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China Leisure’s Linda Dong on bringing a Nickelodeon FEC to Asia

A brand new Nickelodeon family entertainment centre is about to open its doors in Shenzhen, China. Planet Attractions spoke to China Leisure president, Linda Dong, about the upcoming project, the country’s FEC market and the importance of major IPs to developments in China




SpongeBob SquarePants is one of four Nickelodeon IPs to feature in the immersive kids attraction   Credit: JRA

Viacom and the Hong Kong-based China Leisure have teamed up to develop a Nickelodeon-themed Family Entertainment Center (FEC) in the city of Shenzhen, China.

Called Nickelodeon Playtime, attraction design company JRA has master-planned the development, which will immerse children in the worlds of a number of popular Nickelodeon IPs.

China Leisure specialises in developing and managing world-class leisure experiences and projects in China including family entertainment centres, theme parks, waterparks and resorts. Its president, Linda Dong, spoke to Planet Attractions Editor-in-Chief, Tom Anstey, ahead of the new experience’s launch at the Shenzhen OCT Happy Harbor retail and entertainment complex.

Can you tell me about the project?

“The Nickelodeon IPs have a very strong brand presence and recognition here in China.

There is a lack of IP-focused attractions in the country for such a large population, so we thought it would be a great market to enter.

We started with Nickelodeon earlier this year on the FEC project, working with them to create a first of its kind attraction in Asia.

We selected Shenzhen as our location because it's a very young and vibrant city, with a lot of kids, who are the target audience.

The attraction itself will be a 1,500sq m (16,145sq ft) FEC with four key Nickelodeon IPs - SpongeBob SquarePants, Paw Patrol, Dora the Explorer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

What will the experience be like for kids?

“It's primarily an active play experience featuring multimedia interactives and role-play activities.

What we’ve centred this experience around is recreating the worlds of the characters and then we invite the kids to come into those worlds and do what their favourite characters do best.

For Dora, it’s about exploring. For the turtles, it's about training to be a ninja in the streets and alleyways of New York City - scaling buildings, sliding down construction shoots and running rooftop obstacle courses. With the SpongeBob, there are a lot of multimedia and roleplaying interactives to bring you into the world and see what it’s like doing the things he does for a day. For Paw Patrol, you’re in Adventure Bay going on rescue missions, training missions and pretty much having fun the whole time.

This experience is all focused on open-ended play, where children can use their imaginations to immerse themselves in the world and go on adventures alongside their favourite characters.”


A Paw Patrol section allows children to interact with characters from the popular show - Credit: JRA

Can the parents get involved?

“A lot of the training missions encourage parents to help their children complete tasks.

We have interactive games such as Rocky’s Recycling. Right now China is pushing for a social initiative with mandatory trash sorting. We created a game where the player can drag and drop items into the four different types of trash. That kind of game for a four or five-year-old is a great adult-child bonding experience.

Our ball blaster and some of our interactives are designed for parents and children to enjoy together.

In our SpongeBob zone, both adults and kids can go and catch virtual jellyfish in Jellyfish Field. We also have the Fry Cook Academy, where kids play the fry cooks, but the parents can order on the order pad like in a fast-food restaurant. Under the guidance of our operators, kids in the kitchens fulfil that order and bring them out to the parents.”

How do the brands feature across the attraction?

Our play zones are occupied by the four main IPs but our Nick Café is generally themed and features a meet and greet stage and our retail element. The Nick general areas mix the four IPs.

What's the location like?

“It sits inside a 1,000,000sq m (0.38sq mi) shopping complex, which features a large outdoor retail and entertainment section.

It has its own man-made beach and fireworks on the weekend. The inside shopping complex covers 400,000sq m (0.15sq mi).

We’re located in the outside plaza, right at the entrance, which is primarily retail and dining.”

Are there any attractions nearby?

“This complex is a project by OCT, who develop a lot of theme parks. One of their parks is just up the road from us. They also have their own aquarium and there are a couple of kindergartens and education tenants.

Overall, the project is very family-friendly - 80% of our demographic is made up of families with children.”

What kind of investment has been made?

“Total investment represents a spend of RMB30m (US$4.6m, €3.8m, £3.4m).”

Has the development been affected by the pandemic?

"There have been a few delays with everyone working from home. In China, everything is pretty much back to normal and under control. Our construction wasn't affected but we've had to find more creative ways in working long-distance with the US-based Nickelodeon team given global travel restrictions."

How has working with Nickelodeon been?

“It’s been great. We’ve been working with Nickelodeon for quite a long time now, including a theme park project we were also working with them before this.

As a smaller project, this one was much quicker to open. They have a very strong group of professionals, who make sure all of the details are accounted for and everything looks on-brand. They’ve given us a lot of support on the theming and creative side to get this as close to the brand experience as possible.”


The Dora the Explorer Zone encourages climbing and exploration - Credit: JRA

You’ve also been working with JRA. How has that process been?

“If you have a beautifully outfitted FEC with a lot of theming but not much play, it’s ultimately not going to be as successful as something that combines the two.

JRA came up with a lot of very creative ideas for us, helping to create a thematic storyline while focusing on the play element. They helped us find that balance and create something that suits everyone’s needs - both from the operator and the IP side of things.

They’ve done a superb job and have been very attentive. Their strength is in kids attractions.”

How popular are FECs in China at the moment?

“It’s a huge market right now. With the emergence of e-commerce, pretty much everybody does their shopping online these days. As a result, traditional retail has suffered and a lot of the offline retailers are looking for experiences to really pull in the crowd.

With the 80s and 90s generation of millennials being parents, there’s a lot more focus on child upbringing, new experiences and there is pretty high consumption spending on kids.

We see that trend, as well as overall economic development being very favourable for FECs, which are also a faster return on investment than theme parks or traditional bigger parks.

As a business model, FECs are very easy to scale up and multiply. That’s what we have seen and that’s why we are building towards expanding our FEC business.”

What are your plans in terms of FEC development?

“We’re looking to replicate our FECs and we’re working with several IP partners to do that. We have projects in the pipeline already. Our next project will be a Hasbro-branded FEC located in Beijing."

What kind of trends are you seeing in the FEC sector?

“In China, we’re seeing FECs that are finished to a level that is very much industry leading right now.

“We have our third generation of entertainment centres that are very well designed and very Instagrammable. They’re upward of 3,000sq m (32,000sq ft) in size and they’re expanding very rapidly.

There’s a lot of development right now and existing players in the market are seeing these successes, so as a result are converting and renovating their older properties to bring them up to that standard, especially in first-tier cities.

In the coming years, we’ll see the second-tier cities start to catch up and start to also deploy more of these premium high-end branded FECs. The most successful ones are still the ones that are targeted towards 11 years and under. Full range FECs do not perform as well economically as those targeting that child audience.”

How do you see the Chinese market for attractions and FECs?

“Overall China is very happening as a market. It’s in its nascent stage and is just starting to take off.

We do see a lot of opportunities. From a China Leisure perspective, our company is really focused on premium IP-related products.

Looking at the success of Disney in China and then with the pent up energy waiting for Universal Beijing, I think the Chinese market really appreciates and recognises these big-name international IPs, so we’re just doing that on a smaller scale with the FEC product.

IP partnerships are very important and there’s a lot of value to creating premium true-to-the brand type of products here.”


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Opinion In depth Video LIVE
China Leisure’s Linda Dong on bringing a Nickelodeon FEC to Asia | Planet Attractions

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China Leisure’s Linda Dong on bringing a Nickelodeon FEC to Asia

A brand new Nickelodeon family entertainment centre is about to open its doors in Shenzhen, China. Planet Attractions spoke to China Leisure president, Linda Dong, about the upcoming project, the country’s FEC market and the importance of major IPs to developments in China




SpongeBob SquarePants is one of four Nickelodeon IPs to feature in the immersive kids attraction   Credit: JRA

Viacom and the Hong Kong-based China Leisure have teamed up to develop a Nickelodeon-themed Family Entertainment Center (FEC) in the city of Shenzhen, China.

Called Nickelodeon Playtime, attraction design company JRA has master-planned the development, which will immerse children in the worlds of a number of popular Nickelodeon IPs.

China Leisure specialises in developing and managing world-class leisure experiences and projects in China including family entertainment centres, theme parks, waterparks and resorts. Its president, Linda Dong, spoke to Planet Attractions Editor-in-Chief, Tom Anstey, ahead of the new experience’s launch at the Shenzhen OCT Happy Harbor retail and entertainment complex.

Can you tell me about the project?

“The Nickelodeon IPs have a very strong brand presence and recognition here in China.

There is a lack of IP-focused attractions in the country for such a large population, so we thought it would be a great market to enter.

We started with Nickelodeon earlier this year on the FEC project, working with them to create a first of its kind attraction in Asia.

We selected Shenzhen as our location because it's a very young and vibrant city, with a lot of kids, who are the target audience.

The attraction itself will be a 1,500sq m (16,145sq ft) FEC with four key Nickelodeon IPs - SpongeBob SquarePants, Paw Patrol, Dora the Explorer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

What will the experience be like for kids?

“It's primarily an active play experience featuring multimedia interactives and role-play activities.

What we’ve centred this experience around is recreating the worlds of the characters and then we invite the kids to come into those worlds and do what their favourite characters do best.

For Dora, it’s about exploring. For the turtles, it's about training to be a ninja in the streets and alleyways of New York City - scaling buildings, sliding down construction shoots and running rooftop obstacle courses. With the SpongeBob, there are a lot of multimedia and roleplaying interactives to bring you into the world and see what it’s like doing the things he does for a day. For Paw Patrol, you’re in Adventure Bay going on rescue missions, training missions and pretty much having fun the whole time.

This experience is all focused on open-ended play, where children can use their imaginations to immerse themselves in the world and go on adventures alongside their favourite characters.”


A Paw Patrol section allows children to interact with characters from the popular show - Credit: JRA

Can the parents get involved?

“A lot of the training missions encourage parents to help their children complete tasks.

We have interactive games such as Rocky’s Recycling. Right now China is pushing for a social initiative with mandatory trash sorting. We created a game where the player can drag and drop items into the four different types of trash. That kind of game for a four or five-year-old is a great adult-child bonding experience.

Our ball blaster and some of our interactives are designed for parents and children to enjoy together.

In our SpongeBob zone, both adults and kids can go and catch virtual jellyfish in Jellyfish Field. We also have the Fry Cook Academy, where kids play the fry cooks, but the parents can order on the order pad like in a fast-food restaurant. Under the guidance of our operators, kids in the kitchens fulfil that order and bring them out to the parents.”

How do the brands feature across the attraction?

Our play zones are occupied by the four main IPs but our Nick Café is generally themed and features a meet and greet stage and our retail element. The Nick general areas mix the four IPs.

What's the location like?

“It sits inside a 1,000,000sq m (0.38sq mi) shopping complex, which features a large outdoor retail and entertainment section.

It has its own man-made beach and fireworks on the weekend. The inside shopping complex covers 400,000sq m (0.15sq mi).

We’re located in the outside plaza, right at the entrance, which is primarily retail and dining.”

Are there any attractions nearby?

“This complex is a project by OCT, who develop a lot of theme parks. One of their parks is just up the road from us. They also have their own aquarium and there are a couple of kindergartens and education tenants.

Overall, the project is very family-friendly - 80% of our demographic is made up of families with children.”

What kind of investment has been made?

“Total investment represents a spend of RMB30m (US$4.6m, €3.8m, £3.4m).”

Has the development been affected by the pandemic?

"There have been a few delays with everyone working from home. In China, everything is pretty much back to normal and under control. Our construction wasn't affected but we've had to find more creative ways in working long-distance with the US-based Nickelodeon team given global travel restrictions."

How has working with Nickelodeon been?

“It’s been great. We’ve been working with Nickelodeon for quite a long time now, including a theme park project we were also working with them before this.

As a smaller project, this one was much quicker to open. They have a very strong group of professionals, who make sure all of the details are accounted for and everything looks on-brand. They’ve given us a lot of support on the theming and creative side to get this as close to the brand experience as possible.”


The Dora the Explorer Zone encourages climbing and exploration - Credit: JRA

You’ve also been working with JRA. How has that process been?

“If you have a beautifully outfitted FEC with a lot of theming but not much play, it’s ultimately not going to be as successful as something that combines the two.

JRA came up with a lot of very creative ideas for us, helping to create a thematic storyline while focusing on the play element. They helped us find that balance and create something that suits everyone’s needs - both from the operator and the IP side of things.

They’ve done a superb job and have been very attentive. Their strength is in kids attractions.”

How popular are FECs in China at the moment?

“It’s a huge market right now. With the emergence of e-commerce, pretty much everybody does their shopping online these days. As a result, traditional retail has suffered and a lot of the offline retailers are looking for experiences to really pull in the crowd.

With the 80s and 90s generation of millennials being parents, there’s a lot more focus on child upbringing, new experiences and there is pretty high consumption spending on kids.

We see that trend, as well as overall economic development being very favourable for FECs, which are also a faster return on investment than theme parks or traditional bigger parks.

As a business model, FECs are very easy to scale up and multiply. That’s what we have seen and that’s why we are building towards expanding our FEC business.”

What are your plans in terms of FEC development?

“We’re looking to replicate our FECs and we’re working with several IP partners to do that. We have projects in the pipeline already. Our next project will be a Hasbro-branded FEC located in Beijing."

What kind of trends are you seeing in the FEC sector?

“In China, we’re seeing FECs that are finished to a level that is very much industry leading right now.

“We have our third generation of entertainment centres that are very well designed and very Instagrammable. They’re upward of 3,000sq m (32,000sq ft) in size and they’re expanding very rapidly.

There’s a lot of development right now and existing players in the market are seeing these successes, so as a result are converting and renovating their older properties to bring them up to that standard, especially in first-tier cities.

In the coming years, we’ll see the second-tier cities start to catch up and start to also deploy more of these premium high-end branded FECs. The most successful ones are still the ones that are targeted towards 11 years and under. Full range FECs do not perform as well economically as those targeting that child audience.”

How do you see the Chinese market for attractions and FECs?

“Overall China is very happening as a market. It’s in its nascent stage and is just starting to take off.

We do see a lot of opportunities. From a China Leisure perspective, our company is really focused on premium IP-related products.

Looking at the success of Disney in China and then with the pent up energy waiting for Universal Beijing, I think the Chinese market really appreciates and recognises these big-name international IPs, so we’re just doing that on a smaller scale with the FEC product.

IP partnerships are very important and there’s a lot of value to creating premium true-to-the brand type of products here.”


 



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