Leading Chinese film studio Huayi Brothers has outlined a RMB30 billion pact ($4.65 billion) with Ping An Bank to jointly develop cultural businesses, including film, Internet activities and notably theme parks.
The move is an extension of Huayi’s recent drive to develop film-related tourism in the country where movies are booming and the growing middle classes are swelling the volume of disposable income available for leisure.
The deal also follows close on the heels of a $540 million new investment into Huayi by Ping An, CITIC, Alibaba and Tencent, announced on Tuesday.
The agreement with Ping An was announced at a ceremony attended by leading director Feng Xiaogang and top actor Zhang Guoli. Neither Ping An or Huayi explained how they would fund the expansion, though they said they aim to create 20 theme parks.
A Feng Xiaogang-themed Movie Town was opened on China’s southern Hainan Island. It was the first stage of a $300 million project in which Feng is partnered with Huayi and the Mission Hills Group, which develops golf and leisure facilities.
Earlier this month Huayi became involved with China’s UTour international Service and the Italian National Tourist Board to operate “Only You” package holidays, which take holidaymakers to the locations in Italy where much of “Only You,” its Chinese remake of 1994 Marisa Tomei-Robert Downey Jr romantic comedy, was shot.
Hit movies have had dramatic effect on outbound tourism from China. 2012 hit “Lost In Thailand” has made Thailand, and Chiang Mai in particular, a top destination for Chinese tour groups. Earlier Feng’s “If You Are The One,” which was partially filmed in Japan, opened the eyes of thousands of Chinese tourists to the natural beauty of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island.
Fosun, a giant Chinese conglomerate which has movie industry investments that include Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8 and China’s Bona Film Group, has seen similar connections between movies and mass market travel. In the last year it acquired the French travel company Club Mediterranee and a 5% stake in Britain’s Thomas Cook holiday firm.
China is understood to have seen over 100 million outbound tourists last year.
Theme parks in China represent local travel destinations, with appeal to domestic travellers as well as to family groups and movie fans.
Disney and DreamWorks are both expected to open major theme parks next year, while Universal has one in prospect near Beijing.
The Chinese government has on occasion in the past attempted to slow the pace of development of theme parks. But the brakes seem to be off for the moment as the economy slows and the authorities try to engineer a consumption-led economy, rather than one built on state investment.
Huayi said that it is also looking at sports businesses, and in opportunities in South Korea and Japan.