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Universal Beijing opens to packed crowds

People take selfies with an icon near the entrance to Universal Studios Beijing in Beijing on Sept 20, 2021. (ANDY WONG / AP)

The opening ceremony of the Universal Beijing Resort took place on Monday. The joint 40 billion yuan (US$6.2 billion) Sino-US project serves as proof of fruitful cooperation between businesses from the two countries.

The resort, which includes the Universal Studios Beijing theme park, the Universal CityWalk Beijing and two hotels-the Universal Studios Grand Hotel and the NUO Resort Hotel-is expected to receive more than 10 million tourists a year, and bring in annual revenues of 10 billion yuan, according to Wang Tayi, general manager of Beijing International Resort Co, and owner of Universal Beijing.

It's fairly rare these days that two companies from China and the United States manage to remain loyal to each other and continue cooperating for 20 years … BTG (Beijing Tourism Group) and Universal Parks & Resorts have both been through a lot over the years, but we have finally made our promise a reality.

Wang Tayi, general manager of Beijing International Resort Co, and owner of Universal Beijing

"I'm very excited to see the opening of the resort after the ups and downs of the past 20 years," Wang said. "There have been so many unforgettable moments associated with this project, one of which was in September 2014, when it was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission, a milestone in the entire process."

Beijing International Resort Co is a joint venture between Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment Co and Universal Parks& Resorts, a business unit of Comcast NBCUniversal.

Established in 2013, Beijing Shouhuan is a subsidiary of the Beijing Tourism Group (BTG), one of the largest players in China's tourism and hospitality sector, and first raised the idea of building the theme park in Beijing in 2001.

"It's fairly rare these days that two companies from China and the United States manage to remain loyal to each other and continue cooperating for 20 years," Wang said. "BTG and Universal Parks & Resorts have both been through a lot over the years, but we have finally made our promise a reality."

China's central government has been very supportive of the project, he added.

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"The government agreeing to the project gave us access to the market and revenue, which was crucial for both companies."

Tom Mehrmann, president and general manager of the Beijing International Resort Co Theme Park and Resort Management Branch, said the Chinese government foresaw the country's rapidly growing urban middle class 20 years ago, and this led to the idea of building a world-class theme park in the capital.

"China saw the opportunity in Universal and Universal saw the opportunity in China," said Mehrmann, adding that the park is not merely a copy of other Universal theme parks. "We brought global theme park insight to China and blended it with local culture."

For instance, in one of the resort's seven "lands"-Hollywood-visitors can enjoy a behind-the-scenes filmmaking experience which was created by Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg and Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou.

The Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness, inspired by the Dream-Works Animation film franchise, is Universal's first "land" built around the franchise and contains many Chinese cultural elements.

Even in terms of its food offerings, the park is integrated, with around 65 percent of food outlets serving Chinese or Asian cuisine and 35 percent serving Western, Mehrmann said.

Tourist industry experts predicted that Universal Beijing will experience a domestic boom during the Mid-Autumn Festival and the upcoming National Day holidays in early October.

"By welcoming tourists officially since opening day, the resort has sent an important signal that China can revive its tourist market, while doing a great job of COVID-19 control and prevention at the same time," said Dai Bin, head of the China Tourism Academy.

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"The resort is expected to contribute around 0.28 percentage points to Beijing's GDP growth," he added.

Beijing municipal government senior officials also attended the opening ceremony.