Developer Dalian Wanda dropped a big one on China’s southwestern region at the end of last month with the grand opening of its $2.5 billion Xishuangbanna International Resort. The entertainment complex is the second head-turning opening from the Dalian Wanda Group in the past year and another in a line of massive developments, such as Shanghai’s forthcoming Disneyland, banking on an increase in Chinese spending on theme park-centered tourism in the coming years.
This giant entertainment complex follows a general trend in China as property developers and landlords battle to capture a market increasingly seeking cultural immersion and consumption options that are centered around consumer experience as mobile and e-commerce plays an increasingly large role in people’s spending habits. Mall developers are attempting to fight back by drawing people into brick-and-mortar retail with events like fashion shows and art exhibitions. On a larger scale, a luxury outlet mall chain is gearing up to pair up with Shanghai Disneyland, and likewise, Dalian Wanda Group’s newest resort is equipped to accommodate 200 retail brands among all of its thrills.
But the Xishuangbanna resort is foremost a showcase for Dalian Wanda Group head Wang Jianlin’s tourism-focused goals, a direction that most likely results from a change in strategy for investment in the midst of faltering sales in the retail property market. The company announced plans last summer to close 40 department stores across China and a total of 120 venues, and has embarked on other projects outside of real estate instead, including developing an e-commerce site, purchasing a triathlon company, and taking on a hefty tourism project.
The 5.3 square kilometer land and water park is the first of its kind in southwest China, and is the third tourism site in Wanda’s bid to eventually outdo Disney’s theme parks in worldwide visitor numbers. Wang said during a press conference that Wanda is targeting revenues of $15.7 billion and 200 million tourists in five years.
“These facilities are poised to revolutionize tourism in Yunnan as a whole and elevate the standard of tourism in Xishuangbanna and the region to unprecedented heights,” Wang said in a statement. “The landmark project heralds the transition and transformation of Yunnan tourism, and will absolutely become the new gold standard, a new representative, and a new calling card for tourism in the region.”
Xishuangbanna, which is part of Yunnan Province, already brings in huge flocks of tourists from both China and abroad, and was listed in The New York Times as one of the top 52 places in the world to visit in 2014.
This particular complex already surpasses its predecessors on the continent in numerous ways—it features the highest and fastest roller coaster in Asia, with a height of 45 meters and reaching speeds of 100mph; it has the largest artificial wave pool in Asia, with a fake beach that competes with the faux Mediterranean oasis in Chengdu’s headline-making New Century Global Center. Additionally, the complex makes use of the natural environment with one roller coaster running through a butterfly park and another weaving through a transplanted rainforest—the only ride of its kind on the continent. Stufish, the same UK-based entertainment architecture company that was involved with the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony production and design and Dalian Wanda Group’s huge theater and theme park complex in Wuhan, headed the theme park’s Dai Show Theater, which features water acrobatic shows produced by Franco Dragone, best known for Cirque de Soleil.
With three five-star hotels onsite and apartment complexes, the new development will be able to accommodate up to 5 million people each year. Dalian Wanda Group also signed an agreement with Yunnan officials stating they plan to build 19 Wanda Plazas, China’s largest commercial centers, in the region, an investment that opens access to middle-class consumers in lower-tier Chinese cities that offer huge market potential.