Leisure Facilities

China to have a theme-park boom, with Disney, Nanchang Wanda facing competition

Mickey Mouse makes an appearance at Shanghai Disney Resort on June 15, 2016 in Shanghai, China.
Tang Yanjun | VCG | Getty Images

China's next big boom sector? Theme parks, according to a new report from Euromonitor International.

Theme park retail sales in China are estimated to hit $12 billion by 2020, an increase of 367 percent compared to 2010 sales volumes, the World Travel Market Global Trend Report, released on Tuesday, found. More than 330 million people will visit a theme park in the world's second-largest economy by the same date, the report said.

Growth in the popularity of leisure attractions in China comes as disposable incomes in the country grow, resulting in an increasing proportion of middle-class consumers. A study from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that three-quarters of China's population would be deemed middle class by 2030.

This is set to help the China overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest theme park ticket-seller by 2020. China is currently behind the U.S. and Japan on the same metric.

A view of Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China's Guangdong province.
Feature China | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

A report published this year by the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM showed that Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan and Tokyo Disney Sea were the most visited theme parks in Asia in 2015. In mainland China, attendance figures were highest at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom and Hangzhou Songcheng Park, saw 36 percent and 25.5 percent on-year growth in visitor numbers respectively.

Competition will continue to be fierce in the theme park space, with both local and international operators fighting for market share.

Shanghai Disneyland opened amidst much fanfare in June 2016, but was beaten to the punch by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, which opened Nanchang Wanda City, billed as a "cultural tourism" destination with its own theme park, the month before.

Amid the jostling that accompanied both big parks' openings this year, Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda, said he believed "Disney really shouldn't have come to China."

"At Wanda I always say we want to ensure Disney is not profitable for 10 to 20 years in this business segment in China," China's richest man told state television station CCTV in May.

$3 billion theme park opens in China

Shanghai Disneyland and Nanchang Wanda will soon have plenty of new rivals; 59 theme parks are currently in the pipeline in China, Euromonitor said.

Among these are new developments is the Chongqing Riverside-Six Flags Theme Town, the first international theme park to open in western China. Among local operators, Dalian Wanda Group has said it intended to develop a total of 15 theme park and entertainment complexes by 2020.

But the prospect of even hotter competition did not appear to faze Disney, the world's most storied theme-park company.

"Shanghai Disney Resort is unique to the market and delivers an experience no one else in mainland China can offer," Murray King, a spokesman at Disney, told CNBC on Tuesday.

While it remains too early to tell which of the high-profile new theme parks has made a bigger impression on the Chinese market, Dalian Wanda appears to have run up against more widely publicized operational problems, include a controversy over the use of Disney characters within Dalian Wanda parks and the closure of the Wuhan Wanda Movie Park for refurbishments after just 19 months of operation.

"Wanda has been very vocal about Disney being unable to break [into] the Chinese market but it seems that Wanda is having issues themselves," Wouter Geerts, a travel analyst at Euromonitor, told CNBC in an email.

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