Theme Park Battle Heats Up

The fight between local real estate developer Wanda and upstart Walt Disney Co. for the soul of China’s leisure business continues to heat up.  

Photo: AP Photo / Ng Han Guan
opening ceremony June 16. 

The chairman of Wanda Group, Wang Jianlin, on Sept. 24, attended the recreation of a battle that took place in 383 when 80,000 soldiers successfully defended the town of Feishui from an invading army with ten times as many warriors.

According to Bloomberg, the symbolism had a purpose since the eastern city of Hefei, which used to contain Feishui, will soon open the Hefei Wanda Cultural Tourism City, a 395-acre theme park that follows another Wanda park that opened four months ago in Jiangxi Province. Altogether, Wang plans to build 15 “multibillion-dollar” theme parks across the country by 2020, and has made no bones about his desire to “defeat the one tiger” that is Shanghai Disneyland.

The $3.6 billion Hefei park consists of an outdoor entertainment facility, a shopping mall, a movie complex and an indoor water park. Wang announced at the opening ceremony that he plans to invest another $1.5 billion in “indoor entertainment facilities” at Hefei, to be completed in three years. The opening ceremony was attended by numerous local officials and foreign ambassadors, who were given a grand tour of the park.

They were entertained by a Rio-like parade, the world’s tallest looping roller coaster and China’s first “immersive interactive” cinema. Admission to the park will be cheaper than Shanghai Disneyland, which is located four hours away by train, but the admission fee of 248-388 yuan, according to Bloomberg, may be a bit steep for locals, whose regional per capita GDP is about 60 percent that of the country on the whole.

However, the development of the park is already spurring ancillary development in the area. A new high-speed train station recently opened nearby and the government is implementing an urbanization plan. As a result the price of used apartments has doubled over the past year.