Real Madrid football club puts small Chinese island on the map

Visitors rest outside Chimelong Ocean Kingdom at Hengqin Island adjacent to Macau. Source: Reuters

WHAT was once a former oyster farming island across a narrow waterway from Macau is now being transformed into China’s newest tourist haven.

A report on Reuters revealed that Hengqin – what is being called China’s answer to Florida’s Orlando – is expecting a boom aided in part by Spanish football club Real Madrid who announced last week that it would open an interactive “virtual reality” complex on the island.

The 12,000-sq m venue – in partnership with Hong Kong-listed developer, Lai Sun Group and set to open in 2021 – will include virtual reality entertainment and a museum showcasing the club’s history.

SEE ALSO: China’s Nanchang is on the cusp of a tourism boom

Hengqin has seen a surge of property prices in the last couple of years due its landmark attraction, the “Ocean Kingdom” theme park with a slew of hotel, malls and sprawling residential developments being built nearby.

The ongoing transformation of the island – three times larger than Macau, currently the biggest gambling district in the world – is part of Beijing’s efforts to bolster links between Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in the Pearl River Delta region.

The project to remodel Hengqin has been compared to that of global bay areas such as Tokyo and San Francisco.

“Hengqin will be the Orlando of China. Macau is Las Vegas (and) Hong Kong is New York,” Larry Leung, an executive with Lai Sun that is helping build the Real Madrid complex at its “Novotown” project in Hengqin, told Reuters. “Within an hour you can have them all.”

SEE ALSO: Macau casinos record exponential growth over past year

On top of that, Novotown’s entertainment offerings will include China’s first Lionsgate movie world with theme rides from blockbuster films such as The Hunger Games and Twilight, as well as a National Geographic educational center.

High-end hotel chains and luxury yacht makers are also building more hotels and a marina on the bay.

Additional reporting by Reuters.