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Football crazy

Football crazy
May 18, 2018 (WiC 409)

Arguably Wigan’s biggest claim to fame is that it doesn’t have a pier – but that many think it does because George Orwell named his famed book on poverty The Road to Wigan Pier. Asked on the radio about this, the writer said: “I must tell you that Wigan Pier doesn’t exist. I made a journey specially to see it in 1936 and I couldn’t find it.”

In China, Wigan ranks as one of the less likely cities the nation’s tourists might visit, even those curious about piers. But those numbers might increase now that a Chinese has bought its football club Wigan Athletic. The BBC reported last week that the Hong Kong-based International Entertainment Consortium (IEC) will buy the club from the Whelan family. IEC is controlled by Stanley Choi, a lesser known Hong Kong tycoon who claims to be friends with Jack Ma and to be a world class poker player. According to HK01 his company’s main source of income is casinos in the Philippines.

Wigan becomes the latest English club to be Chinese-owned – though it will only play next season in the second-tier Championship. Fosun-owned Wolves, on the other hand, will play Premiership football having won the Championship this season. Guo Guangchang’s punt on the Midlands club looks to have been astute now that the club will return to England’s big money top league.

Guo has been a keen buyer of foreign assets over the past eight years (we reported on his first major purchase – a stake in Club Med – in WiC70). The latest deal to complete is his acquisition of luxury Austrian hosiery maker Wolford. That transaction closed last week and follows Fosun’s $120 million purchase of French brand Lanvin.

Back on the topic of football, there is a possibility that another Chinese-owned club will join Fosun’s Wolves in the top flight. Tony Xia-owned Aston Villa are in the play-off final, where a victory over Fulham later this month could see the Birmingham club play Premiership football in the forthcoming season.

Bike-sharers apply the brakes

Bike-sharers apply the brakes
May 11, 2018 (WiC 408)

When we profiled Mobike in September 2016 WiC was one of the first English-language media to focus on Chinese bike-sharing apps (see WiC339). We were soon writing about its main rival Ofo too and the struggle between them to win market share, first in cities across China and later in urban areas across the globe.

However, the breakneck pace of their battle soon had municipal authorities in China irate, with fleets of orange Mobikes and yellow Ofos piling up on the streets, disrupting traffic and becoming an unsightly public nuisance. Several cities ordered a freeze on new bikes.

New data now shows how Alibaba-owned Ofo has been impacted by the regulatory crackdown. According to the South China Morning Post, Ofo had signed a deal with Shanghai Phoenix Bicycles last May to buy 5 million bikes in the year ahead. However, the bikemaker announced in a stock exchange filing that Ofo had purchased just 1.86 million bikes for Rmb637 million ($100 million) over that 12-month period.

It is thought that the number of app-controlled rental bikes in China peaked at 16 million in September last year. Ofo’s founder Dai Wei has said the company is now “transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development,” reports the SCMP.

Water bed

Water bed
May 4, 2018 (WiC 407)

Fosun has an answer for those bored by traditional hotel suites: attach a floor-to-ceiling view of an aquarium with 100,000 marine animals. This can be had at its new Atlantis resort in Hainan’s Sanya. The Poseidon Suite is a submerged duplex of 340 square metres that is one of five units submerged beneath a lagoon. It doesn’t come cheap, mind you. A night in the aquatic hotel suite will set the guest back Rmb108,888 or roughly $17,200.

The new sail-shaped hotel is a replica of Atlantis resorts in Dubai and The Bahamas and has 1,314 rooms. The opening of the luxury property comes as Hainan unveiled a plan for visa free entry to visitors from 59 countries – the first such rule for a province within the PRC. The tourism-driven island hopes to attract two million foreign guests by the end of the year.

The Rmb11 billion resort is part of conglomerate Fosun’s big bet on the leisure sector – one of the three it is focusing its growth on alongside healthcare and wealth management. The company says Hainan has an “unprecedented opportunity for growth and development” after Beijing gave the island the unique status of a Free Trade Port last month (see WiC405).

In other tourism related news, Reuters reports this week that China will open its first ever virtual reality theme park in Guiyang next February. The 330 acre $1.5 billion park will feature 35 virtual reality attractions, ranging from “virtual rollercoasters to tours with interstellar aliens”. Its boss boldly told Reuters it will change the “entire tourism structure of Guizhou province and the entire southwest of China” because it is the first of its kind in the world. The rides will use VR goggles and motion simulators to “thrill users”.

For those that cannot afford the Poseidon Suite, perhaps the new park can introduce a VR version of it…