Universal to open theme park in Beijing

Updated: 2014-10-14 05:12

By HU YUANYUAN in Beijing and AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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Universal to open theme park in Beijing

A rendering of the $3.3-billion Universal Studios complex in Beijing, slated for completion in 2019 in an eastern suburb called Tongzhou. Provided to China Daily

The Chinese government approved a $3.25 billion Universal Studios movie theme park for Beijing that will initially be built on 300 acres and may eventually expand to 1,000 acres.

The project will include a Universal CityWalk entertainment zone featuring retail, dining and entertainment and a first-ever Universal-themed resort hotel.

It will be jointly owned by Universal Parks and Resorts, a business unit of Comcast NBC Universal, and the Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment Co Ltd (BSH Investment), a consortium of four state-owned companies.

Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks and Resorts, announced the park in Beijing on Monday. He said it will blend China's rich cultural heritage with Universal Parks and Resorts' brand of family entertainment.

"Universal Beijing will create a higher level of economic growth, understanding and cultural exchange between our two countries. Together, we will create a unique experience that spotlights hugely popular Western entertainment concepts as well as China's rich cultural legacy. This will be an opportunity to build relationships with the Chinese people on a direct and personal level," he said.

Universal's other parks are in Los Angeles, Orlando, Florida, Osaka, Japan, and Singapore.

Duan Qiang, Chairman of Beijing Tourism Group and BSH Investment said Universal Beijing will showcase blockbuster movie themes and present entertaining family shows. "Chinese people love the movies and exciting entertainment,'' he said.

"After 13 years of preparation we are excited that we finally reached a deal," said Duan. "Thirteen years have witnessed a great improvement of people's life in China. Annually there are 250 million people traveling to Beijing. This huge market gives us confidence in the project.''

China's fast growing economy, as well as Beijing's huge population and its attraction for thousands of visitors, is the major reason why the company is building the park, Williams said.

The complex will be located in Tongzhou, an eastern suburb of Beijing.

More than 35 million people visited Universal's existing theme parks in 2013, according to the company.

Josh Young, owner of Theme Park University, a website that provides analysis on theme park strategy, said that the Chinese market is primed for Westernized entertainment like theme parks and now is a good time for Universal to debut its first.

"Because China's market for theme parks of this quality or caliber is still somewhat untapped, considering how big China is and the population, I think that Universal and Disney are both looking to enter that market because of that. And of course, because of the growing middle class, that's booming in China right now — there's a lot of extra income," he said.

"It's been something that's a long time coming. Universal has been trying to work with the Chinese government for a long time, trying to find a spot to open up a theme park, so this is not new per se, it's just something that is coming to fruition for studios," he added.

China is home to 11 of the top 20 amusement parks in Asia with about 166 million visits in 2013. Revenue is expected to total nearly $3 billion this year, estimates research firm IBISWorld. There are 59 more parks in the pipeline, and by 2020, theme park attendance in China could overtake the US market's 220 million visits last year, according to global architecture firm AECOM.

Six Flags has announced plans to put six parks in China over the next 10 years.

Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney park on the Chinese mainland, is scheduled to open in the city's Pudong district at the end of next year, while in March, DreamWorks Animation and its Chinese partners unveiled designs for a $2.4 billion entertainment complex, also in Shanghai.

In August, Wanda Group, China's biggest real estate company and the world's largest cinema chain, said it was planning to build 200 children's theme parks by 2020.

Contact the writers at huyuanyuan@chinadaily.com.cn and amyhe@chinadailyusa.com.