Behind China's Great Amusement Park Gold Rush

By Andrew Chin, July 20, 2016

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In the July 2016 issue of That's Shanghai and That's PRD, we look at China's burgeoning amusement park scene. In the first of this five-part series, we explore how Mainland China is shaping up to be the big battleground for amusement park supremacy.

After years of anticipation, Shanghai Disney has finally opened its doors. Thirty years after Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park opened with the slogan, “Disney is too far, come to Beijing Shinjingshan Amusement Park,” the real is thing here and it’s already an unparalleled success.

Travel agencies and nearby hotels have reported a surge in sales, while the municipal government has opened the city’s biggest tour bus hub at Shiliupu Wharf near the Bund to support the influx of visitors from all over China trying to nab the hottest ticket in the country.

The park’s Chinese partner Shanghai Shendi Group predicts that it will draw 10 million visits a year, but industry analysts say that number is conservative, some claiming that it could reach 16 million visits, challenging Tokyo Disneyland as Asia’s most visited theme park.

Shanghai Disney opening
Shanghai Disneyland opened its doors to the public in June.

“Disneyland is going to have a bigger influence on China than when KFC first came,” predicts Lou Jiajun, professor in tourism at East China Normal University in Shanghai. “It’s revolutionary.”

But there’s no rest for the House of Mouse. Other international players are rushing in to claim their stake in the burgeoning Chinese amusement park pie – one that industry analysts AECOM predicts will overtake the United States for attendance by 2020.

Universal has broken ground in Beijing on what will be its largest theme park. Six Flags has signed a deal to build multiple parks starting in Haiyan in Zhejiang Province, and Wet n Wild Haikou is scheduled to open by the end of the year in Hainan.

Hello Kitty Anji
The largest Hello Kitty park in Asia opened in Zhejiang last year.

Hello Kitty laid claim to Anji in Zhejiang when it opened its third park in the world there last year. Over the past few months, Fox Consumer Products president Jeffrey Godsick and Michael Jackson’s brother Jermaine have visited the country touting the possibilities of bringing a Twentieth Century Fox World (likely) and Neverland (less so) to China.

Chinese companies aren’t taking the challenge lightly. The country’s largest theme park, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, has already bested Hong Kong Disneyland for south China supremacy. Their “Orlando plan” to convert Heqin Bay will go into overdrive with construction beginning on a 300-hectare animal kingdom, a 5,000-seat circus, an indoor amusement park and a science and technology theme park to join its Thea (Themed Entertainment Association) Award-winning theme park.

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom
Chimelong Ocean Kingdom has already bested Hong Kong Disneyland for south China supremacy.

As the world’s fourth largest theme park operators in terms of attendance, OCT Shenzhen can’t be discounted. Innovators of China’s amusement parks, they spearheaded the cultural attractions boom of the 1990s with Splendid China and Window of the World, and operate the Mainland’s first theme park franchise, Happy Valley.

China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, is also getting in on the act. Despite making a fortune in real estate development, Wanda Dalian has aggressively entered the market, opening the first Wanda City in Nanchang in May with construction taking place on seven other sites.

Wanda's Wang Jianlin
"One tiger is no match for a pack of wolves," said China's richest man, Wang Jianlin. "Shanghai has one Disney, while Wanda will open 15 to 20 parks across the nation.”

Wang has made international headlines with flat-out trash talk, telling CCTV, “Disney shouldn’t have entered the Mainland. We have a strategy – one tiger is no match for a pack of wolves. Shanghai has one Disney, while Wanda will open 15 to 20 parks across the nation.”

Punctuating the sentiment, Wang proceeded to drop the mic, purring, “within our company, I’ve said that we will make Disney China unprofitable in the next 10 to 20 years.”

Despite the brewing war of words, AECOM Asia’s Chris Yoshii notes that China’s theme park industry has room for both domestic and international companies to thrive.

“The market is huge,” he says. “There are almost 200 cities with a population of one million or more, so there’s plenty of opportunities for different parks and scales. The theme park business per capita is well behind other countries. China has a lot of time to go before it’s going to be a problem.”

Read more articles in our Chinese Amusement Park Series here.

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