China Is Building Its Own Equivalent of Florida’s Orlando

Aerial view of the world's largest ocean theme park | Courtesy of Chimelong Group
Aerial view of the world's largest ocean theme park | Courtesy of Chimelong Group
Is China slowly rebuilding America in its own image? For years, people have been making comparisons between New York and Hong Kong, along with Las Vegas and Macau, and now it seems China’s Hengqin Island could soon be giving Florida’s Orlando a run for its money.

Located a mere 200 metres (656 feet) across the water from neighbouring Macau, Hengqin is an island that forms part of the Chinese city of Zhuhai.

At three times the size of Macau, Hengqin Island is destined to become one of China’s main centres for tourism and leisure. It’s already home to the largest ocean theme park in the world – the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom – and a host of other attractions, hotels, malls and residential communities are under development nearby.

Courtesy of Chimelong Group

The plan is to transform Hengqin into a huge tourist hub with a cluster of major theme parks and family attractions. Although most of Hengqin’s development projects are still under construction, those in the know are already dubbing it ‘the Orlando of China’.

The latest addition to Hengqin’s line-up of attractions, announced last week, will be an interactive virtual reality complex by Spanish soccer club Real Madrid. The venue is pegged to open in 2021, and at 12,000 square metres (129,167 square feet), it will include an interactive football centre with virtual reality entertainment and a museum showcasing the club’s history.

A virtual reality complex by Spanish soccer club Real Madrid will open at Hengin's Novotown in 2021. Caption Courtesy of Lai Sun Group.

“Hengqin will be the Orlando of China. Macau is Las Vegas [and] Hong Kong is New York,” said Larry Leung to Reuters, an executive with Lai Sun Group, which is helping build the Real Madrid complex at its ‘Novotown’ project in Hengqin. “Within an hour, you can have them all.”

Hengqin is set to become the only place in mainland China to connect to Hong Kong and Macau via the ‘Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge’ – scheduled to open at the end of 2017. In what will be the world’s longest sea bridge, it’s expected to cut down driving time from Hong Kong to Zhuhai from four hours to 45 minutes.

Courtesy of HZMB

In line with the opening of the bridge, the Lai Sun Group is readying for easier access and higher tourist numbers to Hengqin. The group is currently developing a massive integrated tourism and entertainment project by the name of ‘Novotown’. As well as being home to the Real Madrid attraction, Novotown will also feature China’s first Lionsgate Movie World, complete with theme rides from blockbuster films, including the Hunger Games and Twilight, as well as a National Geographic educational centre. In addition, high-end hotel chains are building more resorts and a marina on Hengqin.

Rendering showing Hengqin's 'Novotown' – a giant entertainment complex that will be comprised of five different phases. Caption Courtesy of Lai Sun Group.

In total, there will be five stages of the mammoth Novotown development. The first phase is expected to open in January 2019, which will be followed by Phase II in 2021. The remaining three phases will open thereafter. The total cost invested in the project is estimated to be around US$3 billion.

Overall, the hope is that Hengqin can help neighbouring Macau diversify and move away from gambling and casinos and towards a more family-orientated tourism industry. And just as Florida’s Orlando has become a global tourist magnet, so too could Hengqin in a few years time. Mickey Mouse had better keep an eye out!