The 3rd Annual China Theme Park and Resort Expansion Summit, organised by The Noppen Group, which took place 11th and 12th April at the The Longemont Shanghai Hotel was attended by over 300 operators and theme park professionals from across China. They heard from speakers from both their own country and overseas on a variety of subjects ranging from successful project management, the creation of branded attractions and operating theme parks in developing countries.
Sponsors of the event included international design, engineering, integration and audiovisual company Funa International Inc., attraction simulator firm Simtec Systems, theme park designers Attractions International and Earmark Landscape Design.
Attendees included representatives from operators such as Resorts World Sentosa, Shenzhen OCT Vision, The Wanda Group, Merlin Entertainments, Beijing Tourism Group, Changzhou Dinosaur Land, Oriental Dreamworks, Shanghai Disney Resort, Paramount Parks and the Shendi Group. Vendors attending included Jack Rouse Associates, Waterplay, Sega Corporation, DJ Willrich, Intamin, ProSlide Technology and Maurer Rides.
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Disney in China
A highlight of the first day was a presentation from Andrew Bolstein, VP Operations, Shanghai Disney Resort, in which he ran delegates through the state of play with regard to the much anticipated launch of Disney’s 6th integrated resort and 12th theme park. Echoing Disney CEO Bob Iger’s phrase at the opening ceremony, Andrew stressed the resort would be, “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese” and, after a brief overview of the company’s history and a summary of its portfolio of vacation and resort destinations, he explained in a little more detail how Disney were looking to realise this vision.
The location is ideal, midway between downtown Shanghai and the airport at Pudong, the 7 square kilometres of land, bounded by a river/canal, will continue to develop long after the initial opening (of 3.9 square kilometres) in late 2015. The site is within easy reach of a “large population of income qualified and easily accessible” people and it is estimated that there are some 330 million within a 3 hours drive. The park will boast a deluxe 420 room hotel and an 800 room value hotel and there will also be a Show Production Centre where the creatives involved in the live entertainment will be based.
The park has the benefit of a 100 acre lake and the castle will be Disney’s biggest to date. Not only will it be bigger and taller than any of its predecessors, but it will also be its most, “programmable”, as inside it will house an attraction, a shop, a restaurant and even an integrated stage, allowing guests to experience the castle in many different ways. Furthermore, the park will have a unique look and feel, as with the vicinity being such an urban environment, the team have aimed to create, “a feeling of expanses, openness and greenness”.
Andrew explained how in looking to ensure the park would genuinely be “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese”, Disney and its executives engaged on the project fully immersed themselves and their cast in the culture of China. This involved travelling round the country, learning the language, learning about the food, the culture, how people use their leisure time etc., in short a huge drive to make sure the park will indeed be “distinctly Chinese”.
Brands and Landmines
We also heard from Christian Aaen of Entertainment and Culture Advisors (ECA), specialists in the development of attraction destination projects, who took us through the growth of the theme park business in Asia. Christian, the firm’s Regional Director, explained how the expansion of the middle classes drives the growth of the theme park and resorts industry, and how this trend is likely to continue as the regional economies continues to develop.
Merlin Entertainment’s Barry Cox, Director of New Business Development Asia and Tom Renger, VP Business Development , Paramount Parks and Resorts, each told us how their companies are expanding in Asia, the former through the development and purchase of new indoor attractions such as Madame Tussauds, SEALIFE and Lego Discovery centres, the latter through the creation of branded attractions utilising Paramount’s enormous back catalogue of film IPs. Tom’s presentation, complete with a high octane Star Trek heavy video and pumping music was suitably Hollywood.
Other highlights included Li Jian, General Manager at OCT Vision, who showed us a selection of his company’s developments in China, and talked of new opportunities to develop Theme parks in “a cultural way”, and Funa’s VP Business development Brian Paiva, who took us through how not to run a project and how to keep an eye out for the most common “landmines” along the way.
Yao5xd’s vastly experienced Creative Director, Crayon Yao, director of over 20 4D films, showed delegates a little of the history of the medium in China and looked at a few of his notable projects such as the China Maritime Museum and the Taiwan pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
Earmark’s Design Director Broc Smith spoke eloquently (and for some of the time in Mandarin, Broc being a long time resident of China) of the sometimes unrealistic pressures placed on theme park designers by developers eager to see their dream come alive quickly. Generally he said, projects can be “Good, “Cheap” or “Fast” and it is only ever possible to have two of the three.
The Disney Effect
There was also an interesting session from Tian Enming, Director of Dragon City Holdings Limited and Executive deputy GM of Changzhou Dinosaur Land. He talked of the expected change in the market once the Shanghai Disney Resort goes live – heightened expectations from visitors – and how this might affect both his own business and the wider industry. It is, he said, all about positioning and differentiating what the smaller attractions offer from the biggest parks. “Disney and Universal are like department stores”, he said, “we are more like a specialised shop.”
As another successful show came to a close, I reflected on the sense of excitement in the Chinese Theme Park industry. Plenty of parks have failed of course but there is a rapid improvement and the Disney project is sure to be a game changer in many ways. It also occurred to me how hard the organiser’s translators had been working throughout the two days of the conference and, despite the fact there were occasional glitches, their industry paid off and delegates left having gained a lot of valuable insight from a good variety of experts from both the West and China. I did wonder though, about the ride my translator described as, “The Great Animal Disaster Experience”. Doesn’t really trip off the tongue.