Wednesday, January 13, 2016

High hopes: What it takes to keep an amusement park running in Pakistan

For years, apart from a lucky few who have travelled to California and Hong Kong for their dream vacation with life-size Disney characters, many in Pakistan have grown up listening to stories of thrill rides at Universal Studios, Six Flags and Alton Towers. Though Pakistan has several amusement park trains for sale of its own, the country has never seen a full-scale theme park to the likes of Magic Kingdom — something the Punjab government is planning to bring to the entertainment-starved public. As Pakistan gets ready for this one-of-a-kind recreational space in the heart of Punjab, we take a look at what it takes to keep amusement park equipment for sale open and running smoothly.

Investing in amusement

With all the negative publicity Pakistan garners internationally, it is not surprising that foreign investors are reluctant to do business here. However, the situation has improved in the last few years. Sharing details of how the Punjab government roped in the Chinese company Golden Bean for the theme park project, Commissioner Lahore Abdullah Sumbal says, Punjab Board of Investment and Trade (PBIT) organised a seminar to draw foreign investors on the instruction of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif during which international companies presented their business ideas. “A theme park is something the provincial government had been considering for a long time but was struggling to execute it in the public sector. We were seeking private investment and felt Golden Bean’s proposal was worth looking into,” Sumbal states.

Amusement parks are perfect for a one-day getaway for children, teenagers and adults alike. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

The government had several meetings with investors and did background checks to verify their claims. “They have built a theme park and an aquatic park in China and it’s a success story. We established they are credible and moved forward to signing an agreement,” explains Sumbal. The government has not invested any money in the project, including the purchase of 654 acres of land in Lahore and Sheikhupura districts, he reveals. Click this link:

To be precise, the park will be situated between Kala Shah Kaku interchange of the Lahore-Islamabad motorway and Saggian Bridge, Lahore. However, making such a massive investment in its South Asian neighbour, the Chinese company had its concerns. “The investors were worried about power outages, security and revenue and we assured them our full cooperation,” the commissioner says. The provincial government has assured that they will either supply uninterrupted electricity to the theme park or help them with their own power generation. For security, they will assign Punjab Police’s Special Protection Unit — a dedicated agency guarding foreign workers in Punjab — to them and let them have multiple options for revenue generation. The government intends to facilitate the private company throughout the process of building the theme park. “We gave them three to four options for land and they chose one keeping in mind their business model. We will help them acquire that land as it has the capacity to draw visitors from Punjab and beyond,” he says.

Calling the theme park a guiding project for the company, Mingnan Jin, chairperson of board for Golden Bean, says, this investment in Pakistan will steer the business’ future cooperation in the country. “Pakistan and China have maintained friendly relations and successfully cooperated in various fields. With Chairman Xi Jinping referring to Pakistan as a 24-hour strategic partner, every responsible Chinese has an obligation towards the friendship,” he says, stating that agreement to build the China Pakistan Economic Corridor was enough to give confidence to Chinese investors to do business in Pakistan.

The company decided to begin their investments in Pakistan with the construction of a theme park after several visits and market surveys which showed a growing demand for recreational activities. “Right now, the facilities in Punjab fail to meet the market demand and large-scale cultural and amusement park ride manufacturers places are missing in the country,” says Jin. While the commercial return of investing in a Disney-type theme park is long-term and slow, more value is placed on the aspect of public welfare. “At this point we have oneness of mind and purpose with Pakistan in terms of bringing economic and social stability to the people and therefore hope the government can support us with preferential policy in every aspect,” he says.

A word of advice: stay on track

Part of the recreation business for over two decades, Nadeem Riaz of Dolmen Group weighs in on how this venture can succeed in Pakistan. Riaz, who introduced Karachi to Sindbad’s Wonderland in 1991, thinks design, quality of attractions, maintenance and long-term management plans play an important role in how recreation projects perform. “In Pakistan, we start many mega projects but we don’t manage them very well,” he says.

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