Theme parks have been entertaining visitors ever since the first one opened in Denmark in 1583, creating lasting memories that will bring back travellers year after year looking for that next thrill. Whether it is seeing Cinderella’s Castle, Mickey Mouse or riding a merry-go-round and experiencing the thrill of a roller coaster, a rush of theme park constructions across Asia is providing a financial lifeline for the world’s elite group of entertainment designers.
BizHive Weekly takes a close look at the progress of the industry.
Malaysia’s theme parks on the rise
Theme parks have been entertaining visitors ever since the first one opened in Denmark in 1583, creating lasting memories that will bring back travellers year after year looking for that next thrill.
Whether it is seeing Cinderella’s Castle, Mickey Mouse or riding a merry-go-round and experiencing the thrill of a roller coaster, a rush of theme park constructions across Asia is providing a financial lifeline for the world’s elite group of entertainment designers.
The industry continues to spread its magic today, expanding at breakneck speed across Asia, marking the rise of a new and affluent middle class.
According to the Global Industry Analysts Inc’s (GIA) market report, the amusement and theme park market worldwide would generate revenue of US$32 billion by 2017. Although the industry was impacted by the economic recession in 2009, it subsequently entered into a phase of recovery in 2010 and 2011.
On top of that, market growth was expected to be fuelled by rising consumer spending on leisure and entertainment, increasing levels of disposable income as well as higher mass entertainment popularity.
It further stated that the ‘growth’ would also be driven by improving consumer sentiment due to economy recovery, giving rise to a growing demand for entertainment.
Over the coming years, GIA predicted the park within a park concept would become more and more of a evident trend in the global theme parks industry. The majority of theme parks were expanding to include more hotel rooms and secondary attractions to attract more visitors.
“More parks are now upgrading with investments in new rides, wireless and interactive technology services for their guests and by adding new zones. As such, we believe that parks will continue to adopt virtual reality and simulation technologies to replicate natural scenarios,” it highlighted.
“Nothing is more constant than changes in the attractions industry. We are witnessing the transformation from theme parks into integrated resorts to cater to ‘staycation’ trends,” it added.
Unlike some vacations, amusement parks had the potential to offer something to attract most age groups. This trans-generational appeal was one reason they continued to be popular, according to Sarah Gmyr, spokesperson for International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).
“From thrill rides to children’s rides, from delicious food to a variety of offerings, amusement parks have something for all ages,” she added.
Having said that, theme and amusement park vacations also presented another opportunity for travel agents to increase commission earnings by adding on other attractions or destinations to their clients vacation itineraries.
Gmyr furter pointed out that vacations which incorporated destination parks presented the largest opportunities for add-ons as these park visitors might go for several days and visit other parks, attractions or even beaches.
According to Travel Industry Association, nearly half of the amusement park vacations also included entertainment, followed by dining (47 per cent), shopping (43 per cent), beach and waterfront activities (11 per cent) as well as national and state parks visits (eight per cent).
On the other hand, most of the theme and amusement parks were also turning their views to creative marketing strategies by including special events that often required separate tickets to generate higher revenues.
Themed Entertainment Association in its ‘Global Attractions Attendance Report’ further stated that there was still plenty of room for the industry to keep growing in Asia.
“It’s very characteristic here for theme parks to be planned and built as part of more integrated developments – whole communities where there are hotels, retail and residential developments.
“What’s not happening so much are the thrill coasters. You rarely hear anyone bragging about the ‘biggest-fastest-tallest’ ride. This is a significant difference to other parts of the world.
“Asia is not about thrill, but about show,” it concluded
BizHive Weekly takes an indepth view on the fast emerging agendas of theme park operators in the country, all vying for a bigger market share in the lucrative entertainment industry.
Malaysia’s city within a city
Known as the’Las Vegas of Malaysia’, dubbed the ‘City of Entertainment’, one of the pioneers in the industry Resort World Genting (RWG) is a leisure and entertainment capital located at the focal point of the lush Titiwangsa mountains, which has to-date garnered a following of over 3.3 million members.
With five hilltop hotels offering over 8,000 rooms, 100 food and beverage (F&B) outlets, 200 retail shops as well as 50 rides and attractions, the resort is also linked by the world’s fastest and Southeast Asia’s longest cable car, Genting Skyway.
According to its annual report, RWG welcomed 20.3 million visitors in 2011, of which 27 per cent were hotel guests and 73 per cent were day-trippers.
Its demographics showed that the resort attracted visitors of all age groups comprising families and individuals alike, with Malaysians forming the largest single nationality of visitors, while seeing regional visitors coming mainly from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and India.
All the resort’s five hilltop hotels achieved higher average occupancy rates of 94 per cent, with 2.72 million room nights sold, at an average room rate of RM82.
Having said that, RWG also houses one of the world’s largest hotels in terms of numbers of rooms, which is the First World Hotel that has more than 6,000 rooms in total.
“The enhancement of RWG’s properties and facilities is designed to provide yet another pull factor to keep the experience fresh for our guests. Apart from First World Hotel, we also have Resort Hotel for mid-range customers, Maxims Genting and Highlands Hotel which offers premier rooms and exclusivity for premium customers,” said the group’s chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay.
Apart from getting there by bus or limousine fleets, the group now has two aircraft to provide luxury service to its discerning premium customers, with the recent addition of an 18-seater Bombardier Global Express private jet.
Looking at its F&B operations, the group operated 43 of the total 100 outlets, which catered to 14.1 million covers in 2011.
On the other hand, RWG is also home to the First World Plaza, the coolest and highest shopping destination in the country with about 200 branded retail and F&B shops.
“In addition, our guests are also entertained to various cultural dances and singing performances, shows, themed promotions and festive celebrations held throughout the year at the plaza’s Genting Times Square and Universal Walk,” Lim stated.
RWG theme park is another addition that sees over 50 rides and attractions, with the number of tickets sold in 2011, reaching a high 3.4 million copies.
The outdoor theme park has cemented its brand by having Asia’s first hand-gliding roller coaster (Flying Coaster) and other signature rides which includes the ‘Corkscrew’ and ‘Pirate Ship’.
With the group’s headquarters located in Kuala Lumpur, it had since 2010 expanded its operation to the UK and the US. It was also known that the group would be taking over the entire operations of Biminin Bay Resort in addition to operating its US$24 million luxury boutique casino soon.
Genting UK is the largest casino operator in the country, which operates five casinos and a poker club in London, as well as 38 casinos in other parts of the UK.
On top of that, Genting UK also holds a casino licence to develop Resorts World at The NEC, a leisure and entertainment complex at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.
“When completed, it will feature a casino, hotel accommodation, spa, conference and banqueting centre, cinema, F&B outlets and a retail outlet centre,” Lim explained.
In the US, Resort World New York City (RWNYC) is the first video lottery facility within the city of New York. Developed and operated by Genting New York LLC, the resort is a entertainment hub with over 5,000 electronic gaming machines, F&B outlets, event spaces and shows.
“Our performance since opening has been encouraging, with RWNYC having attracted a daily average of 27,000 visitors in 2011, In addition, our daily gaming revenue per machine (commonly known as Win per Unit) exceeded the statewide industry average,” Lim said.
“This has been one of the most exciting periods in the history of the group. We are implementing a growth strategy geared towards international expansion of our core leisure, hospitality and entertainment business,” he concluded.
Touted to be Malaysia’s largest IR cities
Spanning across 727 acres of secondary jungle located in Pahang, Bukit Gambang Resort City (BGRC) and its property developments are within the vicinity to be one of Malaysia’s largest integrated resort cities.
In 2012, within three years of its opening, the resort had already recorded more than 600,000 visitors compared with 522,000 in 2011, translating to a growth rate of 15 per cent per annum.
In terms of market share, it commanded about seven per cent of the domestic theme park industry, coming in third behind Resorts World Genting and Sunway Lagoon, according to OSK Investment Bank Bhd.
Managed and operated by Sentoria Group Bhd (Sentoria), BGRC is also home to the largest water theme park in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia and proud host of the ‘Best Water Park in Malaysia’ and the ‘Largest Pillarless Ballroom’ in the country.
Sentoria’s head of public and investor relations Nasiruddin Nasrun told BizHive Weekly that the theme park industry in Malaysia had a tremendous growth prospect in view that none of the existing theme parks had registered one million visitors per year yet except for Genting
“In Malaysia, children dictate where to go during holidays, while parents and adults appreciate attractions that are surrounded by nature. That is why we developed BGRC to be a fully integrated resort city in a way that we combine all the accommodations, attractions and nature together,” he explained.
He further pointed out that different types of theme parks available here would also provide Malaysians and foreign tourists with more choices during their leisure tour in Malaysia and thus, a healthy competition among the park operators would result in a healthier industry overall.
In the case of BGRC, once it is fully completed in 2018 it would be one of the largest resort cities in Malaysia with a variety of attractions that embrace its natural surroundings.
“This reflects the uniqueness of the project, bearing nature-based themes,” he added.
In terms of accomodations, the on-going development of RM119.4 million 868-room Arabian Bay Resort, coupled with the existing 998-room Carribbean Bay Resort, would bring BGRC’s room inventory to 1,866 – being one of the largest in Kuantan.
BGRC Water Park, on the other hand, comprises of four zones namely Coco Beach, Penguin Island, Tree Top Hill Slides and Corporate Function Area, with ample land for future attractions.
According to him, another main attraction within the water park was the 25,000 square feet wave pool and the river raft rides as well as the highest six land racer slides in Malaysia.
“Wouldn’t it be great if everything is charged electronically to your account instead?” Nasrun asked.
“Utilising what is the first of its kind e-value system in Malaysia, all transactions are automatically deducted from a prepaid wristband. So just walk up to your nearest F&B stall, pick out your favourite item and pay for it with your pre-loaded wristband,” he added.
Apart from the water parks, BGRC within the MICE chain also houses six banquest halls, 11 meeting rooms and a grand ballroom with 3,100-pax banquet style seating.
While the resort is still expanding, Sentoria has also announced its acquisition of a new 73 hectare (ha) landbank, which is adjourning to the group’s existing BGRC site.
Nasrun pointed out that some 20ha would be used for further expansion of Bukit Gambang Safari Park, which was current under construction. “If this is completed, it will be the biggest safari park in the country with a total land area of 56ha.”
Another 20ha of the land is meant for a tourism-related retail commercial development while the remaining 32ha will be kept for residential properties and supporting industries.
With massive plans in the pipeline, BGRC is set to be one of the ‘must-visit’ tourist attractions for both foreign and local visitors in time to come.
Building the economy within the industry
As the first in Asia and sixth of its kind globally, Legoland Malaysia is set to drive the growth and success of the entire Medini Iskandar Malaysia region, which will see more than one million visitors in its first year of operation.
It is a family theme park that features more than 40 interactive rides, shows as well as attractions, which span across 76 acres of land and is divided into seven themed areas that contain more than 50 million Lego bricks.
The park also houses the largest Lego shop in Asia. It stocks 2,000 different Lego and Legoland products, and has more Lego toy sets under one roof than anywhere else in the region.
“Designed for Lego fans of all ages, imagination is where creativity knows no bounds,” Legoland Malaysia general manager Siegfried Boerst commented.
“It contains the most popular rides and attractions from Legoland Parks around the world, but everything is tailor-made for the local environment.”
Boerst added that Legoland Malaysia operated on similar lines as its other theme parks around the world do, with a Miniland dedicated to the country.
“As in the case with the company’s theme park in California, which features Miniland USA or the Legoland in Germany,” he said.
At the centre of the park, the Miniland recreates famous Asian landmarks on a scale of 1:20 using more than 30 million Lego bricks.
Famous scenes from different countries including the Petronas Twin Towers, the Merlion and the Taj Mahal can be seen within the park.
In a bid to attract more local visitors as well as those from the Asian countries, the park is also set to become the biggest resort attraction in the Asean region, upon completion of its water theme park and hotel, slated for opening by mid-2013 and 2014 respectively.
Collectively, the developments will be valued at RM1.6 billion.
After the successful unveiling of Legoland Malaysia last year, Themed Attractions and Resort Sdn Bhd and Merlin Entertainments Group (Merlin Entertainment) were looking at other possibilities of opening other attractions in the country.
According to media reports, Legoland Parks operator, Merlin Entertainment would be offering other products under the group but it would be on a smaller scale compared with Legoland Malaysia.
The first Legoland Park was opened in 1968 in Billund, Denmark and then, followed by the parks in Windsor (UK) and Carlsbad (California) in 1996 and 1999, while Legoland Deutschland took the fourth place in 2005.
Since 2005, the four parks have belonged to the Britsh-based Merlin Entertainment which also operates other leisure attractions such as the Sea Life centres, the Dungeons and the Earth Explorer.
The latest openings were Legoland Florida in 2011 and Legoland Malaysia in 2012.
“After several years of planning, nothing is be more gratifying than the smiles of thousands of children and their parents, enjoying Legoland Malaysia together for the first time.
“ It is all about giving our guests something different – a full day of fun, where everything is hands-on and the families create their own advantures,” Boerst concluded.