Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Prospects for theme park success in China

by Dr Jack Samuels

Each year I make an annual visit to lecture at Shanghai Normal University, and these visits have provided some interesting food for thought about the amusement industry in China.

My Chinese students are often scared to go on rollercoasters or other big thrill rides that they perceive as high risk and favour shows and other attractions. Cultural differences lead to a different taste in entertainment compared to what we are used to in the West.

Writing recently in USA Today, Murray King of the Shanghai Disneyland project stated that Disney’s arrival in Mainland China will be, “a high tide which raises all ships.” In Hong Kong, Disney’s arrival has already raised one particular ship. By fusing local culture with their original mix of conservation, education and entertainment, the folks at Ocean Park have been so successful (see page 24) that Hong Kong Disneyland has yet to turn a profit.

Further complicating the Chinese theme park landscape is the fact that 70% of all China parks are reported to loose money. Although the Mainland government is trying to limit development, most localities seem to find ways around this by incorporating theme parks into other development plans and at least 30 more parks are currently on the drawing board.

Although none of them yet have the heritage associated with Ocean Park, Shanghai nevertheless has several existing parks, plus many more in surrounding cities such as Changzhou, Suzhou and Hanghzhou. One of the newest, and the largest in China, is OCT’s Happy Valley Shanghai. Easy to get to, admission is the equivalent of just US$30, with cheap drinks and ice cream in plentiful supply. As with all OCT’s park, there’s also a strong programme of live cultural entertainment in tune with Chinese tastes.

So it is unlikely to be plain sailing for Disney in Shanghai either. In fact, they won’t even be the only Westerners in town. Dreamworks recently announced its intention to build a $3 billion (€2.5bn) entertainment complex in downtown Shanghai, which could well have the upper hand as a night time destination.

Here are a few important considerations for theme park developers in China:

•Be culturally relevant. Although Ocean Park ‘imported’ Halloween to Hong Kong, it adapted it to local tastes. Although the Chinese do like Western foods, it’s important to have local food concessions at low costs.

•Educate your guests about ride safety. Some will simply be too afraid to go on rides. Hard as it may seem to believe, even some young people are intimidated by rollercoasters, although there is a growing contingent of brave Chinese adrenaline junkies!

•Carefully consider your pricing. In Hong Kong, Disney fights against a lower ticket price from Ocean Park. At Shanghai parks and attractions it’s not uncommon to find a soda drink for RMB5 (US$0.75).

•Look carefully at surrounding infrastructure and public transport. This is extremely important in a country where many families still do not have cars.

Hopefully the Chinese fondness for Mickey Mouse and the vast population will make Shanghai Disneyland a success, but it could come at the expense of Hong Kong Disneyland. As King hinted in USA Today, it is hoped Disney’s Shanghai project will stimulate the entire market, and maybe even create a “theme park hub” similar to that in Orlando. Yet even in a country the size of China, too many parks in close proximity could make it difficult to for them all to survive.

Dr Samuels has written extensively about the industry. He provides consulting in general marketing and market research, facility development, customer service, safety, crowd and event management. plus promotional activities such as birthday parties.

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