Noppen’s 2nd China Theme Park and Resort Expansion Summit took place on 27th and 28th June in Shanghai, the biggest city in China and the world. It built successfully on last year’s inaugural event in bringing together around 300 delegates from China’s theme park industry to hear about developments in what is a vibrant and rapidly expanding market.
By Charles Read
Sponsors included leading audiovisual designers and technology solutions provider Funa International, themed entertainment design firm The Goddard Group and family attraction designer Dynamic Motion Rides. Delegates were able to learn about trends, projects and opportunities in China from speakers representing many of the region’s major theme parks and resorts.
Theme Parks and the Growth of China’s Middle Class
As chairman of the event, I introduced the first day’s speakers with a few observations about China itself and how it is developing at a rate unprecedented in human history. The expansion of the theme park and resort business is in effect a function of the growth of the middle classes and it is this growth – happening to a large extent across Asia but nowhere more so than in China that is fuelling the growth in themed entertainment and attractions development.
In less than twenty years the world’s middle classes will have been boosted by a further 2 billion people, equivalent to the populations of North America, Africa and Europe combined and China is playing a huge part in this demographic shift, having moved over 300 million people out of poverty in the last 30 years. Whilst it took Britain over 150 years to double its per capita income and the US over 50, China has done this in just 12 years and the 2,000 new cars joining Beijing traffic jams every single day attest to this.
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Across Asia the middle classes are in turn driving the growth in theme parks and China is at the forefront of this development, with over half of all Asian theme park visitors going to China’s parks. Within China too the rate of growth is increasing with over a third of all its theme parks developed within the last 2 years.
The market is of course not mature and there are huge opportunities for improvement. One stark difference is in the levels of secondary spend, with US parks admission/ticket prices accounts for around 50% of revenue to operators, in China around 90%. This figure alone represents huge potential for merchandising, IP, licensing, branding and food and beverage entrepreneurs.
With two full days packed with fascinating and insightful presentations it is not possible to list them all, however, here are some of the highlights.
Landmines, Chariots and Reviving Sunway Lagoon- Day One
Makoto Sata, President, Sanrio Entertainment Co Ltd. Sanrio is a Japanese company that designs, produces and licenses products focusing on kawaii (cute) characters from Japanese popular culture. Mr Sato spoke about Sanrio’s character, “Hello Kitty”, the company’s greeting card business and the development of its theme parks in Japan. He ran through a selection of the Hello Kitty merchandise- a blizzard of pink and white accessories – and gave an overview of the company’s operation in Japan, including its two theme parks, Sanrio Puroland in Tama, Tokyo, and Harmonyland in Hiji, Oita, Kyushu. He rounded of his presentation with a look at Sanrio projects in development in Johor, Malaysia and Anji, China.
Scott Arnold (above right, on the left), Design Manager, Funa International then spoke about Theme Park and Attraction Technologies, giving both an overview of current technologies and outlining best practice. He spoke of the constant need of attractions to compete with home technology - “consumer appetite is only temporarily satisfied”- and also ran through a number of project “landmines” to be avoided. Concluding with a caveat with a local twist, he reminded us that technology may not necessarily always be the best answer, “sometimes the best attractions are low technology, and it’s hard to top a panda!”
Markus Beyer, MD of Attraktion! Group is a 20-year veteran of the entertainment technology industry and a leading player in the field of highly immersive special venue 3d and 4D theatre attractions. He outlined his plans for a theme park based upon “Chariots of the Gods”, Erich von Däniken’s enormously successful book promoting the author’s idea that visitors from outer space brought cultures and religions to the earth’s ancient civilisations. Markus then went on to talk delegates through the evolution of media based attractions, highlighting the development of 3d and 4d cinema.
David Vatcher , CEO, Dynamic Motion Rides GmbH then introduced his company’s new flying simulator, Flyboard, the idea behind which was driven by the lack of a high class simulator experience similar to Islands of Adventure’s Spider-Man etc but on a smaller scale budget. Whilst stood on a moving platform, riders watch a film with “4D” special effects helping create a fully immersive experience.
A highlight of the afternoon session was Aaron Soo’s presentation. Until very recently the CEO at Malaysia’s Sunway Lagoon, Soo (left) was taken on some 7 years ago to turn around the fortunes of the struggling theme park which was then operating at a loss. We’ll hear from Aaron shortly in these pages in detail but suffice to say that during his tenure he managed to transform the park into both an enormous financial success with record breaking profits and a multiple IAAPA award winning destination.
Dolphin Therapy, The Big Idea and Bubba Gump - Day Two
The day’s first speaker was Furukawa Nobuyuki (left), President and CEO of Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, an aquarium/amusement park based in Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama, Japan. He gave an overview of the development planned for the park and explained to us how the park had developed over the last ten years.
Japan is home to 5 of Asia’s top ten parks in terms of attendance and that of Sea Paradise is a healthy 4 million, of which 1.8 million visit the aquarium itself. As with most theme parks a cycle of investment in new attractions in the park has helped fuel growth in attendance, with whale sharks being introduced in 2010 and in 2013 a new aquarium area opening.
Catching up with Mr Nobuyuki later in the day, I asked him about the new aquarium and challenges faced by the park. He explained that the animal’s welfare is of paramount importance to them and that whilst they are encouraging interaction between park guests and the animals - for example the dolphins - managing the animal’s welfare is vital. Whilst such interaction is therapeutic for the guests it must also be a stress-free experience for the dolphin or other marine mammal too. Managing such interaction is probably the greatest challenge the park faces. He is also currently engaged in creating a safe and clean environment in a new aquarium area to open next year and is also actively involved in discussions to open further aquariums beyond Hakkeikima.
Gary Goddard (right), Founder, Chairman and CEO of Gary Goddard Entertainment spoke next, giving first an introduction to his company and then talking about his experience in themed entertainment and design with a focus on Asian projects. Having designed the recently opened $ 1.9 Billion “Galaxy Macau” Mega-Resort, and with ground just broken on the Shenfu New Town project’s iconic “Ring of Harmony” - set to be the centre piece for the new city – Gary and The Goddard Group have huge experience with themed entertainment resorts across Asia and China in particular. He laid out some useful ground rules for those looking to develop successful themed entertainment projects. These included:
- The concept (or “big idea”) is key. It’s not just about the architecture, the brand, the theming, the budget, the rides or the operation. If the concept is not sound the project may fail.
- The 5 Es of design: emotion, excitement, experiential, entertainment and exceed expectations. Any successful attraction will be ticking each box, with emotion being the most important. He also added an additional E for aquariums and museums - Education. In summary, he advised potential developers of themed attractions to get first the big idea and then use the 5 Es.
Next was Paramount Pictures’ Parks & Resorts VP Business Development and Planning, Tom Renger (below right), who spoke about exploring location based entertainment in China. He ran a video with a look at just a tiny fraction of Paramount’s vast catalogue of brands and talked about the history and development of the company. He highlighted the success of their chain of branded themed restaurants, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company- now the second biggest in the world - based on the Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump. He also mentioned a new branded concept in development, a “compact retail, dining and entertainment format” experience, still under wraps about which we shall doubtless hear more in the future. Interestingly, he said that research suggests that branded food is more appetizing!
Finally he lead us through a video of the Parque Paramount Alhama de Murcia, the Spanish theme park set to open in 2015, construction of which broke ground earlier this year. Although not an investor in the park, Paramount will be an integral part of the design process and has an exclusive long-term licensing deal with the developer PREMURSA.
Economic research company Aecom’s Global Director of Economics and VP Chris Yoshi then ran us through his company’s findings about the Asian theme park market, neatly highlighting with a series of graphs and statistics the market’s phenomenal growth. We shall hear from him in more detail in Blooloop shortly.
The afternoon saw me discussing social media, looking at both growth in internet usage and participation in social media in China and the different brands and tools used.
The event was rounded off with a panel discussion. The moderator was Ding Wei, Advisor for the World Carnival Beijing Investment Corporation and panellists were Li Yong, Director Strategic Development, Shaanxi Culture Industry Investment Holding group Co Ltd., Lu Jun, GM, Suzhou Amusement Land Co Ltd. and Tian Enming, Deputy GM Dragon City Tourism Holding Group. Commenting on the continued development of the theme park industry the panel thought that Chinese brands will continue to develop as a rich subject matter for home grown theme parks, that intellectual property is a field in which tighter controls must be exercised and applied at government level and that western companies will continue to bring with them their experience and expertise to work closely with Chinese operators.
In summary, this was a vibrant and well attended event. With the growth predicted in the region’s theme park industry this conference looks set to go from strength to strength.