Mark Snell talks about KidZania’s next-generation rollout.
Opening early 2012 in Cuicuilco, a southern suburb of Mexico City, is a new twist on the KidZania concept: an outdoor park, more than triple the size of the existing, eponymous indoor facilities, on a 150,000 square foot site.
And that’s just the beginning. The privately held KidZania Inc. currently operates eight parks and is on schedule to double that over the next two years. Altogether about a dozen new KidZanias are in various stages of development around the world, including two in the US. The company recently created two new executive positions to help steer the growth and realize the next generation of KidZanias. Mark Snell is now Chief Experience Officer, and Philip Sandhaus is Vice President Global Business.
The first KidZania opened in Mexico City in 1999. The seven other locations – all indoors – are Monterrey, Mexico; Tokyo; Jakarta; Osaka; Lisbon; Dubai; and Seoul. The company reports that more than 18 million kids and family members have visited the parks globally.
Within each KidZania are multiple “establishments” that reflect an urban community, each with a range of role-playing activities based in the real world and tending toward the vocational. The facilities’ themed environments are detailed with a view toward authenticity. KidZania also makes the most of corporate branding and sponsorship, which further contribute to making the places and experiences look and feel authentic to the young visitors.
As Chief Experience Officer, Snell, based at the company headquarters in Mexico, leads KidZania’s “Ministry of Culture,” focused on creating superior guest experiences through entertaining and engaging content, themes, architecture, programming, and operations. He was first exposed to KidZania about 11 years ago when he was with Jack Rouse Associates, and CEO Xavier López Ancona invited a JRA team to visit the flagship facility.
The new property in Cuicuilco will reflect an expanded concept as well as a larger facility and the first outdoor KidZania. “It is the “next evolution of the KidZania experience,” says Snell. Laid out as a scaled-down city complete with a downtown, suburbs, landscaping and architectural landmarks, and looped by a roadway for driving education, its activities revolve around the themes of driving safety, community, health, civics and the environment. “We are taking our motto of ‘Get Ready for a Better World’ and putting it into practice through the medium of leisure entertainment,” says Snell.
The backstory of the “Better World” motto is that KidZania was formed by kids who wanted to experiment with running the world and see how they could improve things. They even have their own currency: the “kidZo.”
The new park will open with around 85 establishments including over 200 activities. The primary demographic is ages 4-12. The facility will be 100% accessible and include specific activities to help able-bodied children empathize with the disabled, such as grocery shopping in darkness guided by blind attendants, or being fitted with a leg cast and wheelchair and sent out to perform tasks in the park.
By empowering children to try on a variety of activities and roles, KidZania seeks to build skills, nurture creativity and develop values in ways that will positively affect the real future of their young visitors and where they live. “If we can encourage this experimentation and flexibility in kids now, when they become adults imagine how they might do things better than we currently do,” explains Snell.
The outdoor setting of the Cuicuilco park accommodates an extensive driving course and fulfills an important KidZanian goal: to train better drivers for Mexico’s streets. “This will emphasize the importance of driver’s education to the kids,” explains Snell.
Snell points out that almost every major urban area faces certain kinds of issues that touch the children who live there, such as housing and population growth, accommodation for the disabled, nutrition and, with the rise of personal technology, a decline in the level of physical activity and face-to-face socialization. To address such issues and help build that better world, KidZania activities are designed to help instill a sense of the workings of a city: infrastructure, zoning and planning, civic awareness, limited natural resources – with the new, larger park offering more choices than ever.
“To really understand how a city works you have to have all the roles: police officers, dentists, bus drivers, cooks, clerks, judges, trash collectors, teachers, radio announcers and so forth,” says Snell. “Additionally, national, state and international curriculum standards are being built into the activities; we have strong relationships with top universities in Mexico and are building similar relationships with other US and global institutions centered on early childhood education.”
That’s heavy stuff, but it’s still “Entertainment first,” says Snell, whose professional background includes an education in theatre, the creation of attractions for SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and other major theme parks and the design of online educational experiences for school curricula. “It has to deliver a fun and engaging mix of entertainment along with the educational/socialization component for kids and their parents to be motivated to visit and return. KidZania isn’t a school, although we host many school groups: It’s a place for kids to come and have fun, and the supervisors role-play right along with the kids.”
Snell works with a creative team of about 50 people in Mexico City covering the full range of disciplines for designing and producing themed environments. Once a site is established, it’s a rapid process: “We can turn out a park in about 18 months,” he says. Industry members interested in working on future KidZanias should send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Judith Rubin
Photo: courtesy of KidZania
Printable PDF Version: kidzania.pdf
Issue: Vol 7, Issue 5: IAAPA 2011