Firm plans to over­take leisure gi­ant

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

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.

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