China’s world-class amusement resort
In 1989, Su Zhigang (“Mr Su”) opened a restaurant in Guangzhou, southern China. Five years later he added a hotel. New businesses followed bit by bit, but it’s been in the last two years that things have really exploded. A brand-new amusement park and award-winning waterpark have put Chimelong on the map as a fully-fledged entertainment resort and the largest of its kind in China. And there’s more to come.
Owen Ralph gets the lowdown in Guangzhou.
It was perhaps the success of the Xiangjiang Safari Park, opened in 1997, that convinced Mr Su of the site’s potential as a tourist destination. Located in the Panyu district of Guangzhou, the safari park currently attracts around 1.5 million visitors a year, a respectable figure for an animal attraction. A night zoo followed in 2000, followed by the Chimelong Hotel.
Su’s original hotel was a 3-star property a few kilometres away, opened in 1994. Not only was it further from the rest of Chimelong in terms of distance, but also in quality. The new hotel featured an ecological theme, open spaces, atriums, animal enclosures and a five-star rating.
This level of comfort meant the hotel could command Western prices, attracting the kind of high spending guests that would appreciate the golf driving range installed down the road in 2003. And if they wanted something to do at night, then the International Circus introduced in 2005 would be an obvious choice. Then came the amusement park, Chimelong Paradise, followed last year by the massively successful Chimelong Water Park.
In 2007 Chimelong Resort attracted a combined attendance of 7.5 million, enough to convince the group to quadruple the size of the hotel by adding a 1,000-room extension, due for completion by the end of this year. A 5 “A” award from the China National Tourism Administration in March of last year appeared to confirm the resort’s world-class status.
Such is the impact that Chimelong has made locally that at the start of this year Mr Su was recognised as one of the 10 most powerful people in the Guangdong province, population 100-mllion-plus. Yet this self-made man is an unassuming character who, but for the night he collected his award, usually eschews a suit and tie, preferring to get his hands dirty at any one of his attractions on site.
Chimelong Group’s general manager of investment, meanwhile, is Tony Sze, who at time of Park World’s visit last month had just returned from fact-finding trip to Orlando. Like much of his team, he has had to learn the amusement industry at lightning speed, working along the way with people like park general manager Vincent Wang, who joined from an attraction elsewhere in Asia, and Australian-born consultant Alan Mahony, brought in to set up the waterpark. “Chimelong is a group that’s moving forward,” says Mahony. It’s hectic, but very exciting.”
Build It And They Will Come
The theory behind the rapid expansion is that the quicker you get everything open, the quicker you increase your cash flow. At least that’s what Mr Su – Chimelong’s CEO and sole owner – must be telling his very sympathetic bank manager.
“This organisation has very little side businesses,” notes Sze. “Our main focus is tourism – hotels, restaurants, parks and entertainment. That doesn’t mean we will not go into real estate in the future, but at least for the foreseeable future our business is tourism.”
Other than a possible villa resort, there is little residential development currently planned within Chimelong’s combined 470-hectares, despite the fact that is located at the heart of what is predicted to become the new downtown area of Guangzhou. That differs from those operators who plan theme parks (some more successful than others) simply to drive up the cost of the real estate around them.
Guangzhou today is certainly a very different city to the one Sze grew up in. After several years living and working in Canada, he returned to China in 1991 to help set up Kodak’s operations in the country and was later approached by Mr Su, a long time friend, to oversee what he describes as Chimelong’s “second revolution.”
Chimelong Paradise opened in May 2006 and includes over 70 rides and attractions. Based around an initial design by Forrec, the park features eight areas: White Tiger Street, M-Zone, Whirlwind Island, Happy Kingdom, Adventure Zone, Waterworld and, the newest part of the park, Rainbow Bay. There is no obvious theming to separate the different areas, although this is something that will be addressed in the coming years. There is, however, a lot of landscaping, as is evident if you climb on board one of the park’s taller rides and look for other attractions poking out between the trees.
This 70-hectare amusement park, which replaced the night zoo, was assembled in less than 12 months. In fact, Sze was still shopping for rides at IAAPA the previous winter.
“I first met Tony and Mr Su in 2005,” remembers Peter van Bilsen of Vekoma, who sold them a Motorbike Launch Coaster. “I was impressed with their plans and vision. It’s amazing that in just three years they have built up one of the largest parks in Asia and one of the biggest waterparks in the world!”
Sze and his team were keen to secure a few firsts for China at Chimelong Paradise. As well as the Motorbike Coaster, they also ordered a Halfpipe and 10-inversion rollercoaster from Intamin. This season they’ve added a B&M (Bolliger & Mabillard) Dive Coaster, similar to the ride at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia, complete with water brakes.
“We wanted something that would be a signature ride for us,” says Sze, “so we went to the States to look at the Dive Coaster there. We loved it, and signed the contract with B&M. It’s been a really good choice.”
Back in 2006, the park also received the first Splash Battle in China, from 3DBA/Preston & Barbieri. Themed in-house, the ride maybe lacks the finish of some other Splash Battle installations, but it’s nevertheless a popular attraction on hot and muggy days.
For the park’s other water rides, Chimelong stayed closer to home, contracting Golden Horse Amusement Equipment to install a Hopkins-designed Shoot the Chute and rapids. Golden Horse also supplied a Mouse-style spinning coaster and the large double-deck carousel that appears in the centre of the park.
Zamperla put together a package of rides including a Z-Force tower ride, Windshear (Top Spin), Sombrero, Rockin’ Tug, family coaster and many more. Most of these can be found in the Happy Kingdom area, together with more from Golden Horse, including a Sky Bicycle monorail and low capacity but quite extreme attractions like the Rolling Shuttle and Rainbow Shuttle. The two company’s products also feature widely in Kids Land, a 5,000 square metre air-conditioned indoor play area.
Last season, a Giant Frisbee was added from Huss. The park is proud of its Western-built rides, and openly tells visitors who supplied them (how many average park guests in Europe or the US would know, for example, they are riding a B&M or a Vekoma?)
European-style dance music is played on many of the larger attractions, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. This and Vincent Wang’s statement that, “we want to have the most rollercoasters of any park in China [6 now, 10 in future]” will please the thrill-seekers, but to avoid the park becoming besieged by teenagers – who until recently accounted for around 60% of guests – the next additions will be more family-focused, starting next year with a selection of rides from Mack.
Already very popular with families is Chimelong Water Park. In fact, it’s popular with everyone. Designed by Whitewater and the winner of a “Must-See Waterpark” award from IAAPA in 2007, it opened last May after a three-month construction period and attracted 1.4 million guests.
That propelled the park straight into the TEA/ERA list of top three waterparks in the world, and right away management began planning for phase II, now open, with a new entrance area, bigger changing rooms and a Behemoth Bowl from ProSlide. When the hotel extension opens, guests will be able to use a separate gate to gain direct access to the waterpark, and there are plans eventually to link it directly to the amusement park too.
Visitors arrive at present via Chimelong Avenue, a tree-lined boulevard built to link the three parks (Chimelong Water Park, Chimelong Paradise and Xiangjiang Safari Park) with a new subway station at the other end. A massive shopping mall is already taking shape alongside, and a “City Walk” style development is also a possiblity in future. This would increase the resort’s range of after dark dining and entertainment options, which other than the hotel and circus are few and far between at present.
As part of phase II last year, a lot more live entertainment was introduced at the amusement park to combat queues and overcrowding. “After the initial investment, we realised that the queue lines were really too long,” explains Sze, “so last season we introduced the American Lumberjack Show, 4D Theatre, stunt show and parade. These are all things that have a large turnover of people.”
The stunt show alone accommodates up 7,500 people, with a daily 25-minute show show from Mirage Entertainment. Two films are available inside the 4D Theatre, Marvin the Martian by Warner Bros and a custom-produced movie called Dino Raiders. The storyline was conceived by Mr Su, directed by Seastar FX of the US and animated in Beijing. It’s far fetched – one sequence involves a dinosaur being abducted by a spaceship – but action-packed from start to finish and bang in line with what Chinese audiences want. The 400 effects seats were also supplied by Seastar, the same firm that supplies SimexIwerks.
The Carnival Parade, meanwhile, is a colourful, up-tempo affair but has yet to engage audiences in the same way such a production would at a Disney park, where it would be filled with known and loved characters.
An increasingly powerful marketing tool, however, is the Chimelong name itself, which means roughly “long hapiness.” Mahony reckons without this prefix the waterpark wouldn’t have been as popular and Sze tells us that: “If I speak to friends in Hong Kong or Macau, they have all heard about the waterpark and the circus.”
The resort’s catchment area is huge. The target market is identified as the Pearl River Delta, or those within a two-to-three hour drive. Guangzhou’s location roughly 100km north of Hong Kong means Chimelong is well placed to pick up visitors en-route to or from the Special Administrative Region. “If it’s a holiday in Hong Kong then our hotel is always full,” notes Sze.
Yet within four to five years, he believes, “we will have fully saturated the Pearl Delta market.” The hotel expansion, and the conference market that is to expected to come with it, will therefore play an important part in helping Chimelong realise its full potential as a resort destination, capable of pulling guests from neighbouring provinces or overseas.
A little further on the horizon, a new night zoo is planned, and there is also land available for a new park, but nothing has yet been decided. It is, however, a model the group helps to repeat elsewhere in southern China. A ‘Chimelong 2’ is a strong possibility, confirms Sze: “That’s the company’s long-term goal,” he says
Mahony, who has worked in Asia for the last 12 years, believes it makes sense: “There’s more markets out there and Chimelong is well placed to become a Chinese leader. The joint ventures aren’t coming into China yet and how successful they’ll be is another question. Five years down the track this is going to be one of the biggest destination resorts in the world, with revenues to match.”
In the September issue of Park World we’ll take a look at the Chimelong Water Park and reveal how management is poised to cope with some of the huge crowds anticipated this summer. In the meantime you can read more about some of the other features of Chimelong Resort – with pictures – in the July/August issue of Park World.