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Growth of New Attractions in Asia - June 2015

The phenomenal growth of new attractions in Asia has the worldwide industry buzzing with excitement. Development on the continent is unprecedented, and it’s easily the industry’s fastest-growing region on Earth. In China alone, some 59 amusement parks are expected to be built by 2020,  according to a report by AECOM.

Keith James, CEO of Jack Rouse Associates (JRA) in Cincinnati, Ohio, says the rapid development is reminiscent of another boom era: “The level of energy reminds me of the 1970s, when the industry was booming in North America and Western Europe. It’s a very exciting time for all of the industry in Asia.” JRA’s latest project in Asia is the 26,000-square-foot Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the China National Children’s Center in the Xicheng District of Beijing. It recently had a soft opening, with a grand opening planned for June 2015.

Mario Mamon is chairman and CEO of Enchanted Kingdom in Santa Rosa City, Laguna, Philippines, and was 2014 IAAPA Chairman of the Board. His park is celebrating its 20th anniversary in October, and, during the first half of 2016, he plans to open a new Philippines-themed attraction company officials say will be the first in southeast Asia and one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Mamon, who will be speaking during the “Business is Booming: What’s New in Asia” session at Asian Attractions Expo 2015, sees a couple of key reasons for the extraordinary growth of Asia’s attractions industry: “[Asia has] a very large population base that has hardly been tapped and penetrated, especially in population centers such as China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Also, it has the most economies considered the fastest-growing in the world, giving rise to a continually growing middle class with disposable income to spend in our industry.”

Thus, some of the industry’s largest and most-renowned companies are either currently constructing major attraction projects in Asia or have announced their intention to do so. These include The Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, Merlin Entertainments, and Six Flags Entertainment Corp. Mamon sees significant positive effects resulting from this influx.

“This wide-ranging variety of attractions in the Asia-Pacific market will bring it closer to the industry’s leading [regions],” he says. “It also gives an opportunity for these global brands to have adaptations of local culture in their amusement offerings and be more relevant here. The presence of all these global brands raises the bar for everyone in the region as far as safety, quality, and standards are concerned. It will keep us regional and national players on our toes.”

Mamon says one of the national players that has responded is real estate colossus Dalian Wanda Group, headquartered in Beijing. It’s the largest cinema chain operator in the world, and has recently extended its reach into theme parks.

“Wanda opened their first attractions in Wuhan in December,” says Mamon. “Wanda Movie Park is composed of seven different simulators in a Mark-Fisher-designed one-of-a-kind building. They also opened a ‘cirque-like’ show by Franco Dragone called ‘The Han Show,’ which was truly impressive in terms of scale, staging, and special effects.”

Much of the current flood of new attraction projects in Asia, and especially in China, can be traced to the 2009 announcement that a huge new theme park, Shanghai Disney Resort (which includes Shanghai Disneyland), would be built in Pudong, Shanghai, China. The $4.4 billion resort, almost 1,000 acres in size and set to open in 2016, signaled the confidence the world’s largest theme park company had in the region.

“We’ve seen an explosion of interest throughout China since the announcement of Shanghai Disneyland,” says Gary Goddard, founder and CEO of the Goddard Group, which currently has numerous projects ongoing in Asia, including four in China. “I think it’s going to be great for our industry.” 

Outside Influences vs. Homegrown Talent
Though well-established western attractions companies have committed to major projects in the region, Asia-based developers are also making enormous investments on the continent. The aforementioned Dalian Wanda Group company reportedly has at least 10 attractions projects underway in China at a cost of more than $50 billion.

Shenzhen Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), owner of the Happy Valley chain of amusement parks, attracts 26 million visitors to its facilities each year and continues to construct new parks. Fantawild, also China-based, owns 10 amusement parks and has two more under construction. South Korea’s Lotte Group, which operates Lotte World in Seoul, says it plans to eventually duplicate that massive indoor amusement park in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China. Finally, the Japan-based operator of Universal Studios Japan recently announced it’s considering building a second theme park in Okinawa.

This raises the question of whether these Asia-based park firms might have an advantage over international companies coming into the region. “Domestic [companies] have the ability to develop and build good parks at relatively lower costs and on a significantly faster timeline,” says Chris Yoshii, global director, economics, Asia for AECOM. “Many of the domestic developers are also real estate developers, so they can take advantage of real estate sales and commercial development to fund their projects.”

Mamon agrees, especially with regard to China: “The advantages of these domestic Chinese companies include knowledge of the vast, local market; government approval and support; and a strong and established base in other forms of businesses, such as real estate development, retail, and mixed-use development.”

What the Market Wants
For attraction companies, especially ones not based in the Asia-Pacific region, learning what people in the region truly want to see and experience is essential to success there. These demands vary some from country to country, but attraction firms working in the region do see commonalities.

“All of our Asian clients emphasize the need and desire to incorporate local culture into projects,” says JRA’s James. “There are obvious opportunities in such areas as cuisine and food service, as well as the entertainment that’s offered. Additionally, the designers and planners generally need to provide for multi-generational visits; children, parents, and grandparents are the norm rather than the exception.”

A recent surge in movie attendance in China—which Goddard says is directly tied to the increase in the number of cinema screens and the opening of the market to Western products—has provided numerous opportunities for development. Goddard says this has led to a desire among some clients to want to emulate popular and iconic parks.

“We do our best to link up with clients who share our interest in leading and not following,” he says. “We look for the clients who want to stand out with something unique and original.”

He says the same is true of individual rides and attractions, where there is often a craving to create ones similar to celebrated examples around the world. But again, Goddard urges resisting that temptation.

“So the challenge is in getting clients to take a leap of faith and to create something that will be new and different, without spending the kind of dollars that Universal and Disney do, and yet, putting in enough to make something truly fantastic. Generally speaking, the clients in Asia want ‘the latest, the fastest, the highest.’”

It’s Not All Happening in China
With 1.4 billion people and a red-hot development market, much attention is currently focused on China’s attractions industry. But other Asia-Pacific countries like Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia also have attraction projects in the works.

“Southeast Asia is often left in the shadow of China, but there is immense growth and opportunity,” Yoshii observes. “Malaysia, -Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines all have a large, fast-growing middle-class and young populations. The ability to fund projects is lower in these countries, so development budgets tend to be more modest. Many water parks are added as a result. India is slowly developing; however, land acquisition is very challenging in India.”

James points to Malaysia specifically as a country that’s experiencing huge attractions expansion, particularly in the city of Johor Bahru, and notes that Themed Attractions and Resorts has “exciting” expansion plans in the country. He also says Singapore will continue to add to and improve its attractions. 

“Development around the [Mandai] Zoo and the Night Safari will be extremely impressive in the years to come, and Sentosa is always doing something,” he says. “The Resorts World project in the Philippines will be impressive in its own right, and will undoubtedly increase tourism to that country; therefore, future opportunities in the Philippines will be numerous. Indonesia is becoming quite active with developments in Jakarta, within Dunia Fantasi and the Ancol. It will also be interesting to see what develops in Vietnam and Thailand in coming years.”

Japan has Asia’s most mature attractions market, but the growth of new facilities in recent years has been quite modest. Goddard says the country has not returned to the pace of new development it experienced prior to its economic downturn more than 20 years ago. The record attendance resulting from the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan last summer might signal a hunger for new parks and attractions, though.

“Japan has been the least active in terms of new projects,” he says. “It’s a mature market for theme parks though, so perhaps that’s to be expected. But now that the economic climate [there] is changing for the better, there is certainly room for innovation to return via a new theme park of some kind. Right now, Japan is not the epicenter of original or innovative design … in the world of theme parks, but I think the opportunity is there for it to happen once again.”

Incredibly, with 4.2 billion people, Asia has almost 60 percent of the world’s population and the fastest-growing youth segment, with Africa a close second. Goddard foresees what this means for Asia: “Audiences—and young people, especially—raised in an age of social media and instant access via the Internet and mobile phones, find multiple options for their leisure time and leisure dollars. I feel there is a paradigm shift happening—not about to happen—it’s happening now. The world of the future that Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, and so many other authors predicted is upon us.”  

Contact News Editor Keith Miller at kmiller@IAAPA.org.

Noteworthy Changes in the Asia Market

Mario Mamon, chairman and CEO of Enchanted Kingdom in Santa Rosa City, Laguna, Philippines, notes a few fundamental trends he observes taking place in the Asia market of which attraction companies should take note:

  • The continued development and sophistication of the target markets, from being satisfied with off-the-shelf attractions 20 years ago, to one where global brands and attractions industry suppliers choose to make “world premieres” of different attractions.
  • Immersive and interactive attractions, even those with friendly competition among guests, are becoming as popular in Asia as they are in other markets around the globe.
  • The inclusion of local culture, architecture, and design in various attractions, thus veering away from an escapist or “other world” mentality, to one aligning with the general surroundings of the market.
  • The continued influx of global brands into the Asia-Pacific region, buoyed the popularity of their intellectual property in other forms of media.

A Sampling of New Parks and Attractions Opening by 2O17

Shanghai Disney Resort, Shanghai, China

The 967-acre Shanghai Disney Resort will feature a Magic Kingdom-style theme park, resort hotels, and a Downtown Disney-type shopping area.

The park will be divided into six themed lands, and though there will be some popular favorites from other Disney parks, officials say the park will boast dozens of unique, all-new rides, attractions, and immersive experiences.

The centerpiece of the park will be the Enchanted Storybook Castle, the tallest, largest, and most interactive Disney castle yet, and it will serve as the launching point for a 10-minute boat ride around Fantasyland that includes a secret underground chamber where fountains of light spill into pools, complete with music and color. At the castle’s center, a winding staircase will take guests to “Once Upon a Time Adventure,” featuring all of the Disney princesses.

The first of the park’s themed lands will be Treasure Cove, Disney’s first pirates-themed land. Its major attraction will be “Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure,” an all-new high-tech boat ride officials say will “seamlessly blend Disney’s storytelling and state-of-the-art technologies.”

Wanda Opens Two -Attractions in Late 2014; Several More on the Way

On Dec. 20, 2014, Wanda Movie Park opened inside an enormous gold-colored building nicknamed The “Golden Bells”; its design was inspired by a cultural artifact, the Wuhan Bianzhong bells, from the Han Dynasty.

The $690 million park covers more than 1 million square feet and features six theatrical attractions, including 4-D and 5-D theaters, a flight theater, a space theater, and interactive live performances. One of the rides, “Hubei in the Air,” is similar in design to Disney’s “Soarin’ Over California.” Another, called “Star Journey,” re-creates a spacecraft liftoff.

The same day, Dalian Wanda Group opened the “Han Show Theater,” also in Wuhan. The $400 million structure was inspired by a Chinese red lantern and extends more than 200 feet from basement to roof. The Franco Dragone-created show celebrates the Han culture and features aerial and aquatic stage performances by more than 100 acrobats.

Among the Wanda Group’s park projects scheduled to open in China by the end of 2016 is Wanda City Park in Xishuangbanna, near the Laos border. Its featured rides will include an Intamin water coaster similar to “Divertical” at Mirabilandia in Italy, a butterfly-themed flying coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard like “Manta” at SeaWorld Orlando, and a Zamperla MotoCoaster.

Treasure Gourd Farm is an existing park being completely rebuilt by Wanda in Nanchang, between Shanghai and Hong Kong. Among its headliner attractions opening in 2015 will be “Viper,” a 5,100-foot-long wooden coaster from Great Coasters International, and a 243-foot-tall steel coaster from Intamin that will reach a speed of 84 mph.

The Wuxi Wanda Cultural Tourism City will open in Wuxi, Jiangsu, in 2016 to compete with the nearby Shanghai Disneyland. It will be divided into both indoor and outdoor cultural and entertainment areas, with the indoor sections containing a children’s amusement park, shopping malls, and cinemas. Outdoor attractions may include an Intamin launch coaster.

 KidZania, Manila, Philippines

 KidZania, the fast-growing chain of family edutainment centers with 16 locations in 13 countries, is opening a $22.5 million interactive children’s city in Manila in 2015.  KidZania Manila will allow children to choose from more than 100 role-playing activities that simulate adult professions. The center is expected to host 600,000 visitors annually.

Many of the role-plays offered will be different from other  KidZanias—customized to the Filipino setting. They will incorporate many maritime activities, as well as agriculture. There will also be markets similar to the clustered shops, or tiangges, that are popular in the country.

 KidZania Manila will be operated by Play Innovations, a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Corporation, and will cater to kids ages 4 to 14.

Hello Kitty, Anji, Zhejiang, China

Promoted as “the cutest place on Earth,” Hello Kitty Park opened Feb. 4, 2015 in Anji, not far from Shanghai. The park is themed on the fictional character Hello Kitty, which is the subject of several TV series, product lines, and theme parks produced by the Japanese company Sanrio.

Set on 148 acres, the park is divided into six zones, each “hosted” by a famous Sanrio character and containing more than 10 visitor attractions like rides and shows. It features a grand castle, an aqua amusement zone, a themed theater, and a dozen rides, including a Ferris wheel. There is also a Hello Kitty-themed luxury hotel.

The park and hotel are a joint venture of Sanrio and China’s Zhejiang New Insight Leisure Tourism Development Company. The park was designed by The Hettema Group.

DreamPlay, City of Dreams, Manila, -Philippines

Though an exact opening date has not been officially announced, the launch of DreamPlay at the City of Dreams in Manila was imminent at press time. Featuring experiences designed exclusively for City of Dreams Manila by DreamWorks Animation and iP2 Entertainment, DreamPlay allows guests to take part in immersive experiences involving popular DreamWorks characters like Shrek and the penguins of “Madagascar.”

Some of the technology involved includes RFID wristbands for guests and motion-detecting video projections of DreamWorks characters that will interact with visitors. Able to entertain about 1,200 guests simultaneously, the park will provide an estimated four-hour experience.

Fantawild, Jinan, Zhuzhou, and Wuhu, China

The Fantawild theme park chain has experienced attendance growth the past few years, and has at least five new parks set to open in China over the next two years. Three of the parks—in Jinan, Zhuzhou, and Wuhu—will each feature a Gravity Group wooden coaster and a Vekoma Boomerang shuttle coaster, with at least one of the wooden coasters expected to feature a looping inversion. There are also plans for wooden coasters at new Fantawild parks in Ningbo and Zhengzhou.

On the Horizon …

Among the projects scheduled for completion in Asia between 2017 and 2019 are two Legoland parks. One is set to open in 2017 in Nagoya, Japan (about two hours from Tokyo), at a cost of $274 million. Initially, the project will focus on the theme park, with future options available for further expansion and development of themed accommodations.

The second Legoland park, also scheduled to open in 2017 at a cost of $270 million, will be in Gangwon, South Korea. South Korea is one of Asia’s largest markets for Lego toys.

Universal Parks and Resorts announced plans to open a $3.3 billion movie theme park in Beijing in 2019. The 1,000-acre facility is set to include a theme park, shopping center, and hotel. Universal has released concept art, but hasn’t provided further specifics about the park.

In June 2014, Six Flags Entertainment Corp. announced a partnership with Canada-based Riverside Investment Group to build multiple theme parks in China over the next decade, but did not give details about the parks themselves.

The Status of Non-Amusement Attractions

Funworld asked two attractions -industry veterans with considerable knowledge of the Asia market to comment on the current status of non-amusement attractions there.

“Generally, there is relatively little public funding for zoos, aquariums, and science centers. What you do see are -private attractions that, in some respects, fill the gaps.  KidZania and the many projects that emulate their attractions fill the gap for educational entertainment. Private aquariums are increasingly found in shopping malls, and zoological exhibits are being added to theme parks.”

—Chris Yoshii, global director, economics, Asia for AECOM

“Asia has always embraced zoos and aquariums, and, to a lesser degree, museums and cultural centers. What we are seeing now, with the advent of more exciting entertainment, leisure, and hospitality offerings, is the market for museums and cultural centers is declining. There were no other options for many decades, but now people have more choices. I think there will need to be a shift, much as has happened in the United States and Europe, where these cultural institutions must change with the times and offer more exciting, dramatic, interactive, and immersive displays and attractions.”

—Gary Goddard, founder and CEO of the Goddard Group

Insightful Advice and Cautionary Notes

Mario Mamon, Enchanted Kingdom

  • We should be wary of how economic development proceeds—is it on the rise, continuing, peaking, or approaching a decline?
  • We should not be carried away by illusions of grandeur in being different, especially if it goes against the grain of economic and business viability.
  • As we proceed into a project or venture during these very positive and bright times, we should also prepare for adverse conditions and worst-case scenarios, for it will be the only way that we’ll be able to sustain the business for an [extended] time.

Gary Goddard, Goddard Group

  • Classic design stands the test of time, while fad-based design gets old fast.
  • Stand out. Be different.
  • Lead the market; don’t follow.
  • It’s about the content, not the technology
  • Put a sense of wonder in everything you do.

Chris Yoshii, AECOM

  • Many projects are being developed without a clear business and investment plan.
  • Many cities and districts are eager to add parks in their areas and providing incentives to developers to build parks quickly without guidance on quality and sustainability.

Keith James, JRA

  • If there is too much, too fast, and a lack of qualified resources, the quality is likely to suffer.
  • Be enthusiastic, but at the same time be thoughtful, careful, and thorough.