Legoland Malaysia will open its doors to the public soon, way ahead of schedule.
Many of us can remember spending hours of our childhood building structures from colourful Lego pieces. With a pinch of creativity, simple Lego bricks were cleverly stacked to construct vehicles, buildings and even cities, leaving many with fond memories of the construction toys.
Nonetheless, the initial announcement in 2008 about the arrival of the Legoland theme park to our shores elicited less than enthusiastic responses from some quarters.
In fact, the Malaysian Tourist Guide Council initially expressed disappointment as the Legoland park was an unfamiliar brand in the region and industry players were expecting theme park icons like Disneyland to be set up in Iskandar instead.
But, after more than two years of changing the minds of sceptics and efforts to attract the public, Legoland Malaysia is ready to welcome enthusiasts and cynics alike to take a joy ride come Sept 15, 2012.
“We are opening earlier than expected so that is a good thing,” Legoland Malaysia general manager Siegfried Boerst said.
The theme park was originally slated to open in 2013.
Legoland Malaysia is the first Legoland in Asia and the sixth in the world. The 76 acre theme park features seven themed areas with more than 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions.
Legoland started promoting its pre-opening annual passes late last year and Boerst noted that there was huge interest in the theme park from the public as well as trade partners. Much to the delight of Boerst, more than 45,000 annual passes have been snapped up.
“I believe interest will grow with word of mouth particularly when we open and people start coming to experience what Legoland has to offer,” Boerst said.
The theme park is targeting over a million visitors annually in its first few years and Boerst expects visitor numbers to hit 1.8 million by 2020. On average, annual pass holders are expected to visit Legoland four to five times a year.
The bulk of the park’s traffic will mainly be local and Singaporean visitors, but plans are afoot to draw more international tourists.
The growth in visitor numbers, Boerst said, will be supported by the growing tourism industry here.
“We hope to tap into the 40 million tourists a year expected to come into Malaysia. We want to be a part of the attractions for new visitors as well,” he said.
Legoland Malaysia a part of the tourism landscape
According to Tourism Malaysia, there were 24.7 million recorded tourist arrivals last year, with tourism receipts totalling RM58.3bil. The Malaysia Tourism Plan 2020 is targeting 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168bil in tourism receipts by 2020.
Legoland parks typically house miniature Lego structures built around themes such as Star Wars as well as mini villages with landmarks in the area. Other Legoland parks are located in Denmark, Germany, the UK and the US.
The heart of Legoland Malaysia is Miniland, which features various Asian landmarks recreated using more than 25 million Lego bricks.
Apart from Legoland’s own features, Boerst believes that up and coming attractions nearby will drive visitors to the Iskandar region and by extension, to Legoland.
“Legoland fits well with the tourism pillar of Iskandar. There is a good concept for Iskandar and we are working with other attractions in the vicinity to offer attractive packages,” Boerst said.
The Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park in Nusajaya is scheduled for a November opening with attractions such as Lat’s Place and a Sanrio Hello Kitty Theme Park among other things. Iskandar Malaysia is looking to add more theme parks for the region to boost tourism activity there.
Some have been quick to point out that Legoland is no match for Singapore’s integrated resorts, which have stronger products to offer. The attractions at the resorts include Universal Studios Singapore, a casino and the Marine Life Park which cater to a wide range of visitors compared to Legoland’s target audience of young children.
But Boerst believes that Singapore’s resorts are not direct competitors.
“It is always good to have healthy competition, but I believe we can profit from each other. Legoland’s presence here adds to the whole tourism attraction in this part of South-East Asia and tourists on longer stays can visit parks in both countries,” he said.
Additionally, a water park and Legoland Hotel are slated to be opened in 2013 and 2014 respectively, which would mean more integrated offerings for Legoland. This will draw longer-staying visitors and add to Legoland’s revenue.
Legoland expects to generate more than RM100mil in revenue in its first year of operations. This will come from all the attractions in the park, restaurants as well as retail outlets.
“We should see operational profit in the first year itself, but to recover the full investment will depend on the long-term development of the park which usually takes about 15 to 20 years,” Boerst said.
The combined cost of the theme park and planned water park is RM720mil, which is fully funded by the Malaysian government, while the construction of the hotel will cost RM190mil.
Boerst said, although Legoland essentially only manages the park in Malaysia, UK-based Merlin Entertainments Group, the owner and operator of the other Legoland parks, will look into acquiring at least a 20% stake in Legoland Malaysia moving forward.
This will increase Merlin’s reach in Asia, which is expected to be the new playground for theme park operators as the North American and European markets mature and visitor numbers plateau.
A report by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers forecast Asian theme park attendance to grow to 290 million in 2012 from 249 million in 2007, while spending in that period is expected to rise from US$6.4bil (RM19.93bil) to US$8.4bil.
Market research company Global Industry Analysts Inc estimates that the global theme parks market could reach US$29.5bil by the year 2015 and US$31.8bil by 2017, offering plenty of room for growth in Asia.
Boerst said Legoland may venture into other Asian markets and is already in negotiations for a theme park in South Korea.
“In Asia, the market is huge and it is relatively untapped. In the past, local players tend to lack the financial strength and expertise to set up really good theme parks. But the market is ready for that now,” he said.
He noted that the entertainment industry in East Asia particularly is not saturated and as infrastructure improves and disposable income increases, the region is turning out to be an important market.
He added that Legoland parks did not see much of a slowdown during the economic downturn despite views that consumers would cut down on leisure pursuits.
“We have seen a good 10% growth in visitors and sales annually for the whole of the Merlin Group. I am positive that if everyone focuses on what needs to be done here, we will see investments growing in Iskandar and that can only be beneficial for Legoland Malaysia.
“This is a new market for us so we are optimistic,” he said. – By Joy Lee, Photos by Abdul Rahman Embong
and Kevin Tan
For more, please visit the Legoland Malaysia official website
Map: Legoland Malaysia
Tags: interactive rides, Iskandar economic zone, Johor, Johor Baru, lego, Lego model builder, Legoland, Legoland Hotel, Legoland Malaysia, Legoland Park, Malaysia Tourism Plan 2020, miniature replica, theme park, theme park ride