Competing for fun

In Asia, the business of fun is a serious industry as attractions keep up the amusement war through constant reinvention.

SE Asia has a growing thirst for water parks; Siam Park City, Bangkok pictured

Asia has been the hotbed of a theme park rush, with intellectual-property (IP) partnerships on the uptick as destinations the likes of Shanghai Disneyland, Legoland Japan and Malaysia’s Movie Animation Park Studios seek out movie and cartoon producers to create new universes of amusement.

With fun being a serious business in Asia, water playgrounds have also been making a splash. From 2015-2016, visitor volume to water parks in the region climbed 5.4 per cent from 19.5 million to 20.9 million, reported the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and AECOM.

To quench the region’s thirst for watery fun, new operators are thronging the market – at least 15 water parks have opened in the last three years in Thailand alone, said Wuthichai Luangamornlert, managing director of Siam Park City, at the Asian Attractions Expo 2017 in Singapore in June.

“We’re seeing a growth in private investment in this new emerging market as tourism spreads from Pattaya, Bangkok and Chiang Mai to the second-tier cities,” observed Wuthichai.

Meanwhile, service supplier WhiteWater Southeast Asia has signed to develop “world-class water parks” in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Bahrain, said CEO Chris Perry.

Legoland Discovery Center in Osaka, one of the many intellectual-property partnerships in Asia

Yet, as the competition heats up, the market size is shrinking. In 2015-2016, overall visitor numbers in Asia-Pacific’s top 20 amusement parks dipped 2.8 per cent from 130.9 million to 127.3 million, according to the 2016 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index.

The decrease, as outlined in the report, is in part due to more parks opening in China, drawing droves of Chinese visitors to domestic attractions and away from those in neighbouring countries.
Confronted with sliding popularity and a tightening market share, incumbents around Asia are facing a mounting pressure to reinvent.

Fun for the whole family
The key, industry players believe, lies in multigenerational experiences. President and CEO of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), Paul Noland, observed: “We are seeing parks capitalise on the nostalgia factor. Successive generations like to share experiences that they enjoyed growing up, so the trend is to create high-quality rides that all members of the family can enjoy.”

Wuthichai agreed, adding that family rides generate the most visibility and discussion on social media for Siam Park City, Thailand’s oldest water park.

“The trend is to become more family-oriented, so we’ve invested in rides that the whole family can go on,” said Wuthichai. “We’ve had customers who haven’t visited our park in five years come back.”

Operators also reported that more developers are capitalising on this trend by transforming casino complexes into mixed-use, family-friendly destinations.

According to Ken Wheatley, director of entertainment technology supplier Christie, Macau led the pack in the development of mixed-use integrated resorts, which was soon replicated in the Philippines, South Korea and Singapore.

The latest talk of the town is Okada Manila, a 44ha integrated resort in the Entertainment City gaming strip. The US$2.4 billion project boasts a casino, hotel, dining and shopping outlets, and conference spaces, in addition to a 1.2km-long multimedia show comprising choreographed water, light and music performances.

Such multimedia shows are also gaining traction with operators across Asia, checking off boxes as a multigenerational, sustainable and cost-effective revenue driver, with Marina Bay Sands’ Spectra light-and-water extravaganza by its promenade as a recent example.

“Multimedia presentations help us keep (attractions) current and relevant for the next generation, who come back to experience something old that’s new again,” said Paul Rivet, director of entertainment at Walt Disney Attractions Japan.

Often conducted in the evening, multimedia shows motivate visitors to stay longer at resorts or even overnight, and can drive on-site F&B spending to 15 per cent more, said Jean-Christophe Canizares, chairman and CEO of French multimedia provider ECA2, which developed the Wings of Time show in Sentosa.

They can also be “refreshed easily and changed seasonally”, said Michael Reid, founder of IconPath Curated Experiences.

This is a big selling point – especially for regional parks with smaller budgets – as operators prioritise the “sustained repeatable value” of an attraction, explained Ron Merriman, managing director of MR ProFun China, the company that helmed Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

While parkgoers may be eager to embrace multimedia extravaganzas, industry experts caution operators against leaning on trending technology as the focal point of the attraction.

“We have to recognise it’s the story and experience that is important. The technology delivers it,” said Darrell Metzger, former CEO of Ocean Park. “We have to be willing to abandon the technology and replace it with whatever it is that can tell your story.

Spectra Light and Water Show, the latest multimedia show at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

The park battle wages on
As Asia continues to receive new openings and expansions, China is seeing multiple IP projects – including Zhuhai’s Lionsgate Entertainment World and Universal Studios Beijing – in the development pipeline. TEA projects that by 2020, attendance at theme parks in China will surpass those in the US.

While numerous IP-driven developments are in the pipeline across Asia,  countries outside of China may find greater favour in smaller or regional IP projects.

Malaysia and the Philippines were quick to hop on this trend, with the Genting Group’s 20th Century Fox World opening this year-end, and the launch of the DreamWorks-branded DreamPlay attraction in City of Dreams Manila.

Entertainment + Culture Advisors reported that other Asian markets, including Vietnam and South Korea, are in talks to develop integrated resorts with international IP.

Still, Indonesia currently lacks IP attractions, noted David Sutiono, director of Funworld Prima. He added that in order to boost international visitor volume, the country should promote its culture and islands, as it has potential for huge market growth in 10 years or more.

Wuthichai commented: “It can be difficult for major companies to come in because there is no major land mass like the US or China. In my opinion, smaller integrated resorts are the solution.”

On the other hand, Wuthichai is optimistic of Thailand’s theme park potential, as the country received 32.5 million visitors in 2016 and expects an upwards of 34 million this year. The country’s main concern lies in increasing repeat visitations, which will be tackled with continued government investment in man-made attractions over the next five years, he shared.

Elsewhere in Asia, previously untapped markets are emerging into the fore. Said IAAPA’s Noland: “Vietnam has huge growth potential right now, and we also are seeing growth in Malaysia, South Korea and India.”


Upcoming attractions in Asia

Jeju Shinhwa World, South Korea
Opening in phases this year, the 250ha Jeju Shinhwa World will be Jeju’s first integrated resort. It will encompass premium accommodation, a family theme park, water park, Jeju’s largest retail and F&B complex, a YG entertainment centre, MICE facilities and casinos. The 344-room Somerset Jeju Shinhwa World opened on April 25, while the 630-room Jeju Shinhwa World Marriott Resort & Spa will launch in two phases, starting with 486 rooms in late-2017.

Wet’n’Wild Haikou, China
Built on the Mission Hills Golf Resort Haikou on Hainan Island, Wet’n’Wild Haikou is one of Village Roadshow Theme Parks’ (VRTP) first debuts in Asia, bringing China its first Wet’n’Wild-branded theme park.The site is a cluster of hotels – including the recently opened Ritz-Carlton – and a retail, dining and entertainment precinct. VRTP is currently providing consultation for development and will operate the park following its opening, slated for later this year.
Lionsgate Entertainment World

Lionsgate Entertainment World, China
Scheduled to open by the end of 2018 in Novotown on Hengqin Island in Zhuhai, the 2.2ha indoor park will be themed around Lionsgate’s key franchises, including The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, The Divergent Series and Now You See Me. It is developed by Thinkwell Group with consultation by VRTP, which will manage its operations after the opening.

20th Century Fox World, Malaysia
Under the 10-year Genting Integrated Tourism Plan, Genting Group is developing its Outdoor Theme Park into the US$300 million 20th Century Fox World. The 10ha park will feature six themed zones such as Alien vs Predator, Ice Age and Planet of the Apes. It is slated to open later this year.

Universal Studios Beijing, China
Universal Studios’ latest foray is a 405ha destination resort in Tongzhou, Beijing, with a reported US$3.3 billion initial capital investment.A joint venture between Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment and Universal Parks & Resorts, the theme park will feature existing Universal Studio attractions as well as new attractions reflecting China’s cultural heritage, alongside a retail, dining and entertainment district and themed hotels. It is scheduled to open in 2020 or later.


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