Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd., which owns tourist-related brands including Madame Tussauds, is opening its first Legoland theme park in Asia tomorrow as it develops an Orlando-styled cluster of attractions.
The 76-acre theme park in southern Malaysia, a 45-minute car ride from downtown Singapore, will seek to attract some of the 13.2 million tourists that visited the neighboring city last year with its more than 40 rides and attractions. It’s targeting as many as 2 million visitors a year from markets that also include India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, China and Hong Kong, it said.
“This region will become Southeast Asia’s response to Orlando in America offering a great experience of many themed attractions,” said John Jakobsen, Dorset, U.K.-based managing director of Legoland Parks, a unit of Merlin.
The company is emulating the Florida metropolitan area that’s home to theme parks run by Walt Disney Co., Comcast Corp.’s Universal Studios, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and Legoland, and drew a record 51.4 million tourists in 2010, according to the Orlando Tourism Bureau. Both SeaWorld and Merlin are backed by Blackstone Group LP, the world’s biggest private-equity firm.
Legoland is the newest addition to the so-called Iskandar project to create an investment, amusement and education hub in southern Malaysia across the waterway from Singapore. The government has been wooing foreign money with easier investment rules and tax breaks.
The country introduced the Iskandar Development Region in the South Johor Economic Region as part of a five-year, 200 billion-ringgit ($65 billion) spending plan to redevelop the south, north and eastern regions Malaysia.
“The strategy of developing the Iskander region has been to complement Singapore not compete with it,” said Gundy Cahyadi, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore. “It’s too early to tell the impact of Legoland on the Johor and Malaysian economy as a whole but at least they now are showing some physical proof having built it.”
Themed Attractions and Resorts Sdn., which owns the Malaysian Legoland, is also building the Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park that includes attractions such as Sanrio Co.’s Hello Kitty Town and the Little Big Club, according to state news service Bernama. It manages KidZania, Ocean Quest and Water World in Malaysia, Bernama said. Themed Attractions is a unit of Khazanah Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s state-owned investor.
The new Legoland park, which is run by the Merlin unit, will include 15,000 Lego models built with about 50 million Lego bricks, the company said. Merlin will also add a water park to Legoland that will open next year, as well as a Legoland-themed hotel that will be completed by 2014, the company said.
Singapore, which Legoland Malaysia’s General Manager Siegfried Boerst said is its “resident market,” is expected to draw 13.5 million to 14.5 million this year, based on the government’s estimates. The entire Legoland development, more than three hours away by car from Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur, will cost 1 billion ringgit, he said.
The company plans to add some of its other brands including Madame Tussauds, Sealife and the Dungeons, and Singapore is an “obvious location,” Jakobsen said in an interview yesterday at the Malaysian theme park, adding it’s in talks with the island state’s government on more attractions.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Genting Singapore Plc opened their gaming resorts in the city state two years ago, adding a downtown convention center and Southeast Asia’s only Universal Studios theme park.
“There is no doubt that the proximity and the synergy that would be between having a Legoland park in Malaysia, Iskandar and then some other attractions in Singapore would provide a fantastic synergy and would help develop this region further,” Jakobsen said.
Merlin, which has 87 attractions in 19 countries, is expanding in Asia by opening new outlets and by acquisitions, Jakobsen said. Merlin has 22 theme parks and attractions in the region, with the Malaysian Legoland adding to the list.
“Our vision is to be the Orlando of Southeast Asia,” Jakobsen said.