China’s first indoor VR theme park has become a popular destination for tourists since it started operation on July 31 in the Hengqin New Area in the city of Zhuhai, south China’s Guangdong Province.
Covering 22,000 square meters, the Lionsgate Entertainment World theme park offers about 30 interactive and immersive attractions to visitors, including a VR rollercoaster that instantly transports riders to ancient Egypt, and a world-first augmented reality motorbike experience themed around the Hollywood blockbuster “Twilight.” It is touted as “the world’s first movie-themed multi-sensory interactive center”.
The opening of the new park has given a boost to Hengqin’s push to become a prime tourist attraction in south China, just months after China’s State Council approved a proposal to turn Hengqin New Area into an island of international tourism.
The tourism-centered approach for the island is part of the much larger Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area strategy and is aimed at the diversification of Macao’s current tourism offering, particularly by providing attractive alternatives to casinos and gaming.
Selena Magill, general manager of Lionsgate Entertainment World, is keenly aware of the opportunities brought on by the Hengqin New Area’s unique positioning, telling Xinhua that the park’s strategy is to increase the overall attractiveness of Hengqin to tap into the tourist market in Guangdong and the two adjacent SARs of Hong Kong and Macao.
Hengqin is already home to a major existing theme park, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, which was the 10th most visited theme park in the world in 2018, attracting 10.83 million visits. Rather than viewing Chimelong as a competitor, Magill feels the two parks are complementary.
“Chimelong is already doing a wonderful job of bringing in millions of people each year, and we want to become part of that. I think that Hengqin will become one of the most-visited tourist destinations in China,” Magill said.
Rick Zeng, director of sales and marketing at Lionsgate Entertainment World, said that the park is echoing the central government’s call to develop the Greater Bay Area. In response, the local government has offered preferential support, including tax incentives and subsidies to the park’s developers, Hong Kong’s Lai Sun Group.
“We have received a lot of government support to meet the high expectation of building Hengqin into a tourism destination. When we imported all of the equipment from overseas, we received strong support from local customs and local authorities to clear the necessary procedures,” Zeng said.
According to Zeng, the park will also act as a platform for technological talent. Zeng said, “Apart from drawing in local and foreign tourists, the park will also serve as a career platform for young adults, especially technical talent, and will absorb some of the employment from the manufacturing sector that is becoming increasingly automated.”
As part of the 5.45 billion-yuan (761.8 million U.S. dollars) first phase of Novotown, a major development focused on non-gaming tourism, Lionsgate Entertainment World is banking its future on increased tourism demand in the region and a thirst for new-age experiences from Chinese consumers.
To cater to the local market, all audio-visual content is presented in Mandarin Chinese, despite their Hollywood roots. The park also houses an entire level themed around Macao, as depicted in the film, “Now You See Me 2.”
However, much of the park’s appeal stems from the high-tech attractions on offer, making use of the latest in VR and augmented reality technologies to combat skepticism that some hold toward VR technology in its current state.
“We have been able to take VR technology to an all-new level. Some people have a preconceived idea of what VR is and that it might be a bit limited. We have worked with a number of different vendors to make sure that we are delivering the latest and greatest technology,” Magill said.
Future-proofing the technology was an essential aspect of the design of the park, according to park operators, who expressed that the advantage of using VR technology is that it can be upgraded over time and can be adapted to new content.
Since its opening in late July, the park has welcomed thousands of visitors each day, but with the “Golden Week” of the National Day holiday approaching, the park’s focus now is on fine-tuning various elements to meet the tastes of domestic travelers and take a slice of the 2 million-plus visitors that have visited Zhuhai each year during the holiday since 2016.
A total of 18 billion yuan is expected to be invested in the Novotown project which houses Lionsgate Entertainment World, with a total of five phases planned. Executives at Lai Sun expect the project to propel Hengqin to become the “Orlando of China.”