Genting Highlands to overhaul theme park

Genting, Malaysia's casino resort pioneer now competing with newer, glitzier offerings in Singapore, is partnering with Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox - maker of the hit movies Life Of Pi, Alien and Ice Age - as part of a revamp of the 42-year- old hilltop resort.

A RM400 million (S$158 million) theme park will be built on the 10ha site of the current one, which will be closed later this year in September.

When it reopens in 2016, it will feature more than 25 thrill rides, children's rides and water rides with themes from hit movies such as Predator.

Genting is hoping the new attractions will help double the number of visitors to the theme park to 6 million a year.

It will also add 1,300 rooms and explore other developments in an overhaul that is expected to cost at least RM3 billion over the next five years.

The news came amid talk in the past month that the Genting Highlands casino resort, which first opened its doors in 1971, was preparing for a facelift.

The revamped resort could become a more serious competitor to Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa - which is owned by Genting Singapore - and its Universal Studios theme park.

At the launch in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Genting Malaysia chairman Lim Kok Thay said the company was "honoured" to partner Twentieth Century Fox to "realise the vision of a world-class integrated resort".

"This landmark development is our first response to the growing demand for theme parks with a cinematic nature," he said.

Genting is expecting minimal impact from the temporary closure - the first time its theme park is being shuttered for an extended period - on the casino and resort, which draws 20 million visitors yearly.

Gaming analysts were upbeat about Genting's announcement, with most saying that a revamp was long overdue.

The last major capital expenditure for the resort was in 2006, when Genting added the First World Hotel and convention centre.

The current theme park includes a mix of rides including roller coasters, ferris wheels and kiddie rides.

Kenanga Research analyst Teh Kian Yeong said while the cheapest ticket for the current theme park is RM54, the revamped one can "easily" charge more than RM100.

The move could also help Genting boost its casino business in Malaysia, where 60 per cent of the population is Muslim, who are not allowed to gamble.

Last year, Genting Malaysia's revenue suffered a 7.1 per cent year-on-year decline to RM7.9 billion, though profit was flat at RM1.4 billion.

"It's a new relationship between Fox and GentingÂ… It wouldn't be a surprise if it grows beyond Malaysia," Mr Jeffrey Godsick, president of Fox's consumer products, was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

It is unclear, however, if the new theme park will draw visitors away from Resorts World Sentosa and its $1.6 billion Universal Studios theme park.

Mr Teh noted that while Genting Highlands had an advantage with its cooler weather and more affordable prices, Fox is still not the "brand name" that Universal Studios or Disneyland are.

This is Fox's second venture into branded theme parks.

In 1999, it launched Fox Studios Backlot in Sydney - a US$261 million (S$329 million) development boasting film and TV studios and a theme park - only to close it two years later because of low attendance.

Others feel that, as a world-class destination, Singapore can still attract a more international, affluent crowd.

The new Genting Highlands is an "upgrade for the benefit of the local population", said CIMB Research analyst Lucius Chong.

"Previously, Genting Highlands could get away with spending less and still pull in the crowd because it was a monopoly.

"Now, more and more Malaysians have travelled the world and make more money.

"They are more discerning and demand quality, especially among the emerging white-collar class working in the Klang Valley," he added.

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