Pint-sized Ambitions

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. New Straits Times. January 29, 2012. (English). A new theme park in the Klang Valley encourages children to role play by working and earning a salary, writes John Tion.

THERE’S a whole new city run by children at KidZania. The new, two-storied theme park at the CurveNX building adjacent to Tesco and Ikea in Mutiara Damansara, is lined with elegant streets and business outlets where children aged 4-14 can role play.

Entrance fees are RM55 (children) and RM35 (adult). The unique theme park offers 60 establishments that provide 90 role playing opportunities. Parents will be able to give children a taste of adult professions.

Facilities include a building where fire and smoke can be simulated, so that children can role play as firefighters. A real, albeit old, airplane lets children take on roles of passenger, pilot, steward and stewardess. The plane is strategically positioned in the building to allow one to feel the expanse of the sky when the engine is switched on.

And for those yearning for a taste of a career on stage, a theatre with an enthralling stage is all set for them to work as actors, actresses, singers and dancers. The multiple rows of chairs make it possible for an audience, mainly parents, to watch their children perform.

At KidZania, children learn about life — that money has to be earned and that a better qualification is the stepping stone to a better job. Children are paid for their “work” in KidZos (KidZania currency).

Children are given a cheque for 50 KidZos upon entry and this can be deposited into their savings account issued with an ATM card. Yes, everything is as close to real-life as possible. Even passports are issued.

As the bank account and passport are valid for the next visit, this offers a sense of continuity, much like the real world.


KidZania President & CEO, Xavier López Ancona

Chief executive officer and founder Xavier Lopez Ancona says the multi-million dollar theme park started in Mexico City in September 1999. Today, it is found in eight other cities — Kuala Lumpur, Monterrey, Tokyo, Jakarta, Osaka, Lisbon, Dubai and Seoul. He tells us more:

What were you doing before KidZania?
I was working with GE Capital’s Private Equity Group and was a business consultant with an American company before I went into the business.

Have you ever dreamt about setting up this business when young?
Never. I was 33 when I founded KidZania. I always wanted my own business. The best way to prepare oneself is through studies. I did my MBA in Chicago. I became a business consultant because in a short time you learn a lot about private equity business, with the ability to weigh a business opportunity quickly. KidZania was at the right place and time for me to venture into.

What was the first job?
An English teacher, when I was 14. I also teamed up with friends to entertain elderly people as magicians but that was for free.

Why KidZania? It is different from what you were doing.
First, it has huge business potential. Mexico has 25 million people and eight million are children. There were not many educational places for children.

One of my friends had plans for a chain of daycare centres with facilities like a hospital, bank and supermarket for children to role play. I hated the idea of daycare centres but loved the idea of giving children the opportunity to role play.

We changed the business from daycare centre to something more educational and fun — a city for kids to have fun in.

Where did you get the investment to start such a large project?
I invited my friends and their families to invest in the business because of its potential. The business is sound because of Mexico’s large population. KidZania not only helps us make money but it also makes a difference to the city we live in.

What were the challenges in the beginning?
We were short of money. This was because we wanted the best facilities. We were lucky. We had 800,000 visitors in the first year. Our industry partners — those who helped set up KidZania — grew from 45 to 60 in the second year.

They made KidZania more popular. That was when we decided to expand by 25 per cent.

What about the security and safety measures?
We hired the best US security and safety consultants. Every KidZania customer wears a bracelet. We make sure children  who come with their parents, leave only with their parents. There is also a searching device to locate a person at any time. At any one time, there are 18,000 people walking on the streets of KidZania in Mexico. We also have a paramedic and two nurses on hand.

What is your favourite place in KidZania in Mexico City?
When I am depressed or stressed out, I spend time at KidZania, because it has a therapeutic effect on me. I love the theatre. It is not that I love to be an actor. I love to watch the children perform. It takes six months to do a play in school but at KidZania, you can have the best show, the best act in some best costumes in 40 minutes (laughs). The best part is that children come out of the theatre experience, more outspoken, more ready to face the world.

Does KidZania give back to society?
We set aside some 50,000 tickets for the underprivileged every year. Sometimes we even pay for the transportation. We’re most interested in children-oriented causes. We have given tickets to needy organisations to sell to finance their projects. If a family  is in need of money for medical reasons, we give them something like 2,000 tickets to sell and they can keep the proceeds.

We also team up with international organisations like Unicef and World Vision to help them create awareness of their work.

Via: New Straits Times

Click on the picture to see full size:

New Straits Times (Life & Times) 29 January 2012 - Pint-szed ambitions - Pg 2



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