article / Jun 19, 2017

Designing Entertainment Adventures in China

I recently attended the China Theme Park Development Summit in Shanghai. The annual event, now in its ninth year, brings high-level professionals from the Chinese government and industry associations together with international theme park operators, property developers and entertainment facility suppliers.


When you think of architects designing experiences, I would wager a lot of people don’t think we sometimes have the opportunity to design theme parks! During my time as an architect, I’ve had the pleasure of designing a few of these destinations.

With the rise of China’s economy and acceleration of urbanization, theme parks represent a flourishing frontier in leisure tourism. They are regarded as the cornerstone of the country’s leisure and entertainment growth strategy.

I recently attended the China Theme Park Development Summit in Shanghai with Yi Zhang, principal of MG2’s Shanghai office. The annual event, now in its ninth year, brings high-level professionals from the Chinese government and industry associations together with international theme park operators, property developers and entertainment facility suppliers.

The two-day summit addressed the following topics:

+ Strategies for building theme parks in the intellectual property (IP) era

+ Best practices learned from the world’s most successful theme parks

+ Using big data to optimize theme park management

+ Application of virtual reality technology in cinema

+ Methods for increasing marketing effectiveness through social media

+ The creation of interactive theme park experiences for guests

+ Opportunities to improve the operating model of theme parks

The total number of middle and large size theme parks in China has surged to 300 with Shanghai Disney Resort serving as the ultimate destination since opening last summer. Analysists estimate by 2020 the annual number of Chinese theme park visitors will surpass 221 million, the amount of guests that visit U.S. theme parks each year.

The summit organizer invited select delegates to attend a private session with the deputy director of the Administrative Commission of Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone and I was asked to present to the group. During my session, I presented MG2’s relevant transformative design experiences and shared my expertise in the theme park industry as well.

A great deal of time was dedicated discussing the quality and value of the tourist experience and the need for Chinese entertainment companies to develop their own IP. In this instance, IP is used to describe the creation of original characters, their stories and the fictional worlds they inhabit. The Walt Disney Company and Universal Studios are able to sell high volumes of merchandise inside the parks because the characters and narratives they create are universally captivating and translate across cultures and international entertainment markets.

I left the summit excited about future opportunities in theme park planning and design and hope to continue sharing my expertise in this field.