The year of the Dragon

The year of the Dragon

26 November 2021 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ The grand opening of Universal Beijing Resort and what it means for the market in China and abroad /

“In the process of cultural integration of world cultures, the establishment of Universal Beijing Resort has brought a different charm to Beijing, a thousand-year-old capital. I believe that Universal Beijing Resort is set to have a bright and promising future.” These were the words with which Song Yu, Party Secretary and Chairman of Beijing Tourism Group, welcomed the grand opening of the new Universal Resort in China on September 20th. The project, that was “20 years in the making” according to Tom Williams, Chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts, is sure to change the landscape of themed entertainment in China, but also throughout the Far East and Asia.

After 20 days of invitation-only trial operations, the Beijing resort opened to the public with one theme park, Universal Studios Beijing, plus Universal CityWalk Beijing and 2 spectacular hotels, the Universal Studios Grand Hotel and NUO Resort Hotel. Right from the start it is proving to be a hit among locals: when tickets became available on September 14th, places for the opening day were sold out in one minute, and over 10,000 tickets were sold in the first few minutes. Within 30 minutes, all rooms at the Universal Studios Grand Hotel for the opening dates were also fully reserved. The resort is expected to welcome between 10 and 12 million visitors a year and generate annual revenues of more than 1.55 billion dollars.

The buzz is well justified, because the resort has a lot to offer. The world’s fifth Universal Studios park is made up of 7 themed lands filled with 37 rides. It has some of the same rides found at other Universal Studios, such as the Decepticoaster inside the Transformers area, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Minions simulator; but there are some firsts as well, including the Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness. Set mostly indoors, this exquisitely Chinese area includes rides such as Po’s Kung Fu Training Camp, the Carousel of Kung Fu Heroes and the Kung Fu Panda Journey of the Dragon Warrior, as well as themed dining options including Mr. Ping’s Noodle House.

And this is only the beginning.

A brighter future

Just 3 days after the grand opening, an official from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture announced the unveiling of plans for the construction of the second and third phases of the Universal Beijing Resort, with phase 2 set to open in 2025. Universal’s further construction is part of a wider project to transform Beijing into an international consumption city, and is expected to create about 100,000 jobs in the area, including approximately 10,000 resort staff.

“Universal Beijing Resort embodies the kind of international collaboration that marks the best of the best in our industry,” said TEA International Board President Chuck Fawcett. “China is a growth center for the themed experience industry and will continue to be for some years to come.”

Indeed, Universal Beijing is only a piece of the puzzle: China is becoming a hotspot for themed entertainment across the board. “The establishment of Universal Beijing Resort, and the ongoing expansion of Shanghai Disney Resort continue an upward trajectory for the industry and reinforce the notion of quality entertainment for parks in China and Asia – raising the bar in the use of technology and media, and leading other parks and all sorts of attractions to follow suit,” wrote Chris Yoshii and Beth Chang, who analyzed Asian market data for the TEA/AECOM 2020 Index. 

With more than 1.4 billion people, China is still the most populous country in the world in 2021 and now that it is opening up (despite trade wars and it being still a communist country) it makes sense for international brands to want to tap into that market. After Universal and Disney, Paramount, Triple Five Group (under Nickelodeon license from ViacomCBS), Six Flags and Merlin Entertainments all have plans for the country. Merlin, for example, has 3 Legoland resorts under construction in China, one in Sichuan, on course to be completed by Fall 2023, one in Shanghai, planned for September 2024 as the world’s largest Legoland, and a third in Shenzhen (also set to open in 2024), that will soon topple the Shanghai one with its 9 themed areas, more than 100 rides, a water park, three hotels and 1100 Lego-themed guest rooms.

The country is of course eager to attract this kind of foreign investment, which is known to bring economic growth well beyond the jobs it creates: “One yuan spent at a theme park like the Universal Studios can bring 10 yuan to 20 yuan worth of additional spending,” said Lin Huanjie, head of the Institute for Theme Park Studies in China.

China responds

While foreign investments make officials and party leaders happy, local-operated parks have more to fear. China’s first theme park, Splendid China, opened in 1989, and in 2019 the country had 339 homegrown theme parks, with a total annual revenue worth more than 47 billion dollars. But international players are quickly eroding that market with more famous characters and IPs. Happy Valley Beijing, for example, is only 18km away from Universal Studios, and is likely to loose part of its audience, most notably in the first few years of operation of the new park.

Still, Happy Valley registered a record attendance of 50,000 during a national holiday…

Continue reading Games & Parks Industry November 2021, page 18

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