The Goddard Group: Leading the Way In China’s Entertainment Boom

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

The Goddard Group is a world leader in the design, development and production of major themed-entertainment attractions and destination resorts around the globe. The company’s clients include some of entertainment’s biggest names including Galaxy Macau, Universal Studios, Six Flags, Lotte World, Caesars Palace, and Cirque Du Soleil, to name just a few. Recently, the company has been making headlines for having more theme parks and resorts open or in development in China than any other themed entertainment design company world-wide. Four new parks in particular are receiving widespread attention.

Macau Studio City

Studio City Macau

Studio City in Macau, China was developed by Gary Goddard Entertainment (a unit of The Goddard Group) in connection with Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., which develops, owns, and operates entertainment resorts and casinos throughout Asia. Slated to open in mid-2015, the $3.2 billion “Studio City Macau” complex is Hollywood-inspired and set to deliver more world-class amenities that any other property in the area.

Polar Ocean World

In Shanghai China, The Goddard Group is currently designing Polar Ocean World, a marine-themed cultural park that will contribute to Shanghai’s overall tourism agenda. It is a project of the Haichang Holdings Group. The park will be built on a 300,000 meter site situated next to Dishui Lake. Polar Ocean World is scheduled to open in 2017 and will be Haichang’s seventh polar-themed destination in China. The park features 13 exhibition halls, four large animal encounter areas, 18 rides, cinemas, and more. The focus is to combine entertainment, ecology, and scientific research.

With Polar Ocean World, the goal is to offer something different than Shanghai Disney. Polar Ocean World has what Gary Goddard calls “undercurrents of learning,” but with the main objective that guests have fun and take away happy memories. The park features encounters with different ocean species, dark rides, thrill rides, and shows. Ultimately, it’s less about competing with Disney and more about offering something different but complementary to the Disney experience, which adds to the overall attractiveness for tourism in the region.

Polar Ocean World Shanghai

Kingdom of Poseidon

Construction is currently underway for a new themed-\ entertainment attraction, Kingdom of Poseidon in Harbin, China. Harbin is an area that’s famous for an annual winter Ice Festival, with hundreds of caved blocks of ice that create an illuminated IceKingdom. Kingdom of Poseidon, a project of the Malaysia-based KWZone Group, features a wide range of rides, live shows, and experiences based upon the myths of Poseidon and other ocean-related stories. The design leverages the latest in technologies, including 4D effect, video mapping, and other approaches to immersion in “undersea, oversea, and by-the-sea attractions.”

Shanghai Bund

The Goddard Group was also hired to design the “Shanghai Bund” movie studio and theme park resort in Hengdian, China. The park is set to open in 2016. The project involves recreating old Shanghai, providing studio tours, and developing a working film studio.

Mr. Goddard says, “As a film director myself, we were thrilled with this project on several levels. First, to re-create The Bund in its pre-war condition was a designer’s dream assignment. We are literally recreating a major international city in its pre-war state, making it a suitable shooting location for a host of motion picture productions. In addition, we also melded many other areas of old Shanghai into this attraction, as part of an overall Shanghai studio backlot.”

Kingdom of Poseiden

Insights from Working in China

We had the opportunity to speak with Gary Goddard about his work, and he graciously shared insights from the company’s monumental success in China. One topic we explored was popular park themes. Movies and marine parks are common themes as highlighted in The Goddard Group’s recent projects. Marine-themed projects already have a track record of success in China. In Shanghai, a marine theme at Polar Ocean World is giving the project a point of departure from Shanghai Disney, which is also under development.

Movies, on the other hand, are a newer and growing trend. “Movies in China are on an upward trend, their box office sales will surpass us in the future,” says Goddard. One of the challenges from a content perspective is developing the right legal and cultural approaches to appropriately licensing intellectual property from movie franchises. “Some clients have no problem spending $20 million dollars on a steel roller coaster, but don’t understand the value of licensing fees and paying for the right to use characters,” adds Goddard.

Shanghai Bund

The Goddard Group has a seasoned perspective on what it takes to succeed in today’s Chinese entertainment design environment: “Patience, honesty, and straightforwardness with the clients,” says Goddard. “It’s important to be realistic about what their vision is, versus what the budget is and what they can reasonably expect. It’s a vibrant market for the designers who have the patience and the will.”

Part of Goddard’s success in China is understanding how to work with and select the best clients. Many clients don’t have direct experience operating themed attractions. When clients are new to themed entertainment, designers need to determine which developers are serious and be willing to guide clients through the development process.

“It’s easier to work with experienced operators, as this makes communication easier,” says Goddard. For the four projects highlighted above, The Goddard Group is working with experienced owners and operators, which no doubt plays a role in the sophistication and overall vision for each project. Working with experienced operators also helps overcome challenges around expectations. Many owner-operators want results like Disney or Universal, but at a significant discount of what it really costs to develop, create, and maintain those experiences.

Shanghai Bund Design

Themed entertainment in China is still a work in progress. Designers must adapt to cultural differences when approaching a new project, taking into account elements such as Feng Shui for their master plans. Another cultural difference that factors into the creative process is food preferences, as Goddard points out, “The Chinese public generally doesn’t expect the same variety of foods that an American audience does.”

When it comes to the design process, there is still room for improvement on accepting a content-first philosophy: “Developers need to understand the value of good concept and design – this is the foundation of the entire enterprise! You can’t design attraction boxes and hope to fill them later: content drives the future success of the theme park,” says Goddard.

There is also a limited appetite for trying new approaches. Many of today’s new developments in China turn to existing rides and theme parks as a starting point, which designers then customize for the client’s vision. There’s still not much focus on innovation and creating something completely new.

Operationally, the parks rely on a mix of local vendors and international manufacturers. “Local vendors are good for the budget, attraction, and location. But when it comes to reliable ride systems, we tend to recommend the companies with decades of experience in Europe and the U.S. There are certain rides that you can get in China, and others you still need to get elsewhere for quality purposes,” says Goddard.

“We put a sense of awe in everything we do,” says Goddard, bringing it all together. Looking ahead to these latest parks that are opening and under construction in China under the aegis of The Goddard Group, it’s easy to see that audiences will indeed be awed.


All photos for this piece were source courtesy of The Goddard Group. ALL PHOTOS © 2015 The Goddard Group/Gary Goddard Entertainment – All Rights Reserved

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