RIDING THE WAVE
an adult ticket for the park.
Purely on ticket price, Wanda is attempting to undercut Disney. The cost of admission for one adult to the Nanchang park costs 198 yuan on weekdays and 248 yuan on weekends and holidays. For Disney, it is 370 yuan and 499 yuan respectively.
Cavender added that Wanda and Disney have different target customers. “Disney is more appealing for those affluent middle class, while Wanda City is more attractive to those who care more about value for money,” he said.
Competitive pricing is not Wanda’s only strength, according to some visitors.
Zhang Yiyi, a fan of theme parks, recently wrote a review online after visiting both Shanghai Disney Resort and Wanda City. He argued that the Nanchang attraction caters to a wider range of visitors, while Disney’s rides and other recreational facilities are tailored more for children.
For the American company, however, its biggest advantage could be its name.
“Disney is one of the strongest, iconic brands in the world today,” said Brad Burgess, director of Burson-Marsteller China, a branch of the global public relations company. “Although Disney originated in the US, the brand’s appeal spans cultures, political preferences, ages and people groups. These are traditionally seen as divisive, and the strength of the Disney brand crosses these barriers.
“This is what makes the company unique, its appeal to both the hearts and minds of its audiences. So Chinese brands will need to develop a similar appeal, and I trust they can do this over time. But regarding the China market, there are few playbooks and sometimes it is anybody’s guess.”
Burgess believes Disney’s challenge in China will be becoming as localized as possible while still maintaining its core essence.
“I have noticed an incredible amount of Disney marketing in Beijing shopping malls ahead of the (Shanghai park) opening,” he added. “I see how they are ‘Chinafying’ their approach, from using Asian imagery to the music they play.”
CBRE’s Ji said the Nanchang site is the latest step in Wanda’s efforts to transform from being a property developer to a theme park operator. At the start of this year, the company slashed its property sales target by 40 percent, while its top executives have announced plans to open 15 to 20 Wanda Cities on the mainland as well as five overseas by 2020.
And it is not just Wanda and Disney that are jumping on the theme park bandwagon in China. Along with established domestic players like Happy Valley, Chimelong and Fantawild, many other international companies are eying the market.
Universal Studios Inc has said it wants to open a site in Beijing, while Six Flags has teamed up with Riverside Investment Group, a Beijing real estate developer, to build a number of Six Flags parks across the mainland over the next decade.
The Eden Project, the attraction in southwest England, also signed a deal with property developer China Jinmao Holdings Ltd last year to build China Eden, a tourism and education project, in the east-coast city of Qingdao. It will be the Eden Project’s first venture in Asia, according to Tim Smit, its co-founder and executive vicechairman.
“This opportunity is exciting because our partners share our view that we should build a project that builds on 4,000 years of Chinese relations with the environment and Eden’s fresh approach to education,” he said in a media release.
China already has about 3,000 large and small theme parks, according to Yang Yanfeng, an associate professor with the China Tourism Academy. However, he said, less than 10 percent are profitable.
To make money, Wang Xuguang, president of Haichang Ocean Park Holdings Co Ltd, which manages several aquatic-themed parks in China, said the positioning, planning, core products and operating capabilities of such attractions are decisive.
Chen Shi, assistant general manager of TFTR Investment Co Ltd, which holds interests in amusement parks, added that there is a structural imbalance in the industry in China. “Only those that really meet the market demand can have steady cash flow,” he said. “Services as well as intellectual property are core to being competitive.”
Parks with light assets, quality services, mature IP, innovative facilities and lots of interaction with visitors can stand out among the fierce competition. With China’s soaring demand for leisure and travel he is optimistic about the market potential for theme parks, he said.
Chinese consumer spending reached the highest level in the first quarter of this year, despite the country’s economic slowdown, according to a May 31 report by market research agency Nielsen. Lynn Xu, its senior vice-president in China, said there is massive growth potential for spending on leisure and tourism in third-tier cities and rural areas.
So even though Disney faces stiff competition, it looks like being a happy ending for theme park fans.
Contact the writer at huyuanyuan@chinadaily. com.cn
Top: The $3 billion Wanda City opened in Nanchang, Jiangxi province on May 28. It includes an outdoor amusement park. Above: Shanghai Disney Resort will open on June 16. It opened on a trial basis last month.