Firm plans to overtake leisure giant
Mickey Mouse has a new and deep-pocketed challenger: China’s shopping mall king.
The developer that bought Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment is preparing to fight Disney to lead China’s - and possibly the world’s - theme park industry.
Wanda Group and its billionaire founder, Wang Jianlin (pictured), are inaugurating a sprawling entertainment complex on Saturday in China’s southeast three weeks before the June 16 opening of Disney’s first mainland Chinese park in Shanghai.
Wanda’s 20 billion yuan (Dhs11 billion) site in the city of Nanchang has an outdoor theme park and teacup-shaped buildings that house a shopping mall, cinemas, restaurants, a film park and the world’s largest ocean park. It has 10 hotels.
Wanda has lots of cash and a huge home market but lacks Disney’s brand power and decades of theme park experience. Still, Wanda exudes confidence it can win.
Publicly laying down a challenge, Wang told Chinese state TV in comments he plans to “overtake Disney” as the biggest global tourism company by 2020.
“The frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them have passed,” said Wang. Disney is “entirely cloning previous intellectual properties, cloning previous products, with no more innovation”. Disney said in an email that Wang’s comments were “not worthy of a response”. Wang’s boldness is a sign of China’s growing cultural confidence after three decades of explosive economic growth. The ruling Communist Party is eager to see China create pop culture to rival Hollywood. There was much angst when DreamWorks’ first Kung Fu Panda movie came out. Commentators demanded to know why China couldn’t make a hit film about its own national animal. The battle of the theme parks also demonstrates the growing importance of China’s public, who have evolved quickly from a nation of farmers and factory workers to one of the most important consumer markets. The government is in the midst of a marathon effort to nurture selfsustaining economic growth by encouraging consumer spending to reduce reliance on trade and investment. Tourism plays a key role in that. The outlook for theme parks in China is rosy. Annual visitor numbers are forecast to more than double from 133 million in 2014 to 282 million in 2019, according to Euromonitor International, a research company.