ABOVE: Chimelong Qingyuan International Forest Resort. Courtesy Chimelong Group.
(November 21, 2015) China’s attraction market continues to expand with new projects from both Chinese and foreign companies. InPark’s News Editor Joe Kleiman looks at recent developments with three of the largest companies involved in the themed entertainment sector in China – Chimelong Group, Hiachang Polar Ocean Park, and Dalian Wanda Group.
This month, Chimelong Zhuhai Resort opened the first of three attractions in its second phase of development – a 5,000 seat circus arena located under one of the world’s largest membrane structures. Still to come in the second phase is a 10 acre indoor expansion to the Ocean Kingdom marine life theme park, which will house a 10 story Ferris wheel and a 6,000 seat marine mammal performance arena. Also part of the second phase will be Wild Kingdom, a second gate at the resort featuring daytime and nighttime safari components centered around live animals, with master design by Dan Pearlman.
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At Chimelong Guangzhou Resort, Chimelong Safari Park operates the most successful koala breeding center outside of Australia. In late June, representatives from Australia’s Northern Territory toured the park, and this visit may lead to a new themed area.
According to Peter Styles, the Northern Territory’s Minister for Asian Engagement and Trade: “Chimelong gets around 80,000 people a day through its parks and it wants to work with us to design and build a unique Australia’s Northern Territory zone in its safari park that will carry distinctive regional animals, vegetation and an exhibition/education center that showcases the Northern Territory’s natural environment and culture. From the park we will be able to promote visitation to the Northern Territory . It’s an exciting proposition from a tourism market that is expected to explode in coming years.”
On November 11, Chimelong broke ground on its third fully integrated resort, located in the mountains near the town of Qingyuan, about an hour north of Guangzhou. The Chimelong Qingyuan International Forest Resort will rest on 13.5 square miles of natural land and cost US$4.5 billion to construct.
It will be split into three distinct zones with lodging integrated with both natural and amusement experiences.
The first portion to be constructed will be the Yinzhan sector, which will feature a safari theme and be nestled in a valley surrounded by the peaks of the forest. A hotel integrated into the design will allow guests to view animals from their balconies. There will be a drive through safari ride, and Chimelong states that exhibits will be designed with a “breakthrough borderless display,” allowing visitors to feel as if they are in the wilderness with the animals. In addition to a roller coaster and children’s attractions, this section will feature water elements built into the hillside, including slides and infinity pools, along with a giant observation wheel mounted on the tallest peak.
The Ying Tsui Plate sector will be based around natural swamplands and be a scientific center for research. Here, visitors will visit a sanctuary for the rare South China tiger, explore one of the world’s largest insect museums, and learn about preserving endangered species at what is planned to be the world’s largest gene bank for endangered animals and plants. Ying Tsui sits side by side with the Chinese Farm sector, where visitors will be able to see thousands of birds as they break from their migrations in the wetland fields.
With this third resort, Chimelong is creating a line of integrated theme park resorts around the Pearl River Delta. Via high speed rail, the travel time between any two resorts will be less than an hour. The company expects Chimelong Qingyuan to have an annual visitation of 10 million visitors. Related features: “Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Game-changer,” “KaKa’s Great Adventure: Rick Rothschild designs new 5D attraction for Chimelong Ocean Kingdom”
One of China’s leading operators of marine life parks and aquariums, Haichang Polar Ocean Park, has two flagship properties in development. The first is Shanghai Polar Ocean World, master planned by the Gary Goddard Group, which began principal construction in October. The park is expected to open in 2017. Related feature: “The Goddard Files.”
On November 6, Haichang Polar Ocean Park obtained the land rights to its other major development, located in Sanya, on the south side of the island of Hainan. According to the company, “The theme of the project is developed based on the concepts of ‘One Belt and One Road’ and ‘Sea Silk Road’, featuring ocean-themed recreational facilities, marine animals performances, sky theater with special effects, world-known brand of tailor-made marine recreational projects, themed restaurants and shops, which blends recreational factors with polar ocean science knowledge.”
Haichang Polar Ocean Park has begun diversifying its offerings by entering management agreements for third party parks and aquariums and by developing aquariums and children’s entertainment centers for installation within major shopping malls. On November 8, the company announced it had secured a 10 billion yuan (around US$1.5 billion) line of secured credit for expansion of marine parks and attractions within China.
Elsewhere in the vicinity of Sanya, other marine life developments have seen mixed results. In the area, construction is well underway for Kerzner International’s Atlantis Sanya. Like its sister properties in the Bahamas and Dubai, it will feature marine life and a dolphin swim experience, along with, in a first for the brand, a dolphin show arena.
On the other end of the spectrum, after three years of development and construction, Australia’s Village Roadshow has backed out of its partnership with R&F Properties for a resort near Sanya. Slated to be composed of a Wet ‘n’ Wild branded waterpark and the Ocean Paradise marine life park, modeled in part on Village Roadshow’s Sea World Gold Coast in Australia, the almost complete property was plagued by a failure of the local municipality to provide utility and transportation infrastructure in a timely manner. After pushing back opening date a number of times, the project was put on indefinite hold, with Village Roadshow eventually backing out. On November 9, the company broke ground in the city Haikou, located on the north side of Hainan, for what will now be its first Wet ‘n’ Wild location in China, built in conjunction with Mission Hills. According to Tim Fisher, the company’s CEO, in a November 19 address to shareholders, the company’s first full theme park in China will likely have a studio theme and be built in the mainland city of Chengdu.
Another major marine life experience coming to China is the Wanda Nanchang Aquarium, designed by Atlanta’s tvdesign, the architectural firm behind the Georgia Aquarium. Located inside Wanda Plaza Nanchang, a 160,000 sqm shopping mall designed by London’s Stufish Entertainment Architects, the 36,000 sqm aquarium will be managed by South Korea’s Hanwha Group, which owns and operates the Aquaplanet chain of aquariums in that country.
In October, Wanda held a meeting for management of its themed entertainment division, where it announced that there is an insufficient talent pool within China, and that the company would implement training programs to remedy this issue. During this meeting it was also announced that Wanda is changing from a quantitative to a qualitative approach, an indication that it may concentrate on fewer parks and attractions while improving the guest experience. Related story: “Wanda announces company strategy”
Wanda’s theme parks may not be limited to domestic development. On November 12, The Australian quoted Wanda Group manager Xie Hong as stating: “Wanda in Australia has already acquired the biggest cinema company in the country and theme parks are one of the things Wanda wants to invest in in the future. It is Wanda’s intention to set up a theme park on the Gold Coast but this major project is still under negotiation with the state government.”
According to other sources, Wanda is negotiating for land in the town of Coomera, where the Dreamworld theme park is located. Coomera would also place the Wanda park 30 minutes from Village Roadshow’s Gold Coast theme parks.
On November 15, the Hindustan Times reported that Wanda is “set to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) for setting up a theme park and entertainment hub in about 3,000 acres of Industrial Model Township (IMT) at Kharkhauda in Sonepat.” The town is located near New Delhi. The article quotes an HSIIDC official as stating: “The Wanda group had sent a draft MoU to the state government for consideration. We drafted a corresponding MoU and sent it to them. The group has given its concurrence to sign it.’’
Wanda is not the only Chinese operator to express interest in the international market. Both Haichang Polar Ocean Park and Chimelong Group executives have stated their intent to explore such options. But for now, all three companies are continuing to build unique parks and attractions within China with rides, shows, and animal exhibits that are setting benchmarks for the industry within the country and the world.
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