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A farmer's dream comes true, and then some

By Chang Jun | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-04-10 15:50

Riding the wave of China's reform and opening up, visionary entrepreneurs don't stop to rest on their laurels. Instead, they accelerate their pace to learn and surmount more obstacles, even in industries that have long been dominated by Westerners. Case in point: the recreational entertainment business.

Su Zhigang, chairman of China's major tourism and resort industry player the Chimelong Group, headquartered in Guangdong, seemed elated on April 7 when he spoke to the audience at a packed black-tie event at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

Su was representing his company to accept an outstanding achievement award from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), a global nonprofit founded in 1991 to serve the themed entertainment industry, which now has 1,300 members in four operational divisions - Eastern North America, Western North America, Europe and the Middle East and Asia Pacific.

"This is my first time to witness this exciting moment, even though TEA has already acknowledged our group twice," said Su, adding that Chimelong was the only Chinese company to win an award in the live-show genre this year.

"I'm so glad and feel proud," Su said.

David Willrich, TEA international board president, called Chimelong a "game-changer" in the worldwide industry as attraction development continues at a dramatic pace in Asia, and especially in China.

"Exchanges in the themed park and entertainment industries are across cultures and borders," he said.

"Memory brought me back to 30 years ago, when as a farmer, I spent a few bucks visiting a local themed park. It was an eye-opener, also a strong motivation for me to start from scratch to construct a recreational kingdom of my own," said Su.

Three decades after Su broke ground in 1989, he owns not only a conglomerate that operates theme parks, hotels, convention centers, restaurants and leisure businesses, he networks with international counterparts to learn how to create one of the top tourist attractions in the world.

Chimelong properties now include Paradise and Water Park in Guangzhou, which opened in 2006, and Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, open since 2014.

According to TEA, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom ranked 12th on the list of the top 25 most-attended theme parks worldwide in 2016, with the annual visitation of nearly 8.5 million, more than Hong Kong Disneyland's 6.1 million annual visitors.

"This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's opening up," said Su. "I'm fortunate enough to be one of the wave riders that seized the opportunity.

"In the entertainment and theme park arena, Chimelong will always be a student and keep learning," he added. "I'll never forget the early days when we toured about 14 theme parks and museums around the world to gather information and brainstorm."

As the presenting sponsor for the awards gala that night, Chimelong gained even more exposure through sponsorships, banners, booklets and naming rights.

"Our relationship with Chimelong Group has been growing for several years," said Jennie Nevin, chief operating officer of TEA, calling the Chinese company an old, good friend. "It has become a prominent force in the global theme park space."

Its award-winning project the Journey of Lights Parade at Zhuhai Ocean Kingdom, which relies on technological innovation and creative installations, has combined the "highest level of visual imagination and design, executed with theatrical flair and showmanship", according to the TEA awards committee.

In 2015, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom received an award for outstanding achievement in the theme park category, and in 2017, another outstanding achievement award for its 5D Castle attraction.

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