Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thrills and shrieks gone east

Awakened and welcomed by the activity and chatter in the air, I couldn't help but wonder if this was really a typical weekday in Singapore. A sense of excitement and anticipation came over me even before I approached its gates – the only barrier that stood between me and the “other world”. I felt like I time-travelled.  My whimsical experience began the moment I passed over from a hectic sunny island into a veritable giant capsule loaded with ton of thrills and shrills – Universal Studio Singapore (USS). Breath-taking – and that is not an overstatement - is how I would describe my first encounter with the theme park

With the accompaniment of thrill-seeking comrades, we went straight on the world’s tallest dueling coaster. This was certainly not another day at the office. Even in the midst of all the adrenaline, I couldn’t help but be captivated by these masterworks that covered my path - done with such intricacy and soul, every character is played out to life. No small feat indeed considering that this magical world evolved from European fairs and pleasure gardens during the beginning of industrial revolution.

With heightened fanfare that included the dazzling array of stars that descended, the precision of its grand-opening time (8.28 a.m.) and the highly publicized lineup of attractions – USS opened in 2008 and became the only one of its kind in Southeast Asia. Posting a stellar performance of 3.4 million visitors in its first full year of operations with further room to grow, USS is not an isolated example of the industry’s future in this region - a recent report had noted that the area of themed attraction, gaming, entertainment and retail in Singapore and South East Asia is a booming market.

According to AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association's 2011 Theme Index - Global Attractions Attendance Report, Asia hit an attendance milestone of 105.1 million. At that sheer figure (to North America’s 127 million), Asia’s share of the pie was reported as about a third of the global theme park attendance. It also mentioned that by adding 5-10 more theme parks, Asia will probably catch up to North America and then surpass it. And the nation that is poised to help boost those numbers is none other than China.

China, the world’s second largest economy has seen a huge rise in affluence and disposable incomes, coming from an economy that grew at an annual pace of 8.1% in the first quarter of 2012. The outlook is bright and the country looks set in the theme park race - holding the current record of having 9 out of the top 20 theme parks in Asia with several more to be added in the next few years – the most prominent icon being Shanghai Disney. The numbers gap will definitely narrow when Shanghai Disney finally opens in 2015, but not without first spilling its economic effects on the region. There is no doubt where the focus and capital will be heading to in the next decade or so. Ranking at number 8 on the world with an annual growth of 12.6% in 2011, the country’s largest park operator, OCT Group is expanding its operations with an addition of a tenth park to its brood of assets. Surely, now is the time to hop onto the Chinese entertainment bandwagon, which will probably resemble more a roller-coaster ride - up.

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