Changing Paradigms in China Part 2;
Examining Trends (Or the bait and switch):
The Theme Park
Literally hundreds of theme parks have been created in China by a process of “upgrading value”, which is actually a means to acquire land rights by developers, who in turn have made deals with the Chinese government. This I refer to as “the bait and switch” method of land development. It has been a common occurrence and has created a generation of sub-value theme parks. Many of these parks fail because they do not apply three basic standards: Originality, High-End Technology and Good Operational Services (as well as good maintenance and public relations). These points are the subjects found in a different lecture and will not be argued here but suffice it to say that in my opinion it is not a matter of failed effort by the Chinese. Rather, it is a lack of education and understanding of a changing market.
The most successful theme parks have been located in first tier cities like Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong where the infrastructure can already support mass tourism and therefore allow strong or smart companies to survive. But companies in these cites too have had enormous failures in maximizing the use of their properties. It is my opinion that this is largely due to using previous flawed models of design without doing effective feasibility studies on the growing sophistication of the consumer (as well as the failure to utilize the three principles mentioned before).
Second and third tiered cities that use these substandard but well used models thus were doomed from the start. According to a Wall Street Journal article in Aug of 2011, the government rightly put the brakes on bank loans for such development:
China Curbs Theme Park Projects BEIJING—“China has suspended the construction of large theme parks to clamp down on local government spending and rein in unauthorized real-estate development”.
The Golf Resort
Having saturated the market with failed theme parks, the golf resort became a new growing trend of acquiring land from rural villages for residential development. Based on American models, and looking westward for its venues (Chongqing and Kunming), site locations were not city-centered and many could only be reached by personal car. However the development of these golf resorts were for the same purposes as theme parks, which was to upgrade property values and to create an expensive real estate market while appealing to a different and much more selective clientele.
The golf resort was to be by its very location more exclusive, minimizing the consumer base while still requiring a large infrastructure of roads, sewers and electricity that could not be supported by the local community. This created a need for developers and government to create relocation programs to move workers in to make the area more commercial and attractive to big money. This had a disastrous effect on both traditional culturally significant ethnic groups and natural geological wonders. China still has no official National Park system and many rural villages have become ghost towns populated only by the elderly and children.
Currently there are far less golfers available to support such an enterprise of backhoeing millions of hectares in valuable farmland, so the government in due course, has sand-pitted the effort (puns intended), by putting a moratorium on new golf courses.
According to Tania Branigan, of The Guardian, December 1, 2009,
“Chinese officials have promised to crack down on illegal golf courses, threatening harsh punishment to developers catering to ‘the rich man’s game’ at the expense of much-needed farmland and scarce water supplies”.
This entire paradigm was obviously a point of contention between the people, the developer and the government and demands exactly the solution I would like to propose as a good compromise that will; A. Upgrade the value of the land for use by developers. B. Create a new market to serve the local population. C. Generate new revenue sources for the government. These three components thereby becoming a win, win, win situation.
Eco-tourism is an alternative form of leisure destination whose sole purpose is to provide travel opportunities and the core elements are nature and culture based. The idea of Eco-tourism was raised in the West and evolved during the nineteen eighties where the necessity for environmental care became more imperative in order to protect the natural habitat for future generations. Ecotourism had an intrinsic advantage in that it nearly always involved destinations that already provided an abundance of cultural and environmental heritage.
In 2005, an analysis found that more than two-thirds of US and Australian travelers and 90% of UK tourists believed that a hotel should be responsibile for the active protection of the environment and the support of the local community. Notwithstanding these statistics being western ones, it is a fair and educated guess that the trends in China will follow suit and therefore it is essential for the hospitality industy to embrace this rapidly growing type of tourism and to incorporate within its philosophy all the vital concepts of therein. By extension, this would mean the support groups as well, including those involved in the design and construction of such hotels and resorts.
If developers and government officials adopt this latest trend of land use, the glut will still be on to acquire rights and the like with theme parks and golf resorts, where the true principles of the movement may still be lost. As I pen this article, many flashy presentations are being created by a host of design companies in order to sway opinion toward that glut. The best of them will recognize certain cultural values and ecologically minded systems. Then, after land rights have been acquired, the developers will revert to previously the used models (concrete and steel) for import into those same locations. If you can, imagine the imposition of a Starbucks into the Forbidden City. Or perhaps, use the local characteristics of the terrain for site development. But then set a 5-Star western hotel complex like a Hyatt or Marriot on the property, and then further claim that the project is ecologically minded because it was built on a wetland. The worst example of these bait and switch maneuvers would be imposing upon the existing landscape such a cultural theme as a Thai architectural stylizations but while in a vastly different Jiangxi. This in my humble opinion, is how a country loses it soul.
All of these approaches have missed the true value of eco-tourism and have rescinded any progressive or internationally accepted means by repeating old models and ignoring a more consumer recognized view. This new trend I predict, now growing popular in China, will come to an end like the others if these real values are not recognized. This is of course unless we learn how to benefit from them, and thus develop a sustainable profit center which is the true motivation of any intelligent enterprise.
In the next part of this series, I will present some fundamental principles that other countries have followed in their efforts to develop this new and exciting Leisure Destination market.
To be continued;