Riding the wave of enthusiasm for theme parks in Asia
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.”
A parade at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.