Fosun gives Cirque du Soleil a second shot at wooing Chinese audiences
With the Chinese conglomerate as a major shareholder, the Canadian troupe is ready to have a crack at the mainland
The famous Cirque du Soleil did not exactly bring the house down the last time it attempted to woo Chinese audiences. Lacklustre ticket sales forced the troupe to scrap a resident show, ZAIA, in Macau, less than four years into a 10-year contract with casino operator Sands China.
But that was in 2012, three years before Fosun International, China’s biggest private conglomerate and one of the country’s most acquisitive firms, bought a quarter of the Canadian entertainment giant, making it the second-biggest shareholder.
That deal has given Cirque du Soleil a renewed confidence in its ability to captivate Chinese spectators. It plans to open a permanent show in Hangzhou, its first in the mainland, and on Thursday premiered its Avatar-themed circus show in China’s southernmost city of Sanya.
Sanya, on the southern tip of Haian island, is a go-to winter holiday destination for many Chinese, known for its upscale hotels, beach resorts and nightlife.
“This is China’s Hawaii,” said Daniel Lamarre, president of Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer. “China is now our top priority as we see most of our growth coming from China.”
Toruk – The First Flight, a contemporary circus show inspired by the blockbuster film Avatar, is scheduled for a run of 120 performances over 90 days.
It took three Boeing 747s and a 777 to get the entire set of Toruk – comprising more than 1,000 individual items – to Sanya. The production is being staged inside a massive temporary arena, capable of seating up to 3,000 spectators, which was built from the scratch in just 22 days.
Fosun’s decision in 2015 to buy a 25 per cent stake rejuvenated Lamarre’s ambition of introducing circus theatre culture to China.
“We are planning a permanent show in Hangzhou, very much like those in Las Vegas,” he said. “But it will be a story about China. Fifty per cent of the artists and 75 per cent of the crew will be Chinese.
“I’d like to consider this the real entry to China, thanks to our shareholder Fosun.”
Fosun International has been expanding in the tourism segment at a clip in recent years. As well as introducing Cirque De Soleil to China, it has been expanding the French holiday resort chain Club Med, which it bought in its entirety in 2015.
Club Med announced last year that it intends to open 20 new destinations near major Chinese cities by 2020. The firm said China is now its second-biggest market, with 200,000 customers in 2017.
Qian Jiannong, senior vice-president of Fosun International and president of Fosun Tourism Group, said the demerger between those two entities had been completed in May last year.
The group is considering taking the tourism unit to initial public offering (IPO).
“The conditions of listing Fosun Tourism are sufficiently met,” he said. “But there is not a timetable which we can disclose yet.”
According to its annual report, Fosun International’s “happiness ecosystem”, which comprises its tourism business and other entertainment units, turned a net profit of 516 billion yuan in the first half of 2017, a 37.5 per cent increase from the same period a year earlier.
In addition to Club Med, Fosun is also betting on a luxury resort – Atlantis, Sanya – in Sanya to further drive up revenue and profit. Atlantis, Sanya drew inspiration from the Atlantis, The Palm, in Dubai.
The Dubai hotel project generates around US$600 million in annual revenue, according to Qian.
“We are very positive on the revenues Atlantis Sanya could bring,” said Qian. “We have full reason to believe that it would reach similar revenue targets as Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm.”