China’s largest park chain just got a little bit bigger. Since last month, the OCT Group’s Happy Valley brand can be found in four cities and provinces, and plans have already been announced for a fifth. Park World profiles the two newest additions to the portfolio, Chengdu and Shanghai.
Happy Valley Shanghai, the largest park to date, soft opened in August after a number of teething troubles and a typhoon that plagued the planned opening date. Located in the Sheshan district, one of 10 national tourism resorts, the RMB 2 billion ($293m/€207m) park occupies a picturesque 90-hectare site offering high-octane thrills amidst spectacular natural views.
In recent years OCT Tourism has made a name for itself building parks that take full advantage of their surroundings and the company’s vice-president Wang Gang says Sheshan offered the perfect canvas for Happy Valley number four: “The area features the only hill in Shanghai, it’s located close to the Yangtze river and, because it’s a natural tourism resort, it’s one of the main places for the people to spend their leisure time.”
A brand new subway line whisks guests from the city centre to such serenity in just 20 minutes, from where it’s a 10-minute bus ride to the park gates. Convenient not just for Shanghai’s 18 or so million residents, the area is also around one hour from both Hangzhou and Suzhou, multi-million population cities in their own right. “It’s a very good market, and a very good location,” confirms Wang.
This is not OCT’s first attempt at building a park in Shanghai. In 1996, before it had opened the first Happy Valley in its home city of Shenzhen, the group began negotiations with the local government but abandoned its plans after learning another park was under construction. Since then OCT has been able to refine its product in Shenzhen, Beijing and Chengdu and constructed in Shanghai what is arguably a more accomplished project than it might have achieved a decade ago.
Yet while Happy Valley is the city’s first world-class amusement park, it won’t have the market to itself for long. Next year the hotly-anticipated Expo 2010 Shanghai takes place, with the bold mission of attracting 70 million guests in six months, and rumours continue regarding Disneyland’s arrival.
Wang expects such activity to stimulate the local tourist market, in much the same way as Orlando, and looks forward to working with other attractions on joint marketing initiatives. ”Each of these projects has its own characteristics,” he says, “but there is also some overlap. I think we can co-operate and create a new market. However, it was strategic decision for us to open our park now and be the first.”
OCT may take some heart from Ocean Park’s experience in Hong Kong. With a firm grasp and understanding of the local market, the incumbent has been able to hold on to the top spot and go from strength to strength after the arrival of Disneyland. Happy Valley’s owner is likely to have considerably less time to acquaint itself with the market in Shanghai but, as with other OCT parks, hopes a strong cultural and live entertainment programme will resonate with guests.
“We are not completely sure about the local people’s preferences yet, but they do seem very passionate about the park,” remarks Wang. “At each Happy Valley we have gone through a learning process. In Shenzhen, the market is more mature and Happy Valley is well recognised [so far the chain’s most popular park]. When Happy Valley Beijing opened though, the local people didn’t accept it very well because they were focused on the rides and comparing it to parks that used a [pas-as-you-go] ticket system. We went through a lot of difficulties in the beginning. I think in Chengdu there is a better understanding, and in Shanghai people are catching up. Although we started our marketing late, we sold 20,000 annual passes in May before the park had even opened, so that speaks for itself.”
Used in much of the advance promotional material for Happy Valley Shanghai has been the park’s iconic Fireball ride, the nation’s first wooden rollercoaster. “That ride has become famous not just in Shanghai, but all of China,” smiles Chuck Bingham of Martin & Vleminckx, the US firm that sold it and oversaw the coaster’s construction. “You walk in and it’s right there in front of you. It’s a real centrepiece for the park and forms a great backdrop to the lake.”
“This coaster is the park’s signature ride,” confirms Wang. “The local people wanted something large, something international, but also they wanted to see something they thought was ‘old’ or classic. That’s why we chose the wooden coaster.”
Designed and engineered by the Gravity Group, Fireball features more than 1km of track, a first drop of over 30-metres and top speeds of 56mp/h. Another ride that makes a statement is Bolliger & Mabillard’s tallest Diving Machine to date, 60-metres-high, and only the second in China. Other key attractions include an Intamin Mega-Lite Coaster and Mine Train, Golden Horse Shoot-the-Chute, S&S double tower ride and Soaring China, a new simulation platform from Huss Park Attractions (see panel for full attraction list).
The gigantic OCT Grand Theater is home to the landmark musical Magical Destiny. Other live entertainment offerings throughout the park include a “Red River” horse show based on the poetry of Song Dynasty soldier Yue Fei, song, dance and fashions shows inside Arthur’s Palace and a performance area at the Shanghai Bund, where audience participation is encouraged. There is also a float parade at the lake shore.
Open year round, projected annual attendance for the new park is 4 to 5 million. That’s an ambitious target given that no Happy Valley yet exceeds 3.5 million guests, but then this is the largest park yet, with a catchment area to match. Time will tell if those numbers can be achieved.
Over in Chengdu, attendance has been steady since the park opened in January, leading OCT to predict Happy Valley number three is on course to rack up between 2 and 2.5 million visits during its first year. “So far attendance is very stable,” confirms Wang, “around 20,000 at weekends and holidays and 3-5,000 on weekdays.”
The park made headlines after “attracting” 400,000 guests in its first month. However, Wang admits that this was a freak occurrence due to over enthusiastic families misinterpreting news reports.
“After the [Sichuan Province] earthquakes, information was released saying entry to municipal parks was free,” he explains. “However this did not include Happy Valley because it doesn’t belong to the local government. People got the wrong message and came to our park! When they heard there was a huge crowd in front of the gates, the executives said let them in for free in case something happens. Fortunately our staff were well trained and nothing bad happened, but some of the flowers and grass got trampled!”
The 2008 earthquakes, which caused huge physical and emotional devastation throughout the area, did not damage the park directly, but they did halt construction. Labour and material costs rocketed by RMB 10 million ($1.5m/€1m) and the original summer opening was put back.
“After the earthquake there were new challenges,” explains Wang. “The local people were very sad, and our park was all about fun, there was a paradox there.” Happy Valley turned this to its advantage and invited guests to put “love in the heart and bring happiness back” and opened in time for Chinese New Year.
Wang describes the park in Chengdu as “more delicate than the other Happy Valleys. The area is not as big as Beijing, for example, and it is more beautiful with green areas and also some man made lakes.”
Highlights of the 47-hectare park include a 42-metre giant Ferris Wheel and Shoot-the-Chute by Golden Horse, 60-metre twin S&S tower ride, Vekoma Suspended Looping Coaster and Mine Train, plus a waterpark.
Happy Valley Chengdu’s signature live entertainment offering is the Time Machine, in which three clowns run back the clock on a journey around the world and into outer space. OCT’s renowned Song & Dance Ensemble performs a stunning visual feast packed with exquisite magic tricks, song, dance and the very latest in special effects. A number of live shows are performed in local languages.
Earlier this year a dedicated Happy Valley department was established at OCT’s Shenzhen headquarters to oversee new openings, attraction development, branding and more. Each park now also benefits from a standardised management structure.
Such efficiency will be useful as OCT rolls out the Happy Valley brand to new cities. In June it was announced that a fifth park is planned for Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province and last year the company’s CEO (Ren Kelei) told Park World he plans eventually to have 10 parks across the country, in addition to a number eco-resorts and other attraction concepts.
“I think we are getting there,” concludes Wang, “and there are still many local governments that would like to have projects.”
Happy times ahead!
Happy Rides, Happy Lands
The latest Happy Valley parks feature a mix of new lands, such a themed area dedicated to the Qiang/Zang nationalities in Chengdu and a representation of the city’s famous Bund in Shanghai, combined with tried and tested themed areas from the parks in Shenzhen and Beijing. Likewise, rides and attractions include many Happy Valley favourites coupled with a handful of new additions designed to make a statement (particularly in Shanghai).
The selection at Happy Valley Chengdu includes a Golden Horse Shoot-the-Chute, Giant Wheel, Wild Mouse and Carousel; Vekoma Suspended Looping Coaster and Mine Train; Intamin Mega Coaster and Flying Island, S&S twin Space Shot; Mondial Splash Over; Zamperla Disk ‘O’, Discovery (Frisbee), Energy Storm and Sombrero; Sally Corporation North Pole Adventure (dark ride); RTE interactive theatre; and SimEx Iwerks 4D theatre.
At Happy Valley Shanghai key rides and attractions comprise the Gravity Group’s/Martin & Vleminckx Fireball (wooden coaster); B&M Dive Machine; Intamin/Ride Trade Mega Lite Coaster, Mine Train, Gyro Swing and Flying Island; Golden Horse Shoot-the-Chute and Rapid River; 3DBA/Preston & Barbieri Splash Battle; Mondial Splash Over; S&S Space Shot/Turbo Drop combination tower; Zamperla Disk ‘O’ Coaster; Sally Corporation North Pole Adventure; Huss Park Attractions Soaring China; SimEx Iwerks 4D theatre; 3DBA/Kraftwerk 3D theatre; and Alterface Desperados theatre.