Wanda to open China Park to duel Disney

Wang Jianlin is seeking to spearhead China’s burgeoning leisure industry by developing 15 Wanda city projects across the country by the end of the decade

Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Wanda Group. Photo: Reuters
Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Wanda Group. Photo: Reuters

Billionaire Wang Jianlin is preparing to open his second Wanda city as he escalates his efforts to fend off Walt Disney Co. in China.

Hefei Wanda city, located about 500 kilometres west of the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort, will open its doors to the public on Saturday. Besides theme park facilities, the 35 billion yuan ($5.2 billion) development will include hotels, a movie theatre, a shopping mall and residential apartments across 1.6 square kilometres, according to Wanda.

Wang is seeking to spearhead the nation’s burgeoning leisure industry by developing 15 Wanda city projects across the country by the end of the decade. Including others, a total of 59 new theme parks will open in China by 2020, serving an estimated 220 million park-goers and rivaling the US in terms of scale, according to estimates from industry consultancy Aecom.

Also Read: Wanda bids to outdo Disney as it plans to build $9.5 billion culture project in China

Wang opened his first Wanda city three months ago in the south-eastern city of Nanchang, attracting more than 2 million tourists on its opening month and the company is estimating it will bring in 10 million visitors a year. The Nanchang debut came days before the creator of Mickey Mouse opened its first park in mainland China, which Wang has referred to as being a “tiger” that has no chance of beating his “pack of wolves.”

As to the Shanghai Disneyland, it took more than a month for the Magic Kingdom to attract its millionth visitor. And while Disney won’t disclose visitor forecasts, analysts have estimated that the Shanghai park would attract 15 to 30 million people annually. Disney representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Wang is planning more Wanda city projects in cities such as Harbin, Guangzhou and Wuxi. He also aims to open five of the projects overseas by the end of the decade.

Behind the wave of theme parks is China’s growing middle class, which is fueling demand for leisure activities. There are about 300 parks in operation already in China with scores more on the way, according to Macquarie Group Ltd. estimates in January. The government predicts the nation’s $610 billion tourism industry will double over five years.

As to Wang, ranked as Asia’s second-richest man on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, his rivalry spans beyond theme parks and China’s borders as the tycoon has set a target for Wanda Group to overtake Disney as the world’s largest tourism company by 2020. As part of that effort, Wanda earlier this year bought Hollywood producer Legendary Entertainment LLC and one of its units has offered to buy Carmike Cinemas Inc. to create the biggest movie-theater chain in the US. Bloomberg

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