Universal Studios Beijing draws eager throngs amid tense US-China relations

BEIJING • Universal Studios Beijing opened its doors to the public yesterday after a two-decade wait, including delays because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The highly anticipated opening takes place amid deteriorating United States-China relations.

The park will be the US-based Universal's largest and its fifth globally. It is also a first for Beijing, which lacks a big brand-name theme park to rival the Disney resorts in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

It is the first Universal park with a section dedicated to the movie Kung Fu Panda, and includes an area based on the Harry Potter franchise, which is popular in China.

Amid light rain and tight security yesterday, a public holiday in China to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival, a steady stream of umbrella-wielding visitors entered the resort. "When it comes to Universal Studios, we're all big fans of Marvel movies," said 27-year-old Pi Tiantian. "We really want to experience this resort."

A Universal Studios employee told Reuters that visitor numbers were capped at around 10,000 yesterday because of the pandemic, but the park has capacity for many more. All 10,000 tickets for the opening, available in a pre-sale last Tuesday, were sold out in three minutes, said Trip.com Group.

"This is a rare time in a long while when an America-themed topic has attracted such obvious and widespread praise in China," said Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party of China's People's Daily.

Beijing-based visitors snatched 40 per cent of the tickets for the first month, while the cities of Tianjin and Shanghai were the second-and third-largest sources of patrons, said travel website qunar.com

Still, many buyers complained on social media about ticket costs - ranging from 418 yuan (S$87) in the low season to 748 yuan during peak periods.

The resort was proposed 20 years ago by the Beijing Tourism Group, said the official China Daily. It is 30 per cent owned by Comcast's Universal Parks & Resorts and 70 per cent belongs to state-owned Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment.

China's new Ambassador to the US, Mr Qin Gang, likened the park's roller-coaster ride to ties between the two countries. "After all the tumbling and shakes, the roller coaster came to a soft landing in the end," he tweeted last Tuesday.

Universal Studios announced the resort's development in 2014 at an estimated cost of US$3.3 billion (S$4.5 billion). In 2017, Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts said the park could provide US$1 billion of operating cash flow per year once open.

It is estimated that the park could earn more than US$1.6 billion a year in revenue with up to 12 million visits, said the Beijing Daily.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2021, with the headline 'Universal Studios Beijing draws eager throngs amid tense US-China relations'. Subscribe