Football club Real Madrid has become the latest organisation to take space on the southern Chinese island of Hengqin, which is transforming itself from an oyster farm into a global tourist attraction to rival neighbouring Macau.
The world-famous Spanish club is to open a 12,000 sq m attraction in 2019 featuring virtual reality entertainments and a museum showcasing the team’s history. Its partner in the scheme is Hong Kong developer Lai Sun Group.
This development will be part of the $760m first phase of Lai Sun’s $2.7bn Novotown cultural and entertainment complex, which is now 70% complete. When all five phases are built it will contain attractions based on brands such as National Geographic and film studio Lionsgate, with hotel space provided by Hyatt Regency.
Larry Leung, a vice president of Lai Sun, told Macau Business Daily that all buildings would be topped out by the end of 2017, leaving a year to complete fit-out work, landscaping, the installation and testing of equipment and staff training before the opening date of January 2019.
He also told Reuters that the island would complete a southeast China triad. "Hengqin will be the Orlando of China. Macau is Las Vegas and Hong Kong is New York.
The first big attraction to open on Hengqin was Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom (Chime-Long)
Hengqin island is three times larger than Macau, with an area of 96 square kilometres. Its growth began in 2008 when it was named a New Area within the Guangdong free trade zone by Xi Jinping during his tenure as vice president of China.
It was be given an infrastructure budget of $12bn to prepare the ground for commercial investors and Macau-based companies wanting to branch out in the face of falling revenue at home.
The first big commercial development was the Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom, which offered the world’s largest aquarium, rides, and a dolphin-themed hotel with 1,888 guest rooms.
Others in pipeline include Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group’s $1.6bn casino-free tropical island style resort, and no fewer than eight attractions to be developed by the mainland Chime-Long group.
The island is now one of the hottest development areas in China; Reuters reports that economic growth increased 10% in the first half of 2017, and property prices have doubled in the past two years.
Top image: Landscape architect SWA’s rendition of Hengqin