Wanda Opens First China Theme Park as It Takes Aim at Disney

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It's Wang vs. Walt in China's Theme Park Wars
  • Billionaire Wang Jianlin plans 15 parks in China, 3 overseas
  • Disney to open first China theme park in Shanghai on June 16

Billionaire Wang Jianlin Saturday officially unveiled Dalian Wanda Group Co.’s Wanda City, the first of the company’s 15 planned theme park and entertainment projects in China that it hopes will help it unseat Walt Disney Co. as the world’s largest tourism operator.

The Wanda Cultural Tourism City, spanning 2 square kilometers (200 hectares) in Nanchang, in the southeastern Jiangxi province, features a theme park, a movie park, an aquarium, hotels and retail stores, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Wanda expects the complex to attract 10 million people a year, according to the statement.

Less than a week ago, Wang said that Disney’s single theme park, which opens in Shanghai on June 16, won’t be a match for his Beijing-based group’s bevy of Wanda City projects set to open across the country. Disney’s “one tiger is no match for a pack of wolves,” Wang said on a May 22 broadcast on China Central Television.

Wanda is trying to gain the upper hand in the battle for China’s $610 billion tourism industry, which the government predicts will double by 2020 amid a growing middle class. Burbank, California-based Disney has decades more experience operating theme parks than Wanda, and has already been exposed to Chinese visitors at its Hong Kong Disneyland since 2005.

Wang, who vies with Jack Ma for the title of China’s richest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, had said he couldn’t understand how Disney spent $5.5 billion on a park similar in scale to the Jiangxi province project, which according to Wanda’s website, cost 21 billion yuan ($3.2 billion).

For a feature on Disney’s preparations for its Shanghai opening, click here.

The Chinese company is already preparing for more Wanda City projects, with a second in eastern Anhui province’s Hefei city due to open in September. Wang said on Saturday that by 2020, there will be 15 Wanda Cities in China -- in locations including Shandong province’s Qingdao, Guangdong province’s Guangzhou and Jiangsu province’s Wuxi -- and three overseas.

A security guard opens the entrance doors for the grand opening of the Wanda Mall at the Wanda Cultural Tourism City on Saturday.
A security guard opens the entrance doors for the grand opening of the Wanda Mall at the Wanda Cultural Tourism City on Saturday.
Photographer: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

The company plans to invest more than 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in a retail and leisure development project in France that’s aimed at taking on Disneyland Paris.

To see a slide show of 10 of China’s wildest theme parks, click here.

Tickets for the outdoor theme park at Wanda’s Jiangxi project are priced at 198 yuan on most days and 248 yuan on holidays and weekends. That’s about half the price of Shanghai Disneyland, which charges adults 370 yuan each for regular tickets and 499 yuan during peak days.

Most of the visitors to the Jiangxi park said that they enjoyed having the attraction close to where they lived. Nanchang city is a seven-hour drive from Shanghai.

"I’ve never been to Disney, but I don’t think I’ll like it more. It’s too cartoony for me,” said 20-year-old Zhu Jiaxin, from Nanchang. "I’ll just choose whichever is closer."

Another Nanchang local, Lao Fang, who was carrying his two-year-old son, said that tickets for the park’s aquarium were a little expensive but it was the only aquarium nearby. "I’m bringing my son to see those fishes,” said the 32-year-old civil servant. "We don’t have anything else similar to choose from."

While the crowds thronged outside the indoor ocean park, which Wanda says is the world’s largest, visitors to some of the other facilities were sparse. Only half of the seats were occupied on one of the roller coasters, which restarted every 10 minutes. Performers dressed as Snow White and Captain America posed with tourists, while vending machines brimmed with stuffed animals that looked like Kung Fu Panda.

— With assistance by Rachel Chang, and Emma Dong

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