KidZania Continues to Empower the Next Generation of Global Citizens
Ask 5-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, and they’re bound to name a variety of roles—teacher, doctor, movie star, chef, pilot, mermaid, basketball player, firefighter, Spider-Man. But where do these answers come from? Maybe they like to watch superheroes on TV, enjoy playing sports, or want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. At KidZania, children ages 1 to 14 have the opportunity to test out real-world occupations for themselves—without having to wait until they’re all grown up.
Having celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, KidZania has 28 facilities in 21 countries, with 10 additional facilities in development. In two decades, KidZania has welcomed more than 85 million guests to its children-run cities around the world, with an average of 10 million guests experiencing KidZania’s unique concept each year.
“We want to take KidZania to as many children as possible and continue growing to some of the largest markets in the world but also reach some cities that might have a lower population density,” says KidZania CEO Xavier López Ancona. “With each new KidZania city, we want to deliver an enhanced experience for our customers.”
Innovation continues to be a key element to the Mexico-based company’s growth and expansion around the globe. From extensively researching markets and the family entertainment center (FEC) business to incorporating new technologies and forming brand partnerships, KidZania propels its facilities into the future to create aspirational moments and prepare children for the world of tomorrow.
Building on a Successful Growth Strategy
“One of our main mottos at KidZania is that ‘children can only aspire to what they know exists’; the more experiences that a kid can have, even at a young age, the more possibilities he or she will have to find his or her true calling,” says López Ancona.
The ideal is a driving force behind KidZania’s mission to “ignite the hearts and minds of children everywhere and empower them to create a better world,” an undertaking that began with the 1999 debut of Mexico City’s La Ciudad de los Niños (City of Children). In this kid-sized interactive city, children explore different adult jobs in replicated buildings and simulated environments. López Ancona says the early goal was to provide a new entertainment venue for kids that was fun, educational, and promoted the values of good citizenship and social interaction through role-playing activities.
In its first year, La Ciudad de los Niños attracted nearly 800,000 visitors, exceeding expectations. A second facility opened in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2006 under the new KidZania brand, and in the same year, the company opened its first international location in Tokyo.
Hernán Barbieri, franchisee services managing director at KidZania, first discovered the brand in 2006 after his daughter was invited to a birthday party at La Ciudad de los Niños.
“La Ciudad de los Niños was everything she talked about for a week,” Barbieri says. “Her excitement made me really curious about this place, so I took my family for another visit to see it for myself, and I totally fell in love with the concept.”
Months later, Barbieri joined the KidZania team as franchise director, supervising the design and implementation of the business strategy at KidZania facilities, and four years later, he was appointed Governor of KidZania Mexico. (Also known as the CEO of KidZania Mexico. “All positions in KidZania are named as government positions or public office positions in alignment with the storytelling that KidZania is a nation created by and for kids,” Barbieri says.)
Now as franchisee services managing director (known as minister of state), Barbieri oversees the profitability and growth of all KidZania franchisees, explores expansion opportunities, and ensures a consistent, quality experience with high standards across the markets where KidZania operates.
“Our growth strategy is twofold. First, we decided to grow in Mexico by owning and operating the facilities in this territory. Then, in 2006, we started growing abroad through a franchise plan with local operators and a close supervision from our head office,” Barbieri says. “We only have one business partner per country, and that partner is responsible for ensuring the growth of their corresponding territory.”
Four KidZania facilities currently operate in Mexico—two in Mexico City, one in Monterrey, and one in Guadalajara. The first international location was established in Japan, where there are now two KidZania facilities, with a third on the way.
“KidZania Japan has been one of our most successful territories since we opened KidZania Tokyo back in 2006,” Barbieri says. “For several years, people had to book three months in advance in order to get
After identifying potential markets for KidZania facilities, there are three main stages in the establishment process, according to Barbieri: predevelopment, development, and operations. In predevelopment, the team conducts a thorough feasibility study and looks for the right business partner and venue. The second stage includes design, hiring, training, securing of industry partners, and marketing planning.
“Cultural and social standards and traditions are taken into consideration early on in the development process,” says Barbieri. “Once a new KidZania is confirmed, our global experience team—which oversees everything related to content, architecture, and theming—conducts research to help our local partners develop content that keeps true to the KidZania concept but also highlights local industries, products, and traditions.”
A soft opening wraps up the development phase to ensure quality standards in all areas, from operations to merchandising, and then the new KidZania facility enters the operations stage, in which the city is “founded.” A foundation ceremony marks the official opening, and visitors are welcomed inside for the first time.
Launching KidZania 4.0
Two decades of growth have not come without its challenges. Barbieri recalls the difficulty of positioning the concept in other territories at first.
“At that time, nobody outside of Mexico knew about us. We had the name in Spanish (La Ciudad de los Niños), and it was difficult to explain this new edutainment concept to third parties,” he says. “We decided to look for a new name that could be easily understood in many languages. That’s how the name KidZania, land of cool kids, was born.”
Other early challenges included learning about overseeing franchises, finding the necessary funding to grow abroad, and figuring out how to adapt the KidZania concept to new countries.
By its 20th anniversary, KidZania had expanded into countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, but it had yet to introduce its interactive children’s city concept to North America. In November 2019, KidZania opened its first venture in the United States, KidZania Dallas, and two more locations—KidZania Chicago and KidZania New York—are currently in development in the U.S., as well as a location in Toronto, the first for Canada.
“After almost 15 years of expertise with the franchise business, improving and testing our concept in different markets, and positioning KidZania as a unique edutainment offer for children, we decided to expand to the United States,” Barbieri says. “The United States is one of the biggest and most competitive markets in the world, and its consumers are very sophisticated. Considering this scenario, we had to bring our best-in-class model to ensure our success in this market.”
KidZania 4.0 is the company’s latest model—developed to reinvigorate KidZania’s concept, reach a broader audience, and enrich the guest experience. This new model emerged from a 2016 “Presidential Tour,” in which KidZania’s leadership team visited the 25 operating KidZania locations at the time to identify best practices and share ideas with operations teams.
“During that 18-month trip, I also visited almost 300 entertainment properties in the world to get a grasp of trends, best practices, and opportunity areas for the world of FECs,” says CEO López Ancona. “In a fast-paced sector like entertainment, it is essential to be constantly thinking about ways to innovate and to stay ahead in the industry.”
The KidZania 4.0 model consists of the development of a smaller format to fit cities with lower population densities. The new plan expands content options by broadening the range of represented professions (such as animation, coding, and robotics), offers new activities that allow parents to participate with their children, adds a special area for toddlers ages 1 to 4 named RightZKeepers Neighborhood, and introduces technological innovations. An enhanced smartphone app provides parents with real-time booking information, the location of their children within the facility, photographs of their visit, and a record of completed activities.
“One example of the studies we conduct is the KidZania CongreZZ, an annual qualitative research study conducted in several countries to have a deeper knowledge of children’s interests, aspirations, likes, and dislikes,” López Ancona says. “Based on the results from [market research studies, surveys, and social listening], we’ve developed new role-playing activities. Also, we’ve used this feedback to develop variable programs as a way to offer seasonal content based on each region, always respecting local culture and customs.”
KidZania Guadalajara, KidZania Costa Rica, KidZania Doha, KidZania Abu Dhabi, KidZania Dallas, and the recently renovated KidZania Santa Fe—the original La Ciudad de los Niños location—operate under the KidZania 4.0 model, says López Ancona. All of the facilities in development will also run under the new model.
Real-World City Gets Real-Time Tech
KidZania facilities replicate a realistic city with buildings lining paved roads and sidewalks, plazas featuring fountains and statues, and well-placed foliage next to benches and food carts to simulate an outdoor setting. Places like a dental clinic, restaurant, TV station, bank, and chocolate factory come together to form a metropolis where kids have full rein to create their own experience.
“In KidZania, we don’t generally guide kids through the city; they are encouraged to make their own decisions,” says Ric Fearnett, governor of KidZania London. “When there is no pressure, I see children blossom and sample opportunities that they cannot do at home or in a regular classroom. Role-play is so very powerful.”
However, the process involved in recreating the experiences, environments, and tools of established professions can be challenging.
“We need to design role-playing activities that are relatable; easy to follow; and foster the development of children’s expertise, skills, and values, while respecting our essence,” says Eduardo Guevara, global director of technology at KidZania. “To achieve this, we work hand in hand with our very talented content and experience team in order to provide the right, and sometimes creative, technological tools to achieve it.”
The evolution of technology is apparent through KidZania’s 20-year history. For instance, Guevara points to the fact that the first facilities featured activities incorporating foldable cell phones and dial-up internet kiosks.
“Technology is making several professions more precise and accurate, faster and efficient, and, hopefully, more reachable as these technologies become mainstream,” he says. “This is a reality that we are currently reflecting in KidZania by including new role-playing professions and technology like drones, robotics, and Internet of Things (IoT), as well as virtual and augmented reality.”
Recently, KidZania created an automotive innovation center, where children can design an electric car with IoT integration, and an astronaut training center that simulates being on the International Space Station.
“It is said that 50% of professions children will pursue when they grow up don’t even exist today, so we need to offer cutting-edge professions that can help them develop skills and prepare them for their future jobs,” says López Ancona.
According to Patricia Velasco, global marketing director at KidZania, the company has sought to widen children’s professional aspirations and reinforce the necessary skills for jobs of the future by working with nongovernmental organizations to boost science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions. KidZania also partners with about 1,000 different private corporations, governmental institutions, and nonprofit organizations (known as industry partners) to adapt their products and services to KidZania’s cities and create authentic experiences.
“An airline knows how best to train pilots and cabin crew. A bank knows how best to teach children about saving and investing,” Velasco says. “Industry partners make experiences possible and, in turn, empower, inspire, and support learning for children.”
The Next 20 Years
While KidZania will continue serving children as a learning and entertainment venue, López Ancona would like to expand the company’s focus beyond entertainment to include media, games, and content generation. Already in the pipeline is a new concept named Kinezis that would bring health and entertainment together. López Ancona’s vision for Kinezis combines well-being, health, and sports in an indoor facility that can be adapted to different regions.
“These past 20 years are the foundation for a bright future, and now we are ready and excited for the next 20 years to come,” López Ancona says. “If we can inspire kids to become exemplary global citizens when they grow up, that would be greatest legacy I could ask for.”
Contact Funworld Assistant Editor Juanita Chavarro Arias at [email protected].