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China's visitor attractions delivered a strong performance last year, a global attractions-attendance report says.

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Guangdong province's Zhuhai city became the country's most-visited theme park.

Its 11.7 million visits in 2019 show an 8.4 percent increase over the previous year, coming in at about 500,000 visits more than Shanghai Disneyland, according to the report by the Los Angeles-Based Themed Entertainment Association and the Economics Practice at AECOM, a Fortune 500 infrastructure firm.

"After clearing the half-billion attendance mark in 2018, the world's top theme parks, water parks and attractions continued to climb to 521.2 million in 2019 for a 4 percent annual growth rate as represented by the top 10 attraction groups," says Economics, AECOM senior officer John Robinett.

The visitor-attraction sector in the Asia-Pacific region showed a 1.6 percent attendance growth for 2019, the report says. Theme parks, water parks and park operators in China showed strong attendance upturns across the board.

"The most dramatic increases in Asia's theme park markets in 2019 were in China," says Chris Yoshii, vice-president of Economics, Asia-Pacific, AECOM.

China's growth in the leisure sector is a story of supply and demand. That is, a large population with growing incomes and desire for travel and leisure spread across a large landmass with constantly upgraded transportation infrastructure, the report says.

"These are ideal conditions for regional parks and attractions to develop, and for regional chains to expand," it explains.

Promotional programs that included special offers, school-group admissions and special celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of New China's founding, an important national holiday, all helped drive significant jumps in market share in 2019, according to the report.

With 9.4 percent attendance growth, OCT, already China's largest theme-park operator, rose in the ranks above Universal Parks and Resorts to become the world's third largest, Yoshii adds.

The State-owned OCT chain was one of many tourism and attraction operators in the country that developed promotions around the 70th anniversary celebration, resulting in attendance jumps.

OCT's group-attendance totals also increased with the addition of numerous small attractions, including unique farm attractions with lower admission fees that drew families with small children, the report says.

Chimelong turned the normally slow month of December into an attendance-booster with a special promotion at Ocean Kingdom, allowing free admission to any child under 1.5 meters in height.

The park continues to expand. In 2019, it opened its new 6,700-seat circus-show venue, Chimelong Theater. Its new Marine Science Park and hotel are near completion.

Fantawild Group also grew significantly in 2019. It opened four new parks in 2019 and achieved an attendance increase of nearly 20 percent, representing about 8 million additional visits. New Fantawild projects in development include Boonie Bears Town in Shenzhen's Linhai and Xuzhou Fantawild Park in Jiangsu province.

Overall, water-park attendance in Asia was relatively flat for 2019, with 0.5 percent growth, the report says.

Chimelong Water Park in Guangzhou maintained the No 1 position among the Top 20 Water Parks in the Asia-Pacific, with a 10 percent attendance increase in 2019, the report shows.

The park is part of the extensive Guangzhou Chimelong resort that includes a theme park, safari park and circus stadium. In 2018, Chimelong Water Park was the first to install the unique SlideWheel, which doubles as a water ride and centerpiece spectacle.

Aquaventure Atlantis in Sanya in China's Hainan province emerged on the scene in 2019. It's part of the high-end resort Atlantis Sanya. Located in a popular coastal area, the resort includes a 55-story hotel, water park and aquarium. The water park features extensive themed environments and landscaping, marquee water slides through aquarium tanks and river rides.

Its temperate location enables it to do well year-round and achieve the 1.2 million visits that put it in fifth place in the report.

In Wuhan, Playa Maya Water Park enjoyed a 12 percent attendance increase. The park is located near the theme-park cluster, Wuhan Happy Valley.

Playa Maya Water Park in Tianjin likewise showed a 4.2 percent attendance increase. Both water parks benefited from OCT Group's summertime promotions.

"As a whole, 2019 was a rather mild-mannered year in the industry, with stable results in the established European and American markets being supplemented by moderate growth in Asia," Robinett says.

"This could indicate that some pre-recessionary pressures were building under the surface before the tectonic COVID-19 shifted the foundation of the world's health and economies."

In 2020, the global visitor-attractions industry is facing significant new challenges, the report says.

This year is expected to show a record reduction in park attendance in Asia.

Looking beyond 2020, there's room for optimism and expectation that 2021 and the following years will bring significant recovery in attendance as parks experiment with business and operations models, the report says.

At least a dozen new parks opened in China last year. There are big-attraction projects in development or construction, including a major aquarium project by Chimelong.

"Chinese tourists have been staying closer to home, which is good for domestic markets but has meant lost revenue to other countries," says Beth Chang, executive director of Economics, Asia-Pacific, AECOM.

"Operators are working to salvage what they can of the summer season, with an emphasis on local markets. The development pipeline remains strong."

China Daily

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