The Universal Beijing Resort finally had its grand opening Monday, the culmination of a 20-year wait and further pandemic-related delays.
The park has proved a big hit with Chinese consumers so far. Tickets for Monday’s opening were sold out in minutes, quickly followed by tickets for the week-long National Day holiday coming up on Oct. 1, with demand so strong that it crashed the site.
The opening gives the Chinese capital a U.S.-branded park of its own to compete with the Disneylands in Shanghai and Hong Kong. It is the fifth Universal theme park globally, the third park in Asia and first in China.
The multibillion-dollar resort has had a long journey from conception to approval to reality. It was first conceived two decades ago in 2001 and approved by Chinese authorities back in 2014. Construction began in the summer of 2018 and was completed last year. Stress tests began this past June and trial operations began on Sept. 1. The Sept. 20 formal open hits amid the country’s Mid-Autumn Festival holiday running from Sept. 19 to 21.
The resort is a joint venture with 70% owned by state-owned enterprise Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment and 30% owned by Comcast Corp’s Universal Parks and Resorts.
The park is located in Tongzhou, an eastern, less glitzy district of Beijing that the government has pushed hard to develop in recent years. Yang Lei, the deputy chief of that district, said that it ultimately cost more than $5.4 billion (RMB35 billion) to build. The official Xinhua news agency declared that its construction “displays the strength of China’s manufacturing industry.”
The resort is expected to welcome between 10 and 12 million visitors a year and generate annual revenues of more than $1.55 billion (RMB10 billion), according to the vice general manager of Beijing Tourism Group Yu Xuezhong, Xinhua said.
It features seven themed lands, including Minion Land, Jurassic World Isla Nublar, Transformers Metrobase and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a particularly popular section given China’s many Potterheads. In a world first, there is also a new Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness currently unique to Beijing.
The full resort area consists of the theme park, a commercial CityWalk and two hotels. There is also an enormous cinema with 2,000 seats across 11 screening halls that boasts the largest Imax screen in the capital.
Universal ticket prices range from $65 (RMB418) for a single day fare in the low season to $116 (RMB748) at peak periods. That makes the cheapest ticket comparable but a hair above Shanghai Disney’s lowest adult ticket at $62 (RMB399).
A promotional video kicking off the Universal resort’s opening featured soundbites from top filmmakers and stars from both sides of the Pacific.
Highlighted were directors Steven Spielberg and Zhang Yimou, pictured walking together side by side. The former emphasized how “world-renowned filmmakers” helped make the park “as authentic as possible,” while the latter opined in Chinese: “There are indeed many theme parts around the world, but only Universal Studios Resort takes film alone as its subject. This is a distinguishing feature that I particularly like.”
Actor Li Bingbing (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”) encouraged visitors to come experience a park similar to those abroad but with “more Chinese characteristics and elements,” while Huang Lei, the Chinese voice of Po in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” spoke of how he will “definitely bring [his] kid here.”
“Detective Chinatown” franchise superstar Liu Haoran said he felt “very proud that such a wonderful theme park has been built in Beijing, and in China.”
The attestations seem to emanate from a period before the current nadir of U.S.-China relations and harken back to a more cooperative time between Hollywood and Beijing when co-production dreams bloomed and American blockbusters entered the China market with little drama.
Indeed, the Universal resort was touted by China’s Global Times newspaper earlier this week as a symbol of how China is not actually awash in as much of what it called “pervading anti-U.S. nationalism” as some might think.
Describing the enthusiasm for the park on local social media, the article stated: “This is a rare time in a long while when an America-themed topic has attracted such obvious and widespread praise in China.”
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