1.4 million guests can’t be wrong!
From the outset, the team at Chimelong Water Park in southern China set out to create one of the world’s top five waterparks, and in less than 12 months they achieved it. As the award-winning facility approaches the end of its second season, Park World pays tribute.
Chimelong Water Park is not only the largest single waterpark development in Asia, but it is also arguably the most modern, with what general consultant Alan Mahony describes as “possibly the most expensive ride package in the world.” Located in the city of Guangzhou, it sits at the heart of the China’s most populous province, Guangdong, where there are few other standalone waterparks. Most locals have little access to pools or beaches either.
All this perhaps goes some way to explaining last season’s 1.4 million attendance. It is this figure that catapulted the park into joint third place in the TEA/ERA Attendance report for 2007, trailing only Disney’s two waterparks in Orlando. Then came the icing on the cake: a “Must See Waterpark” award from IAAPA.
Chimelong Water Park debuted in May 2007 as part of a rapid expansion at the Chimelong Resort, where just one year earlier the Chimelong Paradise amusement park had opened. Working to a masterplan by Whtewater West, the detail design on the 15-hectare facility was completed locally, before a rapid period of construction.
“I visited in January last year and there was virtually nothing done,” remembers Whitewater director Andrew Wray, “the real work started after Chinese New Year in February. To build a 15-hectare waterpark in less than five months is quite unheard of and when it opened it looked absolutely fantastic, with lovely landscaping throughout.”
It was the determination and belief of Chimelong Group owner Su Zhigang that convinced Mahony, a waterpark professional with 12 years’ experience of working in Asia, to come on board. Recommended to Chimelong by the team at Whitewater, the Australian-born consultant is now an integral part of the waterpark’s 1,100 staff, where he works closely with general manager Vincent Wang.
“When I came here I was blown away because I saw a group doing it properly,” he tells Park World. “The amusement park, the zoo and the hotel were already here, and they had a very hands-on owner who really understood his market.”
Having juggled with two projects before moving to Gunagzhou permanently in January 2007, Mahony was prepared for the challenges – and the 15-hour days – that lay ahead: “You have to remember that Asia works seven days a week,” he says. “As long as you divide it up into sections it can be done. You can build one waterpark in four months or you can build four waterparks in four months; it’s just four little waterparks.”
The ride selection has already been done when Mahony arrived, and naturally Whitewater included plenty of its own product, but what’s remarkable about the collection of attractions at Chimelong Water Park is that there’s virtually no duplication; the beauty of being able to plan a waterpark from scratch …with a fat budget.
“We always look to get a good balance of family with thrill of rides for young and old, of tube, mat and raft, of rivers and wave pools to slides and rides,” confirms Wray.
Mahony’s close relationship with manufacturers such as Whitewater enabled him to try out a few world firsts at Chimelong. The Family B.oomerango, for example, is a multi person ride and one of the park’s most dramatic attractions. Up to six riders sit inside a round raft and begin their descent along a twisting slide that shoots them out up a giant wall, before pausing for a split second of weightlessness and straight back down. Towards the end of the ride, before they slide into the splash pool, a transition hump adds an unexpected bonus. Attached to the same tower, but usually attracting a shorter queue, is the Family Raft Ride, featuring a bumpy “Bubba Tub” configuration.
At the opposite end of the thrill scale is the cute Mini Tornado from ProSlide, installed this season as part of a kiddie area expansion. It’s a nice complement to the full size Tornado elsewhere in the park, which is a firm favourite with guests and generates significant photo sales. Finished in candy-tinted hues of pink and yellow, the Mini Tornado can be enjoyed by parents and children together, an important consideration for this park.
Also new this season from ProSlide was the Behemoth Bowl, which sits to the side of the main entrance and acts as a beacon for the park as guests travel along Chimelong Avenue outside. Riders enjoy both this and the Tornado on ProSlide’s four-person cloverleaf tubes although, in keeping with the variety offered across the park in general, no two tubes the same are used on any other rides.
Those other rides – all by Whitewater – include a 22-metre-long Master Blaster water coaster, three high-speed slides, three innertube slides and The Whizzard, an eight-lane mat racer complex. The manufacturer’s catalogue names are used for most of the rides in English, but in Chinese they have more imaginative titles. The Tornado, for example, is called “Big Loudspeaker.”
The park also includes Whitewater’s largest RainFortress play structure outside of North America. This 18-metre-high fully themed attraction features over 300 interactive water toys and play elements, seven water slides and two giant tipping buckets. Almost a waterpark in itself, this particular feature is capable of entertaining over 1,500 guests at any one time.
A 5,000 square-metre dual wave pool, comprising a family and boogie board area, is circled by an 800-metre-long continuous lazy river, which also provides access to most of the other attractions. As guests float along on single or twin tubes, they pass beneath exotic overhanging fruits and through a themed ice tunnel reminiscent of a dark ride.
The large children’s area at the lower edge of the park, which includes its own slides, pools, fountains and channels, was expanded by 10,000 square metres this season with the addition of a mini water playground and some brightly-coloured spray features from Unite Art of Shenzhen, plus the aforementioned Mini Tornado.
Adding a phase II expansion just one year after opening may sound a little ambitious, but it was necessary after those large crowds that swamped the waterpark last season. As well as putting in the Behemoth Bowl and new children’s features, the programme also included opening the entrance area, putting in more ticket counters, new changing facilities and a colour coded locker allocation system using supermarket style checkouts.
“Last year there was too much congestion around the entrance,” remembers Mahony, “Now when people buy their ticket, they come through the gate and straight into a big open courtyard. Although most of the guests go straight to the changing rooms, about 20% go to retail.”
All these improvements, which were overseen by Forrec, were designed with the goal of expanding the park’s daily capacity to 50,000. Both this summer and last, the park experienced peak days of 35,000 and while the extra capacity hasn’t been needed yet, it did at least prevented thousands of disappointed people being turned away at the gate this summer.
Such dizzying figures have presented a number of operational challenges for the team at Chimelong. “There’s a lot of people herding that goes on,” confides Mahony. To get crowds through the Bowl quicker, for example, a jet of water has been added to stop riders whirling round more than once, and twin entry tubs have been added to a number of rides to speed up loading.
Educating riders has also presented a learning curve: “It’s their ability to swim and ride the rides that makes our safety and life-guarding challenging. There is a lot more ride instruction that goes on than I have seen in some other waterparks. As you know, people don’t read signage, so we use microphones and loudspeakers; as people are coming up the stairs, they are hearing people getting loaded and know what to do. This is useful one for safety and two for ride capacity; you need to do it when you’ve got our numbers.”
But how just how do you keep guests happy on 35,000 attendance days? “You know what?” asks Mahony, “we have a really big wave pool here, and now we have the expanded kiddie area too. If we are soaking people up in relaxing areas, then they are okay with the wait times on the rides. Some guests just relax all day and then go to the rides at six or seven at night.”
Although there are other waterparks in Guangzhou, Big Hippo Water World for example, Chimelong Water Park has clearly raised the bar and is sure to stimulate the market throughout the entire Guangdong Province. And the Chimelong Group, which has already hinted it plans to expand outside Guangzhou when the time is right, is sure to want a slice of a slice of any new waterpark development in the region.
For the time being, Mahony and the team intend to concentrate on climbing a little higher in those TEA/ERA rankings: “It is our goal to become number one.” They call it making a splash.
‘Revenues to match’
It’s not just the attendance figures that are impressive at Chimelong Water Park, but the revenues too. “Most people tend to think of China as a place with lots of people but no money,” notes Andrew Wray of Whitewater West. “That is far from true, particularly in some key locations. This park did its first million guests last year in under three months, with an average per capita income of $25!”
Revenue this summer was up 30% thanks to the introduction of a new “Starlight” ticket which allowed guests to enter for a reduced rate after 5pm. Between 4,000 and 10,000 took advantage each day.
This is not a cheap ticket,” confirms general consultant Alan Mahony. “We are now RMB180 ($26.30/€18.50), pretty much similar to the main amusement park nextdoor [Chimelong Paradise]. We are targeting a market that brings in the front gate and brings in the in-park revenue. I’ve heard people say many times that it’s not possible to generate big per caps in China, but again you’ve got to look at the market. On merchandise, on food and beverage, on tube hire, we are doing well. And when it comes to food, it’s simple: rice and noodles.”