Hong Kong’s Keyestone Group plans Hello Kitty theme park in Hainan to tap family tourism market

Sandy Li
·4-min read

A private developer from Hong Kong, eyeing a gap in the family tourism market in China’s southernmost Hainan province, plans to build the first branded theme park to cash in on the tropical island’s popularity as a domestic and international tourism destination.

Keyestone Group plans to build a Hello Kitty theme park there, the second in China after Anji in eastern Zhejiang province, which opened in 2015. The complex, spread over 52 acres (2.27 million square feet) in the provincial capital Sanya, will also include a 250-room luxury hotel, and is estimated to cost 4 billion yuan (US$620 million) when completed. Construction started last month and the park is set to open in the second half of 2024.

“We see a growing demand for family entertainment in China,” chief executive Jeffery Pun said. “We aim to build a theme park that will be one of the most Instagrammable places in China.”

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Keyestone, which owns the Grand Hyatt Sanya Haitang Bay Resort and Spa among its assets in Hainan, signed a licensing agreement with a unit of Sanrio of Japan in July 2019, allowing it to use most of the Japanese company’s more than 400 trademark characters, including Hello Kitty, My Melody and Gudetama, in the theme park.

Jeffery Pun, CEO of Keyestone Group, says a theme park is feasible in Hainan, China. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Jeffery Pun, CEO of Keyestone Group, says a theme park is feasible in Hainan, China. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The amusement park market in China is getting increasingly crowded. Many theme parks have opened in recent years including the Shanghai Disneyland in 2016. A Universal theme park in Beijing is set to open in May while many others such as Six Flags and Legoland are in the works in other Chinese cities.

The domestic tourism boom along with the development of the animation industry have fanned an expansion of amusement parks in China, according to a recent report by Daxue Consulting, a Beijing-based market research company. China’s amusement parks market, which includes tickets, food and accommodation among others, exceeded 300 billion yuan in 2019, the report added.

“An international branded theme park in Hainan stands a high chance of success than in other cities in China as the island is a major holiday destination for adults and families,” said Alva To, vice-president and head of consulting in Greater China at Cushman & Wakefield.

He said it would be easier for developers to secure a large piece of land for a tourism-related project from the government as the development could propel economic growth and create job opportunities for locals.

Keyestone believes an amusement park based on the Japanese cartoon character in Hainan is feasible as its duty-free malls, white sandy beaches, tropical sunshine and relaxed visa requirements have increased its tourist appeal.

The Hello Kitty theme park could create 3,000 to 4,000 jobs in Hainan, and draw 1.5 million to 2 million tourists a year, according to the company’s projection, Pun said. Nearly 90 per cent of visitors are projected to come from China, he added.

China is promoting the Hainan province as a shopping paradise in an effort to boost the island’s development and to keep consumer spending domestic. Tourist arrivals to Hainan rose 3.1 per cent in October year on year to 9.6 million, according to official data. Still, arrivals fell 45 per cent year on year to 46 million in January to October because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The family-owned Keyestone Group has been primarily involved in the garment business since it was founded in Hong Kong in 1970. The group forayed into property in Hainan 10 years ago with the Grand Hyatt, the first major hotel brand there. It has spent 6 billion yuan on investments there to date.

The group expects its capital commitment to exceed 10 billion yuan within three years, Pun said, adding that innovative ideas hold the key to success in China’s highly competitive property market.

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