Rid­ing the wave of en­thu­si­asm for theme parks in Asia

China Daily (Canada) - - XI’S VISITS - By PEARL LIU

For China Daily

Fun fair fa­nat­ics across Asia have more op­por­tu­ni­ties than ever be­fore to ride a roller coaster — and com­pa­nies are lin­ing up to pro­vide even more.

Nearly 223 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the world’s top 25 amuse­ment parks last year, up 4 per­cent on 2013, ac­cord­ing to the Themed En­ter­tain­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. About one-third of th­ese parks are now in Asia.

Al­though North Amer­ica — the United States in par­tic­u­lar — is home to the largest and busiest theme parks, Asia is catch­ing up fast, with parks crop­ping up at a rapid clip while ex­ist­ing ones ex­pand.

To­tal at­ten­dances at Asia’s top 20 parks rose last year to 123 mil­lion, up 5 per­cent on 2013, com­pared with an in­crease of 2 per­cent in North Amer­ica to 138 mil­lion.

“The theme park mar­ket (in Asia) has seen the steep­est in­creases in the world,” said Chris Yoshii at industry con­sul­tant Aecom. “We’ve fore­cast that Asian parks will over­take Amer­i­can parks in 2020.”

Such po­ten­tial has nat­u­rally at­tracted global cor­po­ra­tions.

In Septem­ber, Com­cast agreed a deal to pur­chase 51 per­cent of Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Ja­pan in Osaka for an es­ti­mated 183 bil­lion yen ($1.51 bil­lion). Al­though it trails Tokyo Dis­ney­land in terms of vis­i­tor num­bers, at­ten­dances have re­cently jumped about 20 per­cent, largely thanks to the new Wiz­ard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter at­trac­tion.

Com­cast is now look­ing to the next huge mar­ket for theme parks: China. Late last year, plans were rolled out to build a Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios theme park in Bei­jing.

In Shang­hai, a $5.4 bil­lion Shang­hai Dis­ney Re­sort is also sched­uled to open in the spring. The re­sort is be­ing built over 400 hectares.

“The world’s lead­ing theme park groups are boldly step­ping into the un­tapped mar­ket in … de­vel­op­ing Asia, with its burn­ing de­mand for en­ter­tain­ment,” said Yoshii.

Al­though Asian economies are slow­ing, a grow­ing con­sumer class is emerg­ing.

Av­er­age GDP per capita across the re­gion is ex­pected to rise from $6,000 to $11,000 over the next decade, while the over­all pop­u­la­tion — cur­rently 4 bil­lion — is ex­pected to grow by an­other 300 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to BMI Re­search.

And it’s not just multi­na­tion­als aim­ing to tap the mar­ket, either.

Aus­tralia’s Vil­lage Road­show has teamed up with China’s Citic to cre­ate a $500 mil­lion fund to in­vest in Asian theme parks. A po­ten­tial site has been iden­ti­fied in Chengdu, the cap­i­tal of Sichuan prov­ince and home of the gi­ant panda.

In the past decade, three Chi­nese theme park op­er­a­tors — Over­seas Chi­nese Town Parks, Chime­l­ong Group and Songcheng World­wide — have bro­ken into the top 10 world­wide, while 13 of Asia’s 20 largest and most pop­u­lar amuse­ment parks are now in China.

“Theme parks in China have been trans­formed,” said Ba Zhaox­i­ang, a tourism pro­fes­sor at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai. “Be­fore, theme parks on the main­land mostly tar­geted young peo­ple. Now the parks are more like re­sorts that en­ter­tain all age groups, from chil­dren to the el­derly.”

Hence, th­ese parks are no longer small parcels of land; they are huge com­plexes with fa­cil­i­ties for en­ter­tain­ment, sports, gam­ing, shop­ping and hos­pi­tal­ity.

There are con­cerns that the eco­nomic growth that proved such a big draw for theme park op­er­a­tors is now fad­ing. But, for now, those wor­ries seem to be un­founded, as theme parks are prov­ing more re­silient than other sec­tors.

“Theme parks are a promis­ing sec­tor that is still un­der­served in China and in the re­gion,” said Yoshii. “Asian theme parks are get­ting big­ger, adding and ex­pand­ing to lever­age a grow­ing mar­ket, es­pe­cially tourism.”

Lotte World in Seoul, South Korea, has ex­pe­ri­enced a big in­crease in at­ten­dance al­most en­tirely from the Chi­nese main­land. In Hong Kong, Ocean Park and Hong Kong Dis­ney­land are also re­port­ing high vis­i­tor num­bers.

Yet Yoshii still be­lieves there is room for growth: “The Asian mar­ket is un­der­sup­plied, whereas most mar­kets in ad­vanced economies are ma­ture or sat­u­rated.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A pa­rade at Hong Kong Dis­ney­land Re­sort.

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