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Asia Tipped to be World's Largest Amusement Park Market by 2020

With Asia-Pacific set to be the most important theme-park market in terms of both value and visitor numbers, speakers at the recent Asian Attractions Expo predicted growing competition between domestic and international operators.

Photo: Tokyo Disneyland: With 16.5 million visitors in 2016, it remains Asia’s leading amusement park.
Tokyo Disneyland: With 16.5 million visitors in 2016, it remains Asia's leading amusement park.
Photo: Tokyo Disneyland: With 16.5 million visitors in 2016, it remains Asia’s leading amusement park.
Tokyo Disneyland: With 16.5 million visitors in 2016, it remains Asia's leading amusement park.

This year's Asian Attractions Expo, the largest conference and trade show for Asia's multibillion-dollar attractions industry, opened amid the release of mixed results for the sector. According to the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), the California-based trade organisation that represents many of the world's leading visitor attractions, 2016 saw a 1.1% drop in footfall at the top 25 global tourist destinations. Some comfort, though, could be taken from the fact that total visitor number for all attractions was up by 3.9%.

Overall, just two companies, Disney and Universal Studios, own all of the top 10 global attractions, with seven of these based in the US and three in Japan – Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan and Tokyo Disney Sea. In terms of future contenders for a top-10 placing, the Zhuhai-based Chimelong Ocean Kingdom – owned and operated by the Guangzhou-based Chimelong Group – took this year's 12th place, with every sign that it is poised to climb higher. By comparison, Hong Kong's two premier attractions – Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park – both suffered a major drop in visitor numbers, 10.3% and 18.8%, respectively, marking their second consecutive year of decline.

Despite such conflicting indicators, Greg Hale, Chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) and Vice-president and Chief Safety Officer of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, struck an upbeat tone in his opening address, saying: "In today's increasingly digital and social media-driven world, experiences matter. People want active entertainment and locations such as amusement parks create memories that last a lifetime. The amusement-park industry now has a billion visitors a year worldwide, 450 million of them in Asia, the largest market in the world."

Using a somewhat different methodology to the IAAPA and a little at odds with Hale's pronouncement, the TEA actually maintains that Asia-Pacific won't replace North America as the largest themed attraction market until 2020. Both organisations, however, agree that demand is soaring across the region and that this is not likely to be met solely by the international brands, with a number of Chinese companies also making huge inroads.

Overall, in the TEA's listing of the top 20 attractions in the region, the majority of those spots are occupied by the international brands' sites in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, with Chimelong at number four proving to be the sole exception. In terms of newcomers to the rankings, the performance of Shanghai Disneyland surprised many, with the 5.6 million visitors it has welcomed since June 2016 propelling it into the number 10 slot. Significantly, all of the attractions occupying positions 12 to 20 in the Asia-Pacific listing are in China and are all owned/operated by one of three Chinese companies – Chimelong, the Shenzhen-based OCT Group, and Fantawild, a subsidiary of Shenzhen's Huaqiang Group.

One company convinced Asia will represent the biggest theme-park market in terms of visitor numbers by 2020 is Picsolve International. According to its own research, the UK-based company, a supplier of image capture services to more than 500 theme parks across the world, also estimates that the sector will be worth US$31.8 billion in 2017, with Asia set to be the largest market in value terms within 15 years.

The company's analysis of the comparatively developed Hong Kong market is also seen as indicative of the future Asian market overall. Its findings show that those aged 36 to 45 are the biggest spenders, while paying for faster access to rides is a practice adopted by 53% of respondents, with a similar percentage of male respondents also keen to see virtual reality more widely incorporated into theme park rides. Among the company's less surprising findings are the facts that many people tend to visit such attractions in large groups and primarily as a way of marking special occasions/festivals. Given the nature of the company's business, it is probably not too big a shock that it also noted that the demand for digital photography is likely to grow.

Photo: Simulated flight fun at Kidzania Jakarta.
Simulated flight fun at Kidzania Jakarta.
Photo: Simulated flight fun at Kidzania Jakarta.
Simulated flight fun at Kidzania Jakarta.
Photo: Chimelong: China’s top domestic theme park.
Chimelong: China's top domestic theme park.
Photo: Chimelong: China’s top domestic theme park.
Chimelong: China's top domestic theme park.

One of the mainland players attending this year's event was the Dalian Wanda Group, which opened its first theme park in Nanchang in 2016 with its second launched in Harbin earlier this year. Subsequent to the event, however, the group sold all of its theme park and hospitality interests to Sunac, a Tianjin-headquartered real estate development group, for $9.3 million.

Speaking before the deal went through and providing his own take on the China market, Andrew Kam, the then President of Wanda Themed Entertainment, the group's dedicated theme park development division, said: "China is still an emerging economy and the level of discretionary income allocated to leisure purposes is still very limited, as is the free time available for travel, which is usually centred around public-holiday periods. Indeed, the vast majority of Chinese travellers never leave their own country and seldom spend more than $80 per trip.

"We have looked to tap into this particular market, focusing on cities that are small by Chinese standards, typically with populations of some 400,000. On that basis, we believe we could open 50 themed attractions in China and overseas by 2020."

Of course, the international brands are not planning to merely sit idly by while the domestic sector expands, with many of them already planning substantial developments across China. Lionsgate, the California-based film and leisure company, is opening a new site in Zhuhai in 2018, while Six Flags, a Texas-based amusement-park operator, will open in Haiyan in 2019 with an additional site in Chongqing scheduled to open in 2020. In the same year, the Eden Project, a UK-based multi-climate visitor attraction, will open in Qingdao, marking the company's first venture outside its home territory, while Universal Studios will open in Beijing.

Looking further ahead, SeaWorld, the Florida-headquartered marine theme park specialist, will open several new sites across the mainland in the 2020s, while Legoland will open in Beijing and Shanghai in 2022. In terms of Hong Kong, Disney is planning to upgrade and expand its existing site in 2018.

Beyond China, a number of other Asia-Pacific-located theme parks are also scheduled to open in in the coming years. These include the 2018 launch of 20th Century Fox World in Genting, a high-altitude hill resort in Malaysia, new Legoland sites in Nagoya, Japan's third-largest city and Chuncheon, the capital of South Korea's Gangwon province. Also in the pipeline is the expansion of Universal Studios' Osaka site and the launch of Kidzania in Surabaya, the Mexican entertainment group's second Indonesian theme park.

Offering some insights of his own into the idiosyncrasies of the Indonesian market, Rachmat Sutiono, President of Jakarta-based Funworld Prima, said: "We operate more than 100 family entertainment centres at sites across Indonesia, with the majority located in shopping malls as the weather tends to limit the appeal of outdoor facilities or water parks.

"As we focus primarily on children, a lot of our offerings are family-oriented rides or educational videos. In Indonesia, as yet, no one has really developed their own intellectual property in this sector and I expect it will be at least 10 years before theme parks really take off here."

Taking a more optimistic view of his home territory, Mario Mamon, President of Enchanted Kingdom, the first theme park to open in the Philippines back in 1995, said: "At present, we have nearly two million visitors a year and primarily target the 50 million-strong domestic tourist market. Currently, we are slowly expanding the park with the addition of more F&B outlets, enhanced conference facilities and a planned water park.

Photo: Vistiorattractionarimus: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter enchants Osaka’s tourists.
Vistiorattractionarimus: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter enchants Osaka's tourists.
Photo: Vistiorattractionarimus: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter enchants Osaka’s tourists.
Vistiorattractionarimus: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter enchants Osaka's tourists.

"Last December, we opened the Agila Flight Simulator, the first of its kind in this part of the world. As the agila is our national bird, for the first time we have something quintessentially Filipino to offer our guests."

Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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