SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The world's fourth Universal Studios welcomed its first visitors on Thursday with a lavish ceremony aimed at attracting luck, and repeat business, to the Singapore theme park which hopes to avoid the fate of loss-making Hong Kong Disneyland.
Doors were flung open to the public at precisely 08:28 a.m. after 18 Chinese lions blazed through the entrance at 08:08 a.m. The number 8 is considered by many in mostly ethnic Chinese Singapore as auspicious.
Actresses dressed up like Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop paraded with the lion-dancing troupe along Hollywood Boulevard, one of the seven themed zones in the 20-hectare park that aims to attract 4.5 million visitors in its first year.
"We have ambitions that this would be the No. 1 destination in Asia and also Europe as far as theme parks are concerned," Genting Group chairman Lim Kok Thay told reporters after the opening ceremony.
Asked if Universal Studios Singapore could lose its novelty quickly and suffer losses like Hong Kong's Disneyland, Lim said: "Definitely not, we are different from Disney."
He adding the park would bring in more rides over the next three years to keep the experience "fresh" for visitors.
Since opening to fanfare in 2005, Disney's first magic kingdom in China struggled to attract the expected flood of visitors from mainland China, and has been criticized as being too small to attract repeat visitors.
In 2008, it made a net loss of $170 million and is now undergoing an expansion aimed at bolstering its competitiveness with a rival Disneyland scheduled to open in Shanghai in the next five or six years.
The 24 attractions at Universal Studios include the world's tallest dueling rollercoaster -- where two rollercoasters shoot off at the same time and loop around each other -- plus a 4-D cinema and rides based on Hollywood films such as "Madagascar" and "Jurassic Park."
"It is surprisingly nice," said Vijay, an Indian Singaporean visiting with his two kids, and wearing a Florida Universal Studios t-shirt. "The environment, the crowd and the merchandise is on par with Florida."
"In the Singapore context, this service is very good. There are always common complaints in Singapore about lousy, rock bottom service, but these people make a difference," said Vijay, who declined to give his full name.
The park is part of the $4.4 billion Resorts World at Sentosa, owned by a unit of Malaysia's Genting Group, which also has a casino and six hotels, and plans to lure 60 percent visitors from Southeast Asia, China and India.
The Singapore government expects visitor arrivals to the city-state to rise by as much as 30 percent to 12.5 million this year, helped by an economic recovery in Asia and the lure of two new multi-billion dollar casino resorts.
Editing by Miral Fahmy