Asia’s thrills and spills

As some countries anticipate new openings, others see familiar faces upping their game with the help of technology, new rides and attractions. TTG Asia reporters find out what this all means to the travel trade

Artist impression of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle! ( ©MARVEL ©2017 Disney. Artist concept only)

Malaysia – more fun, longer stays
The opening of two new theme parks in Johor, the indoor MCM Studio  and outdoor Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark, has helped agents sell extended itineraries that include Malaysia’s southern region.

Adam Kamal, general manager at Tour East Malaysia, said Johor was previously a day trip option for families travelling to Singapore by land, or as for those travelling from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

The Kubarango in Sunway Lagoon

With the opening of both theme parks last year, it is now easier to promote Johor for one- or two-night stays, especially to Asian families. He said: “They could spend one day in Desaru and another day in Johor Bahru, visiting MCM Studio and other attractions in the city.”

Ally Bhoonee, executive director at World Avenues, is promoting Johor as a destination to Middle Eastern families, using the two new parks as a draw. “However, the main challenge is that the destination is not well-known to Middle Eastern travellers, who are more familiar with Kuala Lumpur, Resorts World Genting and Penang,” he said.

“There are other theme parks in Johor such as Legoland Malaysia Resort, Sanrio Hello Kitty Town and Angry Birds Activity Park, but those are for young children.

“However, MCM Studio and Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark have opened the destination up to millennials and adults from Asia and Africa, which are also our core markets. Besides the theme park, there are also surrounding attractions that will make appeal to tourists from Asia and Africa such as shopping, soft adventure activities and food.”

Meanwhile, theme parks, new and old, are working to keep things fresh for visitors.

Arokia Das Anthony, director at Luxury Tours Malaysia, said theme parks are leveraging augmented and virtual reality experiences to stand out from the competition.

He pointed out: “Sunway Lagoon Theme Park in Sunway City, Petaling Jaya, is the oldest theme park in the Klang Valley but it remains relevant and popular as it caters to all ages and segments, including business events. Its Surf Beach, for example, is a popular venue for gala dinners and live concerts.

“(Sunway Lagoon) keeps up with times and constantly introduces new attractions and activities in line with current trends and festivities to make it a top-of-mind destination for theme park goers.

“(Their efforts) have made it easier for us to package Sunway Lagoon into our itineraries,” said Anthony. – S Puvaneswary

Hong Kong – ruled by duo
While Ocean Park Hong Kong and Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL) remain the city’s key theme parks in the absence of new players, inbound agents are urging greater promotion of these two destinations in South-east Asian markets.

Artist impression of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle! (©MARVEL ©2017 Disney. Artist concept only)

Holiday World Tours, managing director Paul Leung, noted that the new developments expected to open this year at both parks “are not huge” and may not be enough to attract new visitor sources or sustain traffic.

“After Ocean Park debuted its new hotel (Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott Hotel) last year, the park doesn’t have many new facilities coming online this year,” said Leung. “Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disneyland suspended the fireworks at night and lost its charm.”

Likewise, W Travel, managing director, Wing Wong observed no big change on source of clients, explaining that new park additions appear to be driving more repeat visits.

Ocean Park plans to launch a ride enhancement, a new ride and a new animal exhibit in the fiscal year of 2019/20. The Lagoon area will also welcome additions including new light shows, a Thai restaurant and Neptune’s Restaurant.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited Water World will be introduced in 2019.  Along with the new Ocean Park Marriott Hotel, these are expected to put the park in a better position to attract more visitors.

HKDL’s vice president for commercial strategy Edward Goh told TTG Asia: “We will present a new attraction almost every year under the ongoing multi-year expansion. This year, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle! will debut on March 31, 2019. This will be the world’s first attraction featuring Marvel Super Heroes Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the first Marvel-themed attraction to feature a female superhero as a lead character, available only at HKDL. The attraction will appeal to guests of all ages and genders, especially young adults.”

On top of these enhancments, agents agreed that  more overseas promotion is needed, especially in South-east Asian markets.

Leung further called for greater collaboration on package design within the industry. “(Without a push for) group tour business, industry cooperation is vital. This is especially true as OTAs compete head to head with us… Stakeholders such as hotels, airlines and attractions should create packages rather than depend (all on) inbound agents.” – Prudence Lui

Singapore – a virtual state of fun
While large-scale openings are rare in land-scarce Singapore, the nation has seen a slate of new technological additions to established parks, as well as smaller, contained attractions entering the scene.

Judy Lum, general manager of Diethelm Travel (Singapore), said such advancements in theme parks have “increased the product range” for families and young adults and that the “technology-driven activities are ahead of (Singapore’s) neighbours”.

In November last year, Korean virtual reality (VR) theme park HeadRock VR made its footprint in Singapore, opening 11 VR rides in Resorts World Sentosa. The rides span different concepts from adventure to horror, and will be updated every six months to a year.

“VR experience has become the new play culture all over the world. There is a demand for VR attractions for both tourists and locals,” said Park Hong Que, founder and CEO of Mediafront, the parent company of HeadRock VR.

Neighbouring attraction Universal Studios Singapore (USS) has been stepping up its game with seasonal events that employ VR and augmented reality (AR) technology.

For example, its TrollsTopia event – based on DreamWorks Animation’s movie Trolls – featured two immersive VR experiences where guests could play a music video game and create 3D virtual art. In a subsequent Jurassic World: Explore & Roar event, USS guests could interact with dinosaurs on a screen with the help of AR technology.

During last year’s Halloween Horror Nights 7 event, USS also employed AR in its queueing areas, where guests could use an app to scan real-world locations to uncover iconic horror characters on their phones and activate a game.

“It aided in storytelling behind each haunted house and kept guests occupied in the queue,” a Resorts World Sentosa spokesperson told TTG Asia.

“In this day and age, there is no running away from experimenting with new technology in creating memorable, fun experiences.”

As VR and AR rise in popularity, the technology must be relevantly employed, opined Lum. She said: “Most importantly, parks need to stay current and ahead with constant enhancements to sustain the interest of target markets. (Agencies) want to see quality, and not quantity.” –  Pamela Chow

China – robust development  
Theme park development is continuing to swell in China, with large-scale attractions by both local and foreign players opening at a rapid pace.

Chimelong Heng Qin Island

Industry sources indicated about 64 projects are in the pipeline and will be subsequently opened between 2019 and 2020. According to AECOM, China theme park visitation will reach 221 million, surpassing levels in the US.

Last November, Haichang Ocean Park inaugurated the Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park. Its Sanya Haichang Fantasy Town opened on January 20, 2019.

Their spokesperson noted: “This means more choices for visitors in Sanya, especially for visitors who spend the night in Haitang Bay area.”

Apart from plans to launch Qingyuan Chimelong Resort in late 2019 or early 2020, the Chimelong Group has also finetuned existing offers.

For instance, the second phase of Zhuhai Chimelong, including a new hotel and museum, is targeted to open in mid-2019, while a new circus entertainment centre will launch in Zhuhai in 2Q2019.

She said: “Agents can create a variety of packages to target different customers (including families).” Customised programmes for corporate and MICE customers, as well as for students, will also be rolled out.

Meanwhile, Wanda has mapped out an aggressive expansion plan for themed entertainment, hotels and resorts. For instance, the Guangzhou Wanda City is scheduled to open in 2019, featuring the biggest indoor ski facility in Southern China with four ski trails.

Century Holiday International Travel Group, deputy general manager, Kin Qin, believes there is more room for growth in the sector.

She said: “It’s because of our huge population and extensive territory. More establishments are opening up in second-tier cities riding on local culture or ancient tales. I hope to see these local brands find their positioning and direction, just like Chimelong Group’s successful marketing promotion in South-east Asia. They don’t have to be a Disneyland but must make sure to meet international standards in their facilities.

“I look forward to Universal Studio opening in Beijing as we haven’t had new attractions to sell the capital city for years. Theme parks provide opportunities to draw repeat visitors.” – Prudence Lui

Japan – land of plenty
Amid the flurry of developments in Japan’s theme park industry – including park enhancements and Chinese investment – tourism stakeholders remind that theme parks should retain a distinct concept and local elements to continue appealing to travellers.

In March, the Moomin Valley Park will open in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture to the north of Tokyo, allowing visitors to meet fairytale creatures from the books by Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. A park extension offering a “Scandinavian lifestyle experience” opened in November.

Significant expansion work is also underway at Tokyo Disneyland, with US$656 million pumped into the Tomorrowland and Fantasyland zones, plus a Beauty and the Beast mini-land with a ride that uses next-generation animatronics.

Meanwhile, the Chinese owners of the Hamleys chain of toy stores have entered the Japan retail market with two large new stores, in Yokohama and Fukuoka, with merry-go-rounds, play spaces and gaming areas. The US$381.7 million project is a joint venture with Japanese video game firm Bandai Namco.

The operator of the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture, southern Japan, has accepted an offer of investment from China’s Fosun Group. Domestic travel giant HIS will remain the largest shareholder in the park, but the Fosun Group is purchasing a 25 per cent share.

“New and better theme parks give us an opportunity to attract new customers to Japan, especially those who are interested in original Japanese content,” said Takashi Okamoto, head of inbound marketing strategy for travel giant JTB Corp, citing the Tokyo One Piece Tower and Studio Ghibli Museum as good examples of parks that appeal to foreign visitors.

“International theme parks like Universal Studios Japan (USJ) and the Disney parks are also popular with people from countries that do not have theme parks, while DisneySea and the new Nintendo Land that is to open at USJ in 2020 are expected to boost their popularity,” he said.

Okamoto stressed that key to sustaining growth in this sector is to continue to provide facilities “with a clear concept and featuring contents that can only be enjoyed in Japan”.

Similarly, Denis Morozov, manager of the inbound division of Tokyo-based JIC Travel Centre, said: “A park like the Studio Ghibli Museum or Edo Wonderland, which are unique to Japan, are incredibly popular especially with families.” – Julian Ryall

Thailand – lack of icons
Although Thailand saw the number of amusement parks soar in recent years, some industry sources say these local attractions still lack the selling power of international branded options available in regional rivals.

The Thai Amusement and Leisure Park Association (TAPA) reported that the surge in water parks in the past five years resulted in about 40 such facilities nationwide.

Pornthip Hirunkate, managing director of Destination Asia (Thailand), argued that the additional choice for tourist “helps extend the length of stay, especially among Asian repeat tourists”.

Adith Chairattananon, honorary secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), remarked that the high competition within Thailand’s theme park sector has been beneficial for tour operators and tourists.

Local theme parks “give the best value for money in Indochina”, according to TAPA president Wuthichai Luangamornlert .

Despite the sector’s expansion, Wuthichai observed that for tourists, theme parks were just an additional option on top of the country’s main selling points of culture, shopping and nature.

Adith pointed out that local parks cannot compete with international theme parks in the region, such as Legoland in Malaysia and Universal Studios in Singapore.

“We want world-class theme parks in Thailand. They will be power magnets to attract tourists and allow the creation of interesting tour packages,” said Adith.

This, however, could be a challenge, with Wuthichai noting that the heavy investment to bring international branded parks to Thailand is infeasible, given the country’s cap on ticket prices. – Chadamas Chinmaneevong

India – world-class parks needed
The recent emergence of theme parks in India is allowing agents to offer more than just cultural attractions, although many opine that theme parks in the country still lag behind their overseas counterparts.

“India is known as a tourist destination primarily for culture and heritage. However, new theme parks offer us an opportunity to provide other entertainment and recreation options to  guests,” said Subash Goyal, chairman, STIC Travel Group.

Many in-mall themed attractions are opening in India. The Grand Venice Mall launched its entertainment and gaming zone – Mastiii Zone, featuring the first zip line ride of its kind in India.

Ski India, the indoor sci-fi themed Snow Park was also launched at DLF Mall of India, Noida, a ski resort replica offering ski rides, tubing, toboggan, bob sledge, penguin shows and a snow play area.

According to The Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries, the country’s amusement and theme park industry has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 17.5 per cent with annual revenue of approximately Rs17 billion (US$239 million), estimated to grow to at least Rs40 billion by 2020.

“Apart from Delhi NCR, the western Indian region has also seen the opening of good theme parks like Adlabs Imagica which is close to Novotel Imagica Khopoli, making it ideal for family holidays,” said Rajat Singhal, director, Leisure World Tours.

However, Singhal added that in terms of quality and scale, theme parks in India still lag behind those in Singapore and the UAE.

“We can’t compete in terms of theme parks. Our cultural and nature products will be the prime attraction for international travellers,” said Singhal. “If India has world-class theme parks like Disney World, it will be an added advantage for the Indian inbound segment,” added Goyal. – Rohit Kaul

Indonesia – wildlife over thrill rides
While theme parks are opening at a steady pace in Indonesia, amusement parks tend to be left out of tour programmes by the country’s major operators in favour of wildlife attractions.

In Jakarta, Ancol Dreamland has been continuously introducing new attractions, while the Jakarta Aquarium opened a couple of years ago.

Trans Property, which owns the Trans Studio Makassar and Bandung, is adding its third theme park in Cibubur in eastern Jakarta.

And in Batu, a small city in East Java, the Jawa Timur Park Group launched three Jatim Parks (named Jatim Parks 1, 2, 3). Jatim Park 3 recently saw the addition of the Dino Park, with 17 zones.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s MNC Land, the developer of a 2,000ha leisure, entertainment and lifestyle MNC Lido City in Bogor, West Java has a new world-class theme park in the works. Among the attractions will be the favourite MNC TV’s animated programmes and movies.

Similarly, a Cartoon Network-branded park will soon open in Bali, while Mandalika Development in Lombok is also planning to add an internationally branded theme park.

However, many of the country’s theme parks are focusing on the huge domestic market and direct-to-consumer sales.

Renato Domini, CEO of Panorama Destination, said: “Theme parks attract travellers, but are not seen as a priority, (but a) value-add.”

Umberto Cadamuro, COO Inbound of Pacto, added: “The (top-performing parks) in our programmes are Taman Safari Indonesia and the Bali Bird Park. They have been able to (offer) an experience coupled with a high standard of animal care, with the first being suitable for any market and the second very popular in Europe. (The latter is) now becoming a must-visit in nearly all Indian tour operator programmes.” – Mimi Hudoyo

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