By MARTIN ABBUGAO
Malaysia is set for Asia’s first Legoland next year.
Asia’s first Legoland theme park is on track to open next year in southern Malaysia, its builder said, as the region goes all out to lure tourists with a series of big ticket attractions.
Earthmovers have flattened a vast expanse of oil palm-covered hills to make way for the 31ha Legoland Malaysia, one of the main attractions of the Iskandar economic zone.
The park, which will offer 40 rides, shows and displays of the famous Lego toy bricks of Denmark, is just across the causeway from Singapore, which opened South-East Asia’s first Universal Studios entertainment complex last year.
Zainal Ashikin Muhammad, chief executive of IDR Resorts, the builder of Legoland Malaysia, said the new park will complement Universal Studios Singapore rather than compete with it.
“Is there a saturation of theme parks? In this region, no. There’s still a lot of growth for theme park development,” he said during a recent media tour organised by Iskandar Malaysia.
European visitor attractions operator Merlin Entertainments, whose stable includes Madame Tussauds, the London Eye and SEA LIFE, has been roped in to operate Legoland Malaysia.
When completed, Legoland Malaysia will be the sixth of its kind in the world after those in Denmark, Britain, California, Florida and Germany.
Zainal said the Malaysian version will be one of three internationally branded theme parks that will operate by 2025 in the Iskandar region, in an ambitious project covering an area three times the size of Singapore.
With these theme parks, a 50km radius spanning Singapore and Iskandar will become like Orlando, Florida, which hosts Disneyland, Universal Studios and SeaWorld, Zainal said. “That is what we aspire to,” Zainal told reporters. “We have the natural resources, we have the land. This is a catalytic project.”
He said the regional market was big enough for more theme parks, despite the presence of Universal Studios in Singapore, Disneyland in Hong Kong and smaller attractions by local players.
Singapore welcomed a record 11.6 million foreign visitors last year, up 20% from 2009, thanks largely to the lure of its two new casino resorts, one of which has Universal Studios in its complex.
Wearing a hard hat under a hot sun, Zainal said the project had been progressing well since they broke ground in December 2009, building over an area of bushes and plant life.
Primary infrastructure, including roads, power substations and drainage systems, is about 50% to 60% complete.
Construction of the main theme park would start in March, he said, adding that of the RM720mil cost, RM200mil in contracts had already been awarded.
The fabrication of the rides has begun overseas while the construction of the 15,000 Legoland model structures to be displayed at the park has started in Malaysia and abroad.
About 30 million Lego bricks will be used to build the model structures. “Everything is in place,” Zainal said. “Some rides are already here but the majority will be shipped in July or August.”
Siegfried Borst from Legoland Germany, who was recruited to help run the Malaysian version, told reporters it would offer the same rides and attractions available in Europe, but with an Asian touch.
The “miniland” displays will consist of Lego replicas of iconic buildings and structures in Asia, including Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers, formerly the tallest building in the world, he said.
Because of the tropical weather, queuing areas in Legoland Malaysia will be covered, and the developer has ordered thousands of trees to be planted within the park grounds.
Borst said they are targeting at least a million visitors in the first year of operation. “I’m pretty confident that we can live up to the standards that we have in the other Legoland parks,” said Borst, who has 20 years of experience in the theme park business.
Source : http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2011/3/5/lifetravel/8158899&sec=lifetravel