KidZania: get ready for a better world
By Catherine Jewell, Publications Division, WIPO
KidZania offers children from age 2 to 14 a unique, interactive experience and many unforgettable and fun memories. Built around children’s love of role-play, KidZania has become one of the world’s fastest growing learning and entertainment brands. The outgoing Chief Executive Officer of KidZania’s Mexican operations, Maricruz Arrubarrena, offers an insider’s view of the company and explains what lies at the heart of its success.
What was the inspiration for KidZania?
KidZania was set up by Xavier López Ancona and his associates in 1997. The first theme park, known as Ciudad de los Niños (City of Children), opened in September 1999, in Santa Fe, Mexico City. That was when I started working for the company. KidZania is driven by a desire to make a difference to the lives of children and to ensure they become engaged and responsible citizens.
Tell us about the KidZania concept.
KidZania is an indoor kid-sized city that offers children a unique opportunity to learn and interact with other children through role-play. Our concept combines education and entertainment and is built around children’s natural desire to create, explore and play together. We believe that role-play is a really smart way for kids to learn. At KidZania, children get a chance to explore over 90 adult careers, learn how to manage money and get a grasp of the how the real world works. KidZania offers them a safe place to learn by doing, to learn from each other and to gain confidence in their abilities. Our aim is to inspire them to become great global citizens.
KidZania is a scaled-down replica of a fully operating city. It is divided into three main areas: the airport, the city center and the suburbs. Kids access the park via the airport – their entry ticket is their boarding card. The city has brick-paved streets with office blocks offering different services and storefronts with the logos of familiar brands. We make every effort to give our visitors an experience that is as true-to-life as possible.
Inside, kids can play at being adults in a host of activity locations or “establishments,” which include a fire station, a supermarket, a courthouse, a sushi bar, a hospital, a tax office and many others. We make sure each establishment is equipped with highly lifelike props so the experience is as realistic as possible.
We think of KidZania as a nation with its own language, identity, culture, government and economy. All transactions take place in our currency, kidZos. On entry, each child receives 50 kidZos, which they can spend, save (they can even open a bank account) or donate. They can earn more kidZos by doing different jobs. The roles of firefighter, pilot and police officer are very popular. In this way, KidZania introduces them to the world of work, and the value of money. Many children have gone on to pursue careers that they first discovered at KidZania.
Kids can even get a paZZport from the PaZZport Office – it’s part of our loyalty program, which is built around the theme of citizenship. The paZZport is stamped after each activity and offers certain benefits. And our RigthZKeepers – Bekha, Urbano Beebop, Chika, Vita and Bache (above) represent the nation’s ideals, and are responsible for promoting our values among the kids, namely, to be, to know, to create, to share, to care and to play.
On arrival, each child is given a security bracelet so parents can track their whereabouts and activities (children under eight years are accompanied by an adult). The bracelets also enable the company to capture invaluable data about the evolving needs and tastes of children so we can further enhance our offering. KidZania is a place where kids can try out new ways of being and doing things and prepare themselves for the future. We say KidZania is an “opportunity to get ready for a better world.”
What has been your experience in working with KidZania?
I started with the company in 1999, developing educational content for KidZania’s first facility in Santa Fe, then moved into sales and operations. I studied business administration, but I love kids, so KidZania was a perfect place for me. For the last three years, I have been managing KidZania’s four Mexican facilities. KidZania has allowed me to grow professionally and in many ways has become my second home.
How many KidZania facilities are there?
We now have 28 facilities in 25 countries. The last one launched in Abu Dhabi in September 2019. Another 10 facilities are under construction and by the end of the year, we will have opened another two – one in Dallas (our first facility in the United States) and another in Surabaya, South Africa.
Careful management of IP is central to ensuring that we maintain the integrity of our brand and those of our industry partners.
KidZanias are generally located in shopping malls, so parents can go shopping while their children are enjoying their KidZania experience. We are open 360 days a year, and since 1999 have welcomed over 80 million visitors – parents and children, of course, but also schools and companies who visit us for team-building purposes. It’s amazing how KidZania brings out the kid in everyone!
Each facility has around 400 employees, including teams for operational support, office administration and sales. Inclusion is very important to us. Retirees and people with disabilities make up 10 percent of our workforce. We also offer disadvantaged children and those with disabilities free access to our facilities.
KidZania has been recognized as one of the fastest growing global entertainment brands in the world. What is the secret of its success?
We try to marry performance with purpose, and to do good and to do well. With KidZania everyone wins. The community wins because we offer jobs. Parents win because their kids get to learn while having fun. Schools win because we offer their pupils an immersive educational experience. And our industry partners win because we offer them a unique marketing platform to build brand loyalty and to grow with us in different countries. I think our success comes from our strong social commitment to make a difference.
What is its business model?
KidZania is two businesses in one. It is a family entertainment and learning center and it is a platform for brands to engage with families. Each has a strong corporate social responsibility focus. Our concept centers on children’s innate love of role-play. At KidZania, kids can explore what it means to be a doctor, a firefighter, a police officer, and many other roles.
We own and operate four facilities in Mexico, and have expanded our international operations through franchising. Our franchisees are typically service-oriented companies – they understand the importance of good customer relations – that are committed to children’s education. Franchisees need to have the “know how” and the “know who” to get the business off the ground quickly. KidZania provides the intellectual property (IP), designs, themes, know how, and operational manuals, and works with the franchisee to develop the master plan and choose the right location.
What challenges are associated with franchising?
Every new franchise has its own challenges. But the overriding challenge is to ensure that the format and operations of our facilities continue to meet international quality standards. While all KidZania facilities resemble each other in terms of their design, each has its own cultural flavor. The team responsible for managing and monitoring franchisee relationships, known as the KidZania Intelligence Agency, plays an important role in monitoring and upholding quality benchmarks. Control is very important in franchising. That is why we have very strict franchising contracts in place. Poor execution and bad service can damage our reputation.
What role does innovation and creativity play in the company?
Innovation and creativity are deeply woven into the company’s culture. We wouldn’t exist without them. At KidZania we develop innovation and creativity around the world with entertainment. With every activity, we seek to inspire kids and to enable them to explore their flair for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. At the corporate level, we are always looking for new ideas and employ many young people. We also work very closely with academia so students can learn from our experience and realize their own ideas and ambitions. We see this as part of our social responsibility.
What role does IP play in the company?
IP is central to our business model. We own the IP in the architectural designs and all the creative elements associated with establishing a KidZania facility and actively protect our IP assets. This is critically important because we have a lot of competition from copycats around the world. We are growing as rapidly as we can to make the most of the first mover advantage. And we are very detail-oriented and set great store on quality because we believe the best way to beat copycats is to offer top quality service and the best available product. Our brand and our global reputation as a quality service provider are what make us stand out in this market.
We also work with over 960 brands – I don’t think many other companies have so many industry partners – so careful management of IP is central to ensuring that we maintain the integrity of our brand and those of our industry partners.
Why does KidZania work with so many brands? What is in it for them?
Our industry partners represent the city’s businesses and activities and are a key part of the KidZania experience. Their participation adds authenticity and credibility to our activities. By working with us, brands have an opportunity to give something back to the community by supporting children’s learning. It also offers an opportunity for them to learn about the evolving tastes and needs of children and parents and to cultivate brand recognition and loyalty among them. They also get an opportunity to grow with us as we enter new markets. Some brands have been with us from the outset. KidZania offers brands a unique platform to reach new customers and an opportunity to make a difference.
Have you used WIPO’s Madrid System to register your trademarks internationally?
Yes, as a Mexican company with a global footprint, the Madrid System is a user-friendly and cost-effective way for us to register our trademarks and protect our brand in our target markets. It also makes it easier for us to manage our portfolio of trademark assets.
Innovation and creativity are deeply woven into the company’s culture. We wouldn’t exist without them. At KidZania we develop innovation and creativity around the world with entertainment.
What are KidZania’s plans for the future?
We are rolling out KidZania 4.0 to make our facilities smarter and more technology-oriented with new professions and activities that reflect new trends. We are also launching a range of new apps to enhance the KidZania experience for children and parents, while making sure we don’t sacrifice interactivity. We are assessing the feasibility of opening sites with fewer activities in smaller cities to create opportunities for KidZania to expand its global franchise. And our new health, fitness and entertainment concept for older people, Kinezis, will open in Mexico State in 2020, with franchising opportunities in other countries.
What advice do you have for young people?
Be open, patient and passionate. Work hard for your goals and have fun!
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