Safety propels key players

Updated: 2011-09-30 09:16

By Andrew Moody (China Daily)

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Safety propels key players

Safety remains a major issue at many of China's theme parks after a number of high profile accidents.

Four people were killed and 24 injured in a rollercoaster accident in August at a park in Yixing in Jiangsu province.

Last year there were six deaths at Happy Valley in Shenzhen, one of China's top parks owned by OCT, in a space shuttle simulator ride.

As a result, according to some industry experts, the Chinese have an aversion to thrill rides and prefer stage shows, singing and other forms of entertainment.

Liu Weigong at Changzhou Amusement Park, in Changzhou of Jiangsu province, says this is often overstated.

"Even though there have been accidents in the past, Chinese people are not afraid of thrills and adventure in my experience. Just like anywhere else, children get their parents to go on these rides. The grandparents and others then enjoy to watch," he says.

The Chinese authorities have imposed significant regulations on the industry in recent years.

Oliver Goyeneche, project manager of Swiss Rides, based in Lochriet in Flums, Switzerland and which makes water rides, says standards have moved on from what was a "Wild West" 10 years ago.

"There were no clear standards or norms and it was like the Wild West. They have gone through a learning curve and now there are a lot more codes, which we like," he says.

Freij Elzein, chief executive officer of Freij Entertainment International, which stages fun fairs and circuses around the world, says now there is often too much bureaucracy.

His company operated the fair at the Shanghai Expo but he says he will not be returning to China any time soon.

"We have been operating fun fairs around the world for 25 years and have had zero accidents but here there is so much red tape. You are constantly passed from one government department to the other," he says.

The emphasis on safety is providing opportunities for a number of companies around the world.

J & C Joel, which is headquartered in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire in the UK, makes flame retardant theater and stage curtain systems. The company's projects can sometimes be as large as 1.5 million pounds (1.7 million euros).

"Safety is what gets us through the door. Everything now has to comply in China and some of the local competitors cannot produce products to the required standard. We are increasingly bidding for more work in China," says Fiona Blackett, the company's managing director in Hong Kong.

Away from thrill rides, theme parks in China are often seen as safe havens to take children.

Child abduction is major fear for parents and the government estimates that some 20,000 children are trafficked every year.

"Many parents worry about their children playing alone on the streets and theme parks offer them a welcome safe environment," adds Liu at Changzhou Amusement Park.

Xu Xiaomeng contributed to this story.