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Monday, September 24, 2012

'Malaysia, Singapore can be the Orlando of SE Asia'

NUSAJAYA: International theme park operator Merlin Entertainments Group foresees Malaysia and Singapore as among the world's most important tourism markets.

Its chief executive officer, Nick Varney, dubs the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore as the future "Orlando of Southeast Asia".

Orlando in Florida, the US, currently has more theme parks and entertainment attractions than anywhere else in the world.

The UK-based Merlin, which is focusing its expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, is actively seeking opportunities in Malaysia and Singapore.

"We see Singapore-Malaysia as a nexus for, I think, of what could become the most powerful tourism market in the world," Varney said in an interview at Legoland Malaysia family theme park here.

He said the Universal Studios Singapore (USS) and Legoland Malaysia complement each other and that other developments will follow on the back of these two international theme parks.

"I believe this region, the southern part of Malaysia and Singapore, is really destined to (be) what I call the Orlando of Southeast Asia. I think this would be the destination of choice for families not only from Malaysia and Singapore, but (also) from big markets like China, India, Indonesia and Australia," he said.

Legoland Malaysia, the first in Asia and the sixth in the world, is owned by Khazanah Malaysia Bhd's unit, Themed Attractions and Resorts Sdn Bhd (TAR), Iskandar Investment Bhd (IIB) and Merlin.

Spanning over 30ha land within the Iskandar region, Legoland Malaysia is the largest family theme park destination in Southeast Asia.

Speaking to Business Times just hours before the official launch of Legoland Malaysia on Saturday, Varney said the Malaysia-Singapore region would see at least another big theme park and other smaller ones.

Merlin itself, which operates more than 90 attractions, seven hotels and two holiday villages in 21 countries across four continents, is keen to increase its presence in Asia.

"At the moment, we are looking at the midway attractions. We think that can complement the development of a resort that is taking place here. And also what are other opportunities available in Malaysia generally," he said when asked to comment on talks between Merlin and TAR to bring other attractions to Malaysia.

For the Merlin group, "midways" refer to indoor attractions or near-city centres with a visit time of several hours such as the Dungeons or Sea Lifes. Resort theme parks, meanwhile, are attractions set up for longer visits of one or two days.
Legoland parks are in the third category, which is a homogenous global set of attractions on the theme of Lego bricks.

Varney said the group is also seeking other opportunities available in Malaysia.

"We're also very interested in the Singapore market and have been talking to Singapore Tourism Board for some time on the opportunities there.

"Quite naturally, with brands like Madam Tussauds and Sea Life as well as other brands that we own, we'd like to bring those to that market (Malaysia and Singapore)," he said.

Besides the wax museum and the Sea Life aquarium, other brands under the Merlin group, which attracted over 46 million visitors last year, include London Eye, Gadaland, Alton Towers Resort, Legoland Discovery Centre, Warwick Castle, Thorpe Park, Blackpool Tower, Heide Park, Wild Life Sydney, Siam Ocean World and Busan Aquarium.

By Business Times

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