The highly touted Wuhan Wanda Movie Park, owned by China’s largest real estate company, the Dalian Wanda Group, has closed for “upgrades and renovation” just 19 months after the grand opening of the RMB 7 billion ($1.05 billion) attraction. The entertainment facility in central China’s Hubei province had been touted as the first in a series of theme parks that the company has predicted will dominate Disney in the mainland market.
The unexpected move by Wanda Group owner Wang Jianlin, China’s second-richest man, came on July 31. The company did not reveal why it was necessary to completely renovate the park so soon after opening, and no re-open date has been set. But media reports indicate the park lagged in attendance.
Park Said to Close for Service Upgrade
A statement quoted in the Los Angeles Times but not published on the official Wanda Group site stated that the closing came from a need for better service. “To better serve customers, raise the quality and content of our all our services and give our customers a completely new experience, Wuhan Wanda Movie Park is undertaking a complete renovation and will suspend business as of July 31 for interior construction.”
The closing of the cinema-centred attraction is a black eye for a company that has spent nearly $16 billion to expanding its entertainment properties over the last few years. Movies and theme parks have been a major focus for Wanda, as the company once famous for its portfolio of malls, has spent billions buying movie production houses, theatre chains and sports marketing companies during 2016.
A report from the company earlier this year set a target of tripling Wanda’s revenue from its entertainment business to RMB 150 billion ($22.5 billion) by 2020, and doubling the portion of its revenue that comes from overseas to 30 percent over the same time frame.
The major attraction at Wuhan Wanda Movie Park was the Han Show Theatre, a 2000-seat facility built to display a combined aerial, aquatic and stage show, linked with a 200 square metre, 800 tonne LED screen.
The one 0f a kind theatre in the Chinese second-tier city had been seen as a way to leverage the growing entertainment resources of Wanda, which is now the world’s biggest cinema owner, which acquired US-based AMC Entertainment Holdings in 2012 and earlier this year purchased both Australia’s Hoyts Group for $743 million. Just last month, Wanda dove even further into the film world by agreeing to acquire Europe’s largest theater chain Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group for $1.2 billion.
Wuhan Park Struggled to Attract Visitors
In his mission to become a major entertainment player, Wang Jianlin has been outspoken about the future dominance of his chain of theme parks. When Wanda opened its latest park in China’s Jiangxi province just weeks before the debut of the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney resort, Wang predicted to CCTV that, “The frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them have passed.”
When the Wuhan park opened in December, 2014, expectations were also high. Wanda predicted 3 million visitors per year, but the Chutian Metropolis Daily newspaper has reported that recent crowds were only in the low hundreds per day, far below the anticipated 8,000-10,000 visitors projected.
The entertainment flop has been partly blamed on high ticket prices (up to$65 on weekends) and a lack of rides (only six were reportedly operating at the park’s closing), and long waits for the few visitors who did attend.
The bad news in Wuhan came the same day that news spread of Baidu and Tencent pulling out of a $3 billion ecommerce joint venture with Wanda. The ffan.com online shopping initiative had been launched in 2014 with the hope of competing with Alibaba in China’s fast-growing ecommerce market, but has struggled to get traction with users. Along with movies and theme parks, Wanda has hailed ecommerce as a major source of potential growth for the company.