Dinosaurs are a popular attraction at Wuhu Fantawild Adventure Theme Park. The park`s developer is planning a second theme park at Wuhu and also signing deals to build other theme parks overseas. File photo
On the last day of Suo Shijun`s summer holiday, the cheerful 9-year-old girl traveled with her mother to her dreamland: Wuhu Fantawild Adventure Theme Park.
At 1.25 million sq m in size on the outskirts of Wuhu in Anhui province, Fantawild - which has been dubbed a "Made-in-China Disneyland" - is the world`s largest theme park by land area.
Suo`s visit involved riding a cartoon train, seeing fake dinosaurs and watching 4D films with images of Egypt and Beijing`s Forbidden City. "I am in my fairy land," the little girl said with a smile.
The cutting-edge technology of such attractions helped the theme park`s attendance top the 3 million mark in just 1.5 years.
Total ticket revenue reached more than 230 million yuan in 2008, and earnings from added-value products like cartoon dolls continue to rise.
The park`s numbers are especially impressive compared to an industry in which 70 percent of China`s 2,500 theme parks are in the red.
And most have fewer than 2 million visitors annually, according to a survey by Horizon Group, a Chinese research and consulting firm.
The owner of Fantawild is not content to be a leader in the domestic market. Plans now are under way to build a new park in Wuhu along the lines of the clusters of theme parks at the US Disneyland and Walt Disney World complexes owned by US-based Walt Disney Co.
Next will come new theme parks in China and overseas.
Shenzhen Huaqiang Holdings Ltd, which created Fantawild, was founded in 1979. Since then, the company has become a leading manufacturer of high technology electronics goods and precision instruments.
Its major electronic products include laser pick-up heads and micro-motors, which each account for one-fourth of global output.
Now the company wants to evolve from an electronic goods manufacturer to a provider of high-end electronic information and culture-based high technology.
"Huaqiang wants to make use of its technology advantage to put wings on culture," said Li Ming, general manager of Huaqiang Culture & Technology Co. The company, a subsidiary of Huaqiang Holdings, is in charge of culture-related businesses such as Fantawild.
The company invented the world`s first generation of 4D film equipment in the late 1990s, shipping 70 of 170 sets of 4D film equipment produced to overseas customers.
Huaqiang owns all intellectual property rights to its designs, software and visual products used at Fantawild.
"I am sure that our technology is as good as Disney, if not better than Disney," Hu Guanghua, Fantawild`s marketing supervisor, said.
Huaqiang Holdings President Liang Guangwei said the goal for his company is to learn from Disney and then surpass the world`s best-known name in theme parks.
Huaqiang has invested 2 billion yuan in its theme park in Wuhu, a second-tier city in eastern China. People often ask Liang why the company chose Wuhu, he said.
"Wuhu is located in the Yangtze River Delta," Liang said, citing a population of 300 million and a convenient transportation network that cuts travel time from larger cities.
"Second, Wuhu is a place to create marvels," he said, citing other innovative companies that are located in the area such as Chery Automobile, China`s largest maker of domestic-brand cars."
Huaqiang now plans to invest another 2.5 billion yuan to build its second theme park in Wuhu: Wuhu Fanta Dream Kingdom.
Like the US Disney parks, Huaqiang`s strategy is to provide visitors additional parks and attractions to give them more reasons to stay longer and spend more money.
According to China`s Tourism Green Book, China beginning next year will enter a new era in terms of theme park development. While more international theme parks will enter the China market, domestic theme parks also will grow, according to the Green Book.
US entertainment industry giants Disney, Universal Studios and Viacom Inc all have expressed interest in building theme parks in China.
But Huaqiang is undaunted by the competition.
"China`s market is too big for a Disney or other company to control," Liu said. "It`s like supermarkets in Beijing. When Wal-Mart comes, are other supermarkets doomed?"
In fact, Huaqiang already is looking beyond Wuhu to grow a theme park empire. The company has signed deals with Shenyang, Qingdao, Tai`an and Chenzhou to build new versions of Fantawild.
Taishan Mountain Fantawild Adventure park is scheduled to open on May 1, 2010, in Tai`an in Shandong province. The park is being built on 400,000 sq m of land at a cost of 2 billion yuan and is expected to host about 4 million visitors annually.
Huaqiang is also exporting its theme park know-how.
The company signed a deal with Iran to make China the second country (behind the US) capable of exporting an entire theme park operation.
Construction began late last year at Iran Fantawild, which is being built for $100 million in Esfahan.
Construction will begin by the end of 2009 on a theme park 770,000 sq m in size in Johannesburg in South Africa.
The Johannesburg park, which will cost $250 million and take three years to complete, will feature Chinese cultural themes to introduce the South African public to Chinese culture.
"The park will be the first major technology-driven cultural theme park in South Africa," said Cassim Nakkooda, director of trade and investment promotion for Johannesburg.
Countries such as the Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Russia also have shown interest in importing Huaqiang`s theme park model.