Chinese authorities announced this week that a major $8 billion (RMB51 billion) Paramount theme park resort and arts complex will be built on the shores of Dianchi Lake in southwestern Yunnan province’s capital city Kunming.
The Paramount resort itself will span an area of 643 acres out of the broader Paramount-branded development project’s total 1,899 acres. That will make it Hollywood’s third largest theme resort in China, following Shanghai Disneyland, which clocks in at 963 acres, and the 990-acre Universal Beijing Resort.
The full Kunming complex will be more than five times larger and ten times more expensive than an initial vision of the park put forth last year in an official environmental assessment report. That document described the development as a $782 million (RMB5 billion) project spanning around 120 acres.
The size ballooned because the Paramount park is now a part of a larger mixed-used development project that will feature 383 additional acres of institutions seeking to bolster cultural ties between China and Southeast Asia, according to a newly released governmental five-year plan published on the official website of the Kunming Dianchi National Tourism Management Committee.
Those entities will include a branch of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, a Southeast Asian Art Research Center, and a cluster of eleven international art museums presenting works from the ten ASEAN countries and China itself, in addition to residential buildings and other public facilities.
The government intends for the development to become a “first-class and internationally renowned tourism and vacation destination” and a “model zone for the transformation and upgrading of tourism industry,” according to the plan.
It is listed as backed by three Chinese enterprises, without mention of foreign partners. They are Xindu Company, Kunming-based construction materials firm Guanjiang Group, and China’s State Development & Investment Corporation (SDIC), the country’s largest state-owned investment holding company.
Construction is expected to span a period of about 42 months, aiming for a June 2024 completion.
Less Risky Approach?
Unlike Disney and Universal, Paramount came into the theme park business in the early 1990s by buying an existing chain of five theme parks from King’s Entertainment, which it then rebranded as its own. Those were then sold off in 2006.
Paramount’s interest in theme parks has since been rekindled. The Kunming resort is the studio’s third currently in the works, following a project in Incheon, South Korea reportedly hoping to open next year and a 2023 London park.
Paramount’s strategy today continues to differ significantly from that of Disney and Universal, which are much more involved in the development of their new parks to ensure they have a consistent look and feel.
Paramount, by contrast, is more oriented towards what John Gerner, MD of theme park consultancy Leisure Business Advisors, says they deem a “less risky approach.” The studio tends not to put too much of its own money into a project, instead licensing the Paramount name and IPs to a local partner footing most if not all of the bill.
“Paramount’s not necessarily looking at China, and it’s unlikely that if Paramount could pick any location in China to build this park that it would have picked this location,” Gerner said, drawing on three decades of experience working with Chinese parks. “I think what Paramount really wants is just to get one of their branded theme parks all the way to opening day and beyond, and show that one can be developed using this business model where it’s mainly a licensing situation,” creating a flagship project that could be used as a showcase to build more going forward.
The momentum in Kunming comes from the local government’s drive to raise the city’s profile.
“Local governments use the idea of a branded theme park as a way of galvanizing and branding these [mixed-use] projects, adding a name to give it more glamor and credibility to raise the finance,” he assessed.
The new park itself will consist of six themed areas. Paramount Boulevard will feature theme hotels, retail and dining options and a water-themed show, according to the Yunnan Daily newspaper. Adventure City and Wonderland will boast thrill rides, including ones branded with the “Mission Impossible” and “Italian Job” IPs. There will be a “Peanuts” area featuring entertainment options related to Charles Schultz’s iconic cartoon, a dinosaur region with thrill rides and design features inspired by James Gurney’s “Dinotopia,” and a Final Frontier “Star Trek”-themed section.
Location-wise, Paramount could certainly do worse than sunny Kunming. The high-altitude capital has long been a year-round destination for local tourism thanks to its continuous mild weather, ethnic and biodiversity, and growing importance as a transportation hub connecting China to Southeast Asia, bordered as the province is by Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
The announcement, however, of a multi-billion dollar Hollywood park complex feels rather anachronistic amidst the current low point in U.S.-China relations and resultant changes in local views on foreign companies and culture, Gerner notes.
“China under its current leadership has really decisively moved inward to emphasize its own ability to develop all kinds of projects — and have obviously made an exception for Disney and Universal because of the glamor of those brands and what those companies represent. But the trend has been for China to promote itself,” he said. “If the government is going to put a substantial amount of its own money into this, you’d at some point expect them to decide that it’s really better to promote its own Chinese brands and IPs.”