April 16, 2013 11:18 am

India’s first theme park opens its gates

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Tubby, a ride at the Albas Imagica theme park in Mumbai, India

India’s debut theme park is also almost certainly the world’s first to boast a ride involving a gigantic six-armed animatronic Hindu god, standing astride a trio of curly-horned fire-breathing rams.

But the opening of the Adlabs Imagica complex on Thursday on a 65-acre site between the major western cities of Mumbai and Pune marks a first of a different sort too, as India takes an initial step into a market where, so far at least, the likes of Disney have feared to tread.

Set up by Bollywood entrepreneur Manmohan Shetty, the park expects up to 3m visitors a year to enjoy its roughly two dozen international-standard rides, raising hopes that India’s nascent industry might in time follow a recent theme park boom in China.

Speaking before the launch, Mr Shetty said global operators like Disney and Universal Studios should now rethink concerns about infrastructure, land acquisition and cost-conscious customers, which have so far led them to avoid the country’s 1.2bn-strong market.

“Andy Bird, the head of Disney International, was here recently. He was quoted as saying that ‘we have no plans for a Disneyland park in India. Not now, not later’,” he said.

Mr Bird, who visited Mumbai last month, cited reasons ranging from unreliable infrastructure to difficulties maintaining customer standards for Disney’s decision not to bring its Mickey Mouse-filled parks to India, saying the company was focused instead on its forthcoming $3.5bn park in Shanghai.

But Mr Shetty, who opened India’s first Imax cinema complex and has so far invested Rs16bn ($293m) into the new enterprise, says such obstacles can be overcome, while he plans to attract as many as 15,000 guests a day with ticket prices for adults starting at Rs1200 ($22).

“Don’t get me wrong, I love companies like Disney and Universal, but we are proving that this can be done here in India,” he says.

The Adlabs Imagica park, named after Mr Shetty’s Adlabs film company, will feature the country’s largest rollercoaster, alongside numerous specially-made Indian-themed rides, including a juddering flying car simulator based on the Bollywood film Mr India, a family classic from 1987 about a superhero with powers of invisibility.

In time the facility will expand to include a hotel and water park on the same site, while Mr Shetty says he plans to launch similar attractions in other Indian cities too – beginning with a second park on land acquired near the southern city of Hyderabad.

Similar large-scale operations attract more than 100m people each year around Asia, earning revenues of up to $3bn, mostly in Japan and China, says Chris Yoshii, director for Asia at Aecom, a planning and architecture consultancy that studies theme parks.

However, growth in China’s once-rapidly expanding industry has slowed of late, following a partial 2011 government moratorium on major new parks, in reaction to growing concerns about property speculation and poor quality among the many dozens of facilities springing up around the country.

India has so far managed only a handful of small amusement and water complexes, but the launch of Adlabs is now expected to attract attention among the global leisure industry, as international companies mull an eventual move into Asia’s last major untapped theme park market.

“In the short term there are definitely challenges, with getting hold of land a problem in particular,” Aecom’s Mr Yoshii says. “But India is a very strong family market, and potentially a very big market too. So it’s really just a matter of time before this takes off.”

“In the next five years this will be a market with few brave entrepreneurs . . . but are companies like Universal and Disney going to do parks in India eventually? Absolutely, they will.”

 

The top rides

 

Rajasaurus River Adventure
A water boat ride in search of the mighty Rajasaurus, a previously little-known Indian animatronic dinosaur now said to be “mightier than the T-Rex”

Scream Machine
A stomach-churning circular swinging contraption, which takes braver park guests to near vertical angles, at 148 feet above ground level

I For India

Take a flight over India suspended above a 90-foot screen, showing specially helicopter-filmed scenes from the Himalayas to the Taj Mahal

Wrath of the Gods

An archaeologist discovers secret ruins undisturbed for centuries, only to happen upon the mythological angry gods of fire, water and earth who lie within

Prince of the Dark Waters
Gaze up at an underwater journey projected on to a 3,100 square feet dome screen, revealing animated mermaids, whales and, ultimately, the secret of the “dark prince” himself

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