The Mega Chinese Theme Parks

In the last decade, China has gone from being an attractions backwater to the world’s most significant theme park and attractions market.  But perhaps more than in any other market in the world, China’s theme park industry is extremely bifurcated, with what we can call top-tier, world-class theme parks on one end, and government-supported zombie operations on the other.  It’s unlike any other market in the world.

In this post, we review the visitor characteristics at the two largest theme parks in China: Shanghai Disney Resort, and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom.

Shanghai Disney represents Disney’s largest investment to date in a single resort (nearly $4 billion), and its newest development.  The privately-owned Chimelong is China’s premier homegrown attractions brand, with two resort operations in Guangdong.  Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, the company’s second venture, was long-rumored to be the nation’s highest-performing theme park, but it was impossible to validate this claim.

Until now.

For the past few months, we’ve been working with a big data mining and research company in China to obtain visitor characteristics at attractions in the country.  When we set out on the engagement, we had muted expectations about what kind of data would be available.

What we discovered blew our minds.

With the help of mobile phone location services data, GPS, and wifi tracking, we were able to track the movement of 95% of all cell phone and mobile devices around the country, precise down to the exact building, and the exact hour during which the building was visited.

With statistical extrapolation from the range of installed apps and self-reported settings on the mobile device, we were also able to obtain demographic and socioeconomic data, including information on gender, income levels, occupation, and automobile ownership, just to name a few.

It’s not only the level of detail that were surprising.  What the data actually revealed, was more surprising that we would have expected.

Without any further ado, here are a summary of the results for Shanghai Disney Resort and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom.

  • Initially, the most surprising result was that attendance figures are not very surprising, at least compared to their stated targets and as estimated by third party sources.  According to our data, Shanghai Disney hosts 10+ million annual visitors, while Chimelong Ocean Kingdom hosts more than 8 million.
  • In both parks, the majority of parkgoers (although by a slim margin) are female.  This echoes trends in other mega parks in the region; Tokyo Disney’s visitorship has been over 70% female for decades now.  While Shanghai Disney and Chimelong are not yet at those levels, it seems probable they could veer in that direction.
  • Visitor origins to the park are well-distributed.  Neighboring regions account for less than 50% of visitors, meaning that nearly half of visitors are likely overnight tourists.  This phenomenon can be interpreted in various ways; perhaps the lack of world-class theme parks in China means that there is an overwhelming flow of overnight visitors over residents to these attractions.  This is contrary to the long-held understanding that theme parks in metropolitan areas derive a significant majority of their visitors from the local resident market.
  • Perhaps most unexpectedly, the highest seasonality is not necessarily during the Golden Week holidays.  Shanghai Disney records no less than four major peaks during the year, while Chimelong Ocean Kingdom has a single large spike.  These data undercut the typical understanding that the Golden Week holidays are the busiest for parks in China.
  • Peaking is also surprising.  At regional and local theme parks in China, we often see design day ratios during Golden Week approaching nearly 2% (as expressed in average daily peak attendance to annual attendance).  However, at both Shanghai Disney and Chimelong, the design day ratios are well under the standard 0.7-0.8% used in planning most parks, and are instead remarkably well-distributed throughout the year.  We interpret this as a sign that both parks are quite operationally efficient, and able to distribute attendance via price elasticity of tickets and other marketing schemes.

We hope this dispels some misconceptions about Chinese parks, and adds some clarity to the understanding we have about the state of theme parks in the Middle Kingdom.

What’s more eye-opening is that this kind of analysis is possible in the first place.  The power of location-based services and mobile phone tracking has always been known, but seldom in any other market have they been deployed in such a manner.

With this wealth of data, China has suddenly gone from being the world’s most opaque market, to the world’s most transparent.  Business planning for any location-based project in China, whether typical real estate developments or leisure parks, has been made vastly more precise, with less need for extrapolation and estimation.

The ultimate impact this will have on future competition is up to anyone’s imagination.  With such precise data available for any neighboring competitor or comparable, will this lead to real estate developers intensifying the competition or will it lead to a sort of renaissance, with new projects able to effectively identify and target underserved segments of the market?

We hope you’ve enjoyed this extended free preview.  For exact figures, please consult the reviews available on our store:

Disney Shanghai Attendance Profile & Demographics

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom Attendance Profile & Demographics