Riding the wave

Updated: 2016-06-10 08:30

By Hu Yuanyuan(China Daily Europe)

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Wanda and Disney go head to head as analysts predict fierce contest in China's booming theme park market

Wang Jianlin has thrown down the gauntlet to The Walt Disney Co.

The founder and chairman of Wanda Group opened his first theme park on the Chinese mainland last month - and in doing so proclaimed his company as the biggest threat to the new Shanghai Disney Resort.

Riding the wave

"Chinese culture led in the world for 2,000 years, but for the past 300 years, because of our lagging development and the invasion of foreign cultures, we have more or less lacked confidence in our own culture," Wang, one of China's richest men, said at the opening ceremony for Wanda City in the eastern city of Nanchang on May 28.

"We want to be a model for Chinese private enterprise, and we want to establish a global brand for Chinese firms."

In an earlier interview with China Central Television, the state broadcaster, he warned that Disney's first foray on the Chinese mainland was destined to fail because of his park's competitive pricing and because "the frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and the era of blindly following them, has passed".

Strong words, although Disney did not feel the need to respond. (A successful first year would be the best comeback.)

However, analyst Grant Ji says the Wanda chairman's bold comments suggest a wider trend. "It reflects the aspirations among Chinese companies to achieve global recognition as well as his determination to get a slice of the lucrative theme park market," says the executive director of capital markets in North China for CBRE Group, a commercial real estate company based in the United States.

Riding the wave

Data from the Chinese Tourism Academy show that the total revenue of China's tourism sector was 4 trillion yuan ($608 billion; 536 billion euros) last year, with about 230 billion yuan generated by theme parks. Meanwhile, annual visitor numbers to theme parks nationwide is also forecast to hit 282 million in 2019, more than double the figure in 2014, says Euromonitor International.

The massive $3 billion Wanda City complex in Nanchang includes an outdoor, China-themed amusement park with twirling teacup rides, bamboo forests and China's longest, fastest and highest roller coaster; an indoor shopping mall with a cinema, restaurants and hotels; and the world's largest ocean park.

Disney's new resort and theme park in Shanghai, which has cost $5.1 billion to build and is scheduled to open on June 16, will be the largest in the world. It features the usual storybook castle as well as a pirate-themed zone, Treasure Cove, and the Tron Lightcycle Power Run, which is based on the popular Tron movie.

Ben Cavender, principal of China Market Research Group, believes both parks have the potential to do well. "Wanda's pricing will be competitive, although its operational experience and brand recognition may lag behind Disney," he says.

One advertisement for Wanda City offers a night in the luxury Mandarin Hotel and two adult tickets for the theme park for 888 yuan. A package priced at 1,588 yuan includes two nights' hotel accommodation as well as the cost of entry for two adults to the theme park, the aquatic park and a "cinema paradise" zone.

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