Wolves Versus Tiger: Wanda to Open China Park to Duel Disney

1469489893_wanda wang jianlin

Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin.

Photographer: VCG/VCG via Getty Images
  • Wang set to open second Wanda City theme-park complex in China
  • Project debut to escalate Wanda’s rivalry with Disney

Billionaire Wang Jianlin is preparing to open his second Wanda City as he escalates his efforts to fend off Walt Disney Co. in China.

Hefei Wanda City, about 500 kilometers (311 miles) west of the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort, will open to the public on Saturday. Besides theme park facilities, the 35 billion yuan ($5.2 billion) development will include hotels, a movie theater, a shopping mall and residential apartments across 160 hectares (1.6 square kilometers), according to Wanda.

Wang is seeking to spearhead the nation’s burgeoning leisure industry by developing 15 Wanda City projects across the country by the end of the decade. Including others, a total of 59 new theme parks will open in China by 2020, serving an estimated 220 million park-goers and rivaling the U.S. in terms of scale, according to estimates from industry consultancy Aecom.

Wang opened his first Wanda City three months ago in the southeastern city of Nanchang, attracting more than 2 million tourists on its opening month and the company is estimating it will bring in 10 million visitors a year. The Nanchang debut came days before the creator of Mickey Mouse opened its first park in mainland China, which Wang has referred to as being a “tiger" that has no chance of beating his "pack of wolves.”

As to the Shanghai Disneyland, it took more than a month for the Magic Kingdom to attract its millionth visitor. And while Disney won’t disclose visitor forecasts, analysts have estimated that the Shanghai park would attract 15 to 30 million people annually. In response to queries, Disney spokesperson Alannah Hall-Smith referred to comments this week by CEO Bob Iger that Shanghai Disney "has been well received by the Chinese consumer".

Wang is planning more Wanda City projects in cities such as Harbin, Guangzhou and Wuxi. Wanda said Friday Chongqing Wanda City, which will cost about 55 billion yuan to build, has started construction and will probably attract 20 million visitors annually after it’s completed by 2020. He also aims to open five of the projects overseas by the end of the decade.

Behind the wave of theme parks is China’s growing middle class, which is fueling demand for leisure activities. There are about 300 parks in operation already in China with scores more on the way, according to Macquarie Group Ltd. estimates in January. The government predicts the nation’s $610 billion tourism industry will double over five years.

As to Wang, ranked as Asia’s second-richest man on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, his rivalry spans beyond theme parks and China’s borders as the tycoon has set a target for Wanda Group to overtake Disney as the world’s largest tourism company by 2020. As part of that effort, Wanda earlier this year bought Hollywood producer Legendary Entertainment LLC and one of its units has offered to buy Carmike Cinemas Inc. to create the biggest movie-theater chain in the U.S.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE