The Box Issue

Merlin calls them midway attractions, Village Roadshow boxes, others still call them FEC. Whatever you want to call them, let me tell you they’re hot right now in Asia!

They were made popular by Merlin Entertainments, whose strategy essentially relies on clustering a bunch of them to generate synergies and economies of scale. It’s about multiplying the gates to make more $$ out of each visitor and saving on marketing $$.

In Asia they become the tools of the new lords of urbanization who need them to bring the culture and lifestyle they need to please both the authorities and the new urban consuming class.

Examples of such new lords are Wang Jianlin (Wanda, China), Zhang Xin (SOHO, China) and Pham Nhat Vuong (Vincom, Vietnam). They have been early in embracing the trend and adding ‘cultural & lifestyle’ attractions and entertainment to their property developments to serve the ‘communities’ living around their projects and attract new ‘visitors’.

Authorities love a good box too and it’s always easier to give land or permits when developers lure them with content and facilities that help them with their education and tourism objectives.

But this is not a new phenomenon. There is a long tradition of quality indoor attractions in Europe and America, often used for similar purposes but in different contexts of urban redevelopment. Some of the world’s best attractions are science centres and natural history museums part of such urban projects e.g. Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris or M Shed Museum in Bristol.

Enough theory.

I thought I would list some of the popular international concepts of boxes already available in Asia.

  1. KidZania (Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka)
  2. Madame Tussauds (Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Seoul)
  3. SEA LIFE (Bangkok, Busan)
  4. LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (Tokyo, Osaka)
  5. Grévin (Seoul)

We are also seeing an increased interest from IP owners to come up with Location Based Entertainment (LBE) concepts to fit in a box.

  • DreamWorks recently opened DreamPlay at City of Dreams Manila
  • Angry Bird opened an Activity Park in Johor, Malaysia and is planning more in Asia
  • BBC Worldwide is working on concepts for their Top Gear, CBeebies, Walking with Dinosaurs brands with FORREC
  • Warner Bros & DC Comics are collaborating with Melco for an FEC and dark ride at the new Studio City Macau
  • Cartoon Network and UBISOFT are also working on concepts (for more details please contact the author!)

One of the problems for such licensors is to find someone they can trust to operate. And this is where operators such as Village Roadshow and Parques Reunidos are coming in.

Retailers are also tempted to do their own concepts and roll them out. Parkson recently announced a concept of Little Kingdom edutainment centre in Malaysia and AEON is working on rolling out its Molly Fantasy and Kidzoona concepts in its malls in Thailand.

Now let’s look a bit further in the future and let’s try to make sense of the recent announcement from Centre Pompidou to open pop-up branches in China. Actually it’s not the first time that a European cultural institution would be looking into China for growth. Both V&A and CORPUS Journey Through the Human Body – and probably a number of others I missed – have announced China plans.

This could be the future of boxes once the lords get tired of IP-based concepts (too commercial, too expensive) and realize that it is not easy to develop sustainable cultural attractions. And now I am suddenly realizing I could have been ahead of the game when I proposed to work with French museum operator Culturespaces for the Central Police Station in Hong Kong…

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