighting to display what Wanda terms “a visual feast of each region of the world.” Indoor high‑altitude skiing, extreme cycling, a fantasy magic show, artistry on ice, and other performances will take center stage in the theater.

“Lilac Fairy World,” a children’s stage play, will use innovative visual design and technology to create a captivating drama. The performance takes families to an imaginative wonderland featuring ice dancing, multimedia effects, and an opportunity for audience participation and interactivity.

The theme park will also feature a large number of exotic street performances that will involve interactions with visitors to heighten the guest experience. 

 

Other Projects in the Works

Opening June 17, 2017, is the Wanda Nanning Indoor Theme Park, which will feature numerous rides, theater shows, stage performances, and cultural attractions. Unlike Harbin Wanda Theme Park, which is located in China’s northernmost province and thus has many indoor attractions due to the frigid climate, Nanning presents the opposite challenge to a theme park. Year-round warm temperatures and an annual rainfall of more than four feet again makes the choice of moving indoors an attractive one.

Hu explains the logic and strategy: “The climate in Nanning is hot and humid, and about half the days have precipitation. In this climate and condition, we believe an indoor amusement park can adapt to the local conditions and still bring visitors a full-day entertainment experience.” 

On Sept. 24, 2016, the Wanda Group held the grand opening of Hefei Wanda Cultural Tourism City, the company’s fifth large-scale cultural tourism project to commence operations. Hefei is the capital of Anhui province in eastern China, about 200 miles west of the East China Sea, and is the province’s largest city. 

Phase I of Hefei Wanda City is almost 400 acres and will represent an investment of around 24 billion yuan. Among the features of this first phase will be a Wanda Mall, an outdoor theme park, an indoor water park, and several hotels. 

The outdoor theme park comprises six major thematic zones: Ancient Rhyme of Huizhou, Spring and Summer of the Operatic Circle, Joyous Water Town, Ancient City of Chao Lake, Butterfly Dream Wonderland, and Battle of Fei River. Wanda says all of these areas integrate opera and historical stories into their themes. 

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Wanda City in Nanchang, China, is the first of 15 such projects planned by Wanda over the next several years. (CREDIT: Dalian Wanda Group)

The park offers 33 large attractions, including what Wanda describes as the world’s tallest vertical looping roller coaster. The park is built on a large man-made lake that combines fountains featuring audio and photoelectric effects with aquatic shows. 

Wanda notes the indoor water park, with 13 water attractions, is the largest and most advanced temperature-controlled water park in China. It includes the country’s longest indoor hydromagnetic roller coaster and the world’s first two-level lazy river.  

In October 2016 in Los Angeles, Wang Jianlin revealed plans for an $8.2 billion, 408-acre “movie metropolis” that will include Wanda Studios, which will be the first world-class motion picture production facility in China. The project will be located in Qingdao, the largest city in China’s eastern province of Shandong. Located about 400 miles southeast of Beijing, the Qingdao metropolitan area has a population of around 9 million, and the port city is best known internationally as the home of Tsingtao beer. The movie metropolis project will include Qingdao Indoor Theme Park that Wanda says will feature a suspended indoor roller coaster.

Dalian Wanda Group anticipates a bright future and the possibility of international expansion in the years ahead. But for now, its main focus is on China and on catering to the country’s populace. “Wanda City is mainly targeting Chinese visitors right now,” Hu says. “I believe the number of foreign visitors will increase as Wanda’s development expands worldwide, and Wanda will have a Wanda City in Paris and in India. I believe it will certainly have a large number of overseas visitors by then.”  

More Aquatic Fun to Follow Early Success of Hefei Water Park

Hefei Wanda Water Park in eastern China opened in September 2016 with 13 water slides and attractions, including a Boomerango and Superbowl by WhiteWater, which also provided other slides to the park.

Wanda now has several more water park projects on the horizon, according to Hu Zhanghong, senior vice president of Beijing Wanda Cultural Industry Group: “Following the Hefei Water Park opening, we are going to build [water parks] in Qingdao, Wuxi, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Haikou, Guilin, Urumqi, Jinan, and other places in China in the future.”