The Orlando of China

Source:Reuters-Global Times Published: 2017/9/18 16:23:39

Guangdong’s Hengqin Island to become a new tourist haven, help boost Macao expansion

An aerial view of Chimelong Ocean Kingdom theme park in Hengqin Photo: IC

Just a stone's throw across a narrow waterway from the world's largest gambling hub Macao, a former oyster farming island in Zhuhai city, South China's Guangdong Province, is being transformed into China's newest tourist haven.

Dubbed by some as China's answer to Florida's Orlando - a global tourist magnet with its cluster of major theme parks - Hengqin is beginning to draw millions annually and anchor mass attraction.

The Chimelong Ocean Kingdom theme park, with a slew of hotels, malls and sprawling residential areas, is just one of the many development projects flourishing on the island.

Also, although still a dusty mass of construction sites, Hengqin has nevertheless seen property prices more than double over the past two years.

Meanwhile, Spanish soccer club Real Madrid announced last week that they will be opening an interactive "virtual reality" complex in Hengqin in partnership with Hong Kong-listed developer Lai Sun Group.

The 12,000-square meter venue, set to open in 2021, will feature virtual reality entertainment and a museum showcasing the club's history.

Great bay ambitions

The transformation of Hengqin, which is three times as large as Macao, is part of China's efforts to bolster links between Hong Kong, Macao and nine other cities in the Pearl River Delta region, or the so-called "Greater Bay Area", modeled after other dynamic global bay areas such as those in Tokyo and San Francisco.

Hengqin is the largest among the 146 islands of Zhuhai.

Facing the South China Sea to the south, the island is 34 sea miles to Hong Kong and connected to Macao by a bridge, with the shortest distance to Macao being less than 200 meters.

"Hengqin will be the Orlando of China. Macao is the Las Vegas [and] Hong Kong is the New York," said Larry Leung, an executive at Lai Sun who is helping to build the Real Madrid complex at his company's "Novotown" project site in Hengqin. "Within an hour, you can experience them all."

The Novotown entertainment compound will also feature China's first Lionsgate movie world, with amusement rides themed around blockbusters such as The Hunger Games and Twilight as well as a National Geographic educational center.

High-end hotel chains are also building more hotels on Hengqin.

Expanding Macao

Chinese officials see Hengqin helping Macao diversify away from casinos to a more wholesome tourism industry. Currently, more than 80 percent of Macao's public revenues come from the gambling sector.

Businesses in Macao are being encouraged to invest in Hengqin, with the government providing cheaper rent and tax subsidies as incentives. Companies such as Galaxy Entertainment and Shun Tak have already earmarked developments for Hengqin.

Realtors expect property prices to continue rising once a sea bridge linking Hong Kong and a high-speed railway station is completed.

Hoffman Ma, deputy chairman of Success Universe Group, which operates the Ponte 16 casino in Macao, said Hengqin could take some convention and exhibition business away from Macao.

"It doesn't make sense for Macao to do that [invest] due to a consistent labor shortage," he said.

Wang Lian from Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province, brought his daughter to watch whales, sharks and polar bears at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom recently, China's top theme park.

Industry reports show that around 8.5 million people visited it last year, more than Hong Kong Disneyland's 6.1 million visitors in 2016 and almost one-third of the 28 million people who visited Macao that same year.

"China's population is so big [Macao and Hong Kong] need something like this nearby," Wang said.


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