RID­ING THE WAVE

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

Hu Yuanyuan

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

WANG GANG / FOR CHINA DAILY LI PING / FOR CHINA DAILY

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.

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