Straco Corporation currently operates two aquariums in China – the flagship Shanghai Ocean Aquarium situated at the Lujiazui Financial District of Shanghai, and Underwater World Xiamen, located on Gulangyu Island in Xiamen City, Fujian.
Wonwhee Kim, Founder of The Park Database, talked with Sean Wu (right), Vice President, Corporate Development Straco Corporation about aquariums, trends and China.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I work at the managerial level at Straco Corporation Limited, a Singapore company with a business focus of developing and operating tourist attractions in China and the rest of Asia.
What you would look for in a development site? Or if it is an existing operation, what are the criteria you would use in acquiring an aquarium?
For both greenfield sites and potential acquisitions, we tend to favor localities that have a critical mass of potential visitors as well as spending power that can support our current scale of investment. Location and accessibility are key considerations as well. Climate is a huge factor, as visitor numbers tend to fall significantly during the fall and winter months.
Do you find you have any special issues in operating in China?
We have to ensure that our marketing and outreach efforts are catered to domestic tourists who make up the bulk of our visitor numbers. However, we also have maps and exhibition panels in clear English to serve our international visitors.
Are there any particular pitfalls or obstacles to developing attractions in China?
It is still a growing market, but competition for both visitors and talent has become keener with the entry of big local and foreign players.
How do you see the attractions environment evolving in China?
The entry of Disney into the mainland will do much to raise the bar for attractions operators, and local players will definitely have to up their game in terms of design, theming and entertainment offerings. The entry of international vendors into China for architecture, as well as hardware and content production will help strengthen local capabilities in attractions development.
What kind of attractions do you see trending in aquariums?
We believe there is still very much a place for aquariums in emerging cities around the world, with professionally curated exhibits and iconic architecture, and we expect the aquariums of the near future to leverage even more on technological trends such as mixed media displays with participative elements, and social media interactions.
What is your favorite aquarium in the world (besides your own)?
One of my favorites is the Kamo Aquarium in Yamagata, Japan. They currently hold the Guinness world record for the largest number of jellyfish species, and are such a leader in jellyfish husbandry that top aquariums over the world send their staff there to learn from the Japanese curators.
Any secrets to your success/history you wouldn’t mind sharing?
We were fortunate to enter the Chinese market just before economic growth really picked up, and our commitment to the constant renewal of our attractions and to conveying a clear conservation message has helped maintained our relevance with increasingly sophisticated tourists.
A final thought?
We can all play a part to save our oceans by choosing seafood from sustainable sources.