With 30 million visitors in 2015, OCT Group is the fourth most-visited theme park group in the world and the number one in Asia.
Their Happy Valley chain of theme parks is the largest in China, with six parks to date and two more opening in the next two years.
One of the most successful is Shanghai Happy Valley which has consistently featured in TripAdvisor’s list of Top Ten Theme Parks in China since opening in 2009.
Ella Baskerville spoke to Shanghai Happy Valley’s General Manager and Marketing Director, Mr Yue Feng, and Vice General Manager and Artistic Director, Mr Zhang Ji Bin, about broadening the park’s appeal, future plans and the brand new night-time spectacular ‘Lake of Illusions’.
A New Focus on Families
“Shanghai Happy Valley was open to the public in 2009, and since then our operations have been really successful, thanks to our very big market in China, ” says Feng.
“After seven years of operation, the park has had many upgrades and is now becoming one of the largest parks in East China.”
The park’s high-octane coasters including the wooden Fireball, the Diving Coaster and the Intamin-designed Mega-Lite, have always attracted thrill seekers at the younger end of the market.
But, says Feng, “We wanted to focus more on the general public and families.”
To this end, the park has been evolving at pace. In July 2013, it opened the first phase of the WhiteWater-designed Playa Maya Waterpark – the largest of its kind in Eastern China. 2014 saw the opening of the Happy Ocean kids area which includes family-orientated rides and a focus on interaction with the audience.
In 2015, more rides were introduced in Typhoon Bay, and architectural lighting was improved across the whole park in line with the new extended opening hours. In 2016, Playa Maya Waterpark opened its second phase including Magic Water Town which has five new play zones aimed at family fun.
Festivals and Magic
Shanghai Happy Valley has also added an extensive array of what is calls ‘softwares’ ie. festivals and events, to enrich the guest experience.
“We really understand how the Chinese would like to spend their time at a theme park, which is why festivals and events have been such a success for Happy Valley, ” explains Feng (below). “Our advantage comes from combining Chinese elements with western festivals.”
Chinese New Year celebrations include comedy performers and clowns, the Spring Festival encourages performers and animals to interact with the audience, and the Summer Carnival invites dancers and performers from across the globe to bring elements of their own countries to the Carnival at Happy Valley.
The park also celebrates traditional Western holidays such as Halloween and Christmas with more Chinese elements and interaction.
During the Chinese National Day, Shanghai Happy Valley, and all other Happy Valleys across China, host the International Magician Festival, which encourages the public to learn about magic. The World Magician Association has awarded a Special Contribution Award for Happy Valley’s efforts to engage the public with magic.
As well as festivals, the park also offers discounted tickets for special days such as Valentine’s Day, Children’s Day and Women’s Day, to boost attendance and sales.
Chinese Culture and HIstory
Shows are a large part of Shanghai Happy Valley, with two new daytime shows opening this year: the New Shanghai Dance Story, an interactive stunt show and an outdoor horse show focusing on the story of a Chinese General and including many acrobatics.
“We wanted the audience to leave with knowledge of Chinese traditional culture and Chinese history, ” explains Ji Bin (right).
However, the park had no night time show, and the management was keen to create an attraction that would keep people in the park for longer and improve the overall guest experience.
“We have a saying in China, that all good things come to an end, and we want the guests to have the best experience before they leave the park, ” says Ji Bin.
ECA2 and the Night Time Spectacular
“Happy Valley is based in the Sheshan National Tourism Resort and it was important to create a night time spectacular for resort guests. It was important for the park, but also the region, ” says Feng.
“We chose ECA2 to produce the night time spectacular, as they are a world-class show producer. They have created many famous events such as the World Expo, the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics, the Opening Ceremony for the Shanghai World Expo and we have been to see their show The Big O in Korea.
“We know ECA2 have worked with OCT before and, based on this good collaboration, we wanted them to create our latest show.”
According to Ji Bin, “The goal was to use artistic language like water, projection, flame etc. to combine traditional Chinese elements with modern technology to tell the story.
“ECA2 have worked to this brief, designed, studied and built accordingly.”
Lake of Illusions
The result is ‘Lake of Illusions’, a night-time spectacular centred on a brand new 32m high multimedia tower ‘The Icon’. Using video projection, lasers, lights, flames and water, the show tells the story of Yi, an adventurous boy who throws a crystal sword into the sky creating an opening between the heavens and the earth where anything is possible.
For the show, ECA2 developed world-first water jet technology: SpyroscreensTM. These are spiral jets located on the tower which significantly increase the size of the show’s ‘canvas’ by allowing lasers and large images to be projected high above the water.
“The collaboration between ECA2 and OCT has been seamless, by fully understanding each other and through our many discussions together, ” says Mr Ji Bin.
At the end of the show, the Happy Valley Logo and the ECA2 Logo are projected together onto water screens.
“This indicates the good collaboration and friendship between the two companies, ” explains Feng. “We believe OCT will work with ECA2 again, in other Happy Valley parks, but perhaps again in Shanghai Happy Valley in another performance format.”
Not content to rest on their laurels, Happy Valley Shanghai has a raft of major development plans in the pipeline.
“On the 3rd July 206, the foundation has been laid for the planned Happy Valley Shanghai ‘European Town’ Hotels, which will open at the end of 2017, beginning of 2018. The three hotels will be Spanish, German Black Forest and Scandinavian themed, ” says Feng.
“In 2018, we will add an international-class indoor show inside the OCT Theatre, as well as building a 1 billion RMB 80, 000m² new area called Shangri-La.”
The Chinese Market – The Pressure of Disney
The success of Happy Valley and OCT reflects unprecedented growth in the Chinese market.
“The growing market is matched by the increasing Chinese economy as well as higher individual wealth, ” says Feng.
“The theme park market in China is becoming more and more mature, and I think in the future Chinese parks will be the most attended in the world mainly because there are too many Chinese!” he jokes.
“We can see the trend from worldwide theme parks: Disney has chosen Shanghai, Universal Studios is coming to Bejing, and Six Flags will be at Haiyan. They are expecting a lot from the Chinese market.
“Journalists keep asking me: Now here comes Disney, what will you do? We are not afraid of Disney. History has shown that where there is Disney, the other parks always benefit. Just look at Orlando, Japan, Hong Kong and LA.
“With Disney and Universal coming to the country, Chinese theme parks will have to upgrade their scale but also their service. Over the next few years, I think there will be an increase in quality in the parks in China, ” says Feng.
“The future for Chinese theme parks is very bright!”