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Attractions Management
2014 issue 4

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Leisure Management - Kooza Came to Town

Theme Parks

Kooza Came to Town

An experiment between PortAventura and Cirque du Soleil proves mutually beneficial, as the park offers its guests a theatrical diversion with the Kooza show and the circus company gets a regular European base to pitch its big top

Alice Davis
PortAventura’s Fernando Aldecoa
The Trickster, who created the magic world of Kooza PHOTOS: MATT BEARD COSTUMES: MARIE-CHANTALE ©2012
Kooza features many acrobatic and theatrical acts, such as skeleton dance PHOTOS: MATT BEARD COSTUMES: MARIE-CHANTALE ©2012
Kooza features many acrobatic and theatrical acts, such as hoops manipulation PHOTOS: MATT BEARD COSTUMES: MARIE-CHANTALE ©2012
A unicycle pas de deux is a highlight of the Kooza show. The choreography is a twist on the classic unicycle act PHOTOS: MATT BEARD COSTUMES: MARIE-CHANTALE ©2012
The Kooza cast at PortAventura. The entire Cirque du Soleil company today employs 5,000 staff, including 1,300 artists MATT BEARD COSTUMES: MARIE-CHANTALE ©2012
Two performers maintain hand-to-hand contact throughout a routine that shows incredible balance PHOTOS: MATT BEARD COSTUMES: MARIE-CHANTALE ©2012
Ferrari Land at PortAventura will be home to the world’s first Ferrari-themed five-star luxury hotel
Ferrari Land at PortAventura will be home to the world’s first Ferrari-themed five-star luxury hotel

PortAventura, the biggest theme park and resort in southern Europe, aims to be a first-class international destination that appeals to a market far beyond its Spanish borders. This vision is an integral part of the theme park’s DNA.

The park is effective at promoting itself to the wider world and it has worked hard to target overseas customers. That’s paid off, with 40 per cent of its 4 million visitors coming from outside Spain in 2014.

The Salou-based resort is aiming to increase that number to 50 per cent, and it knows how to do it: by investing in new and more innovate attractions. The destination manages a diverse and changing portfolio in order to sustain this appeal and reach new audiences.

It’s for this reason that PortAventura approached renowned Canadian performance troupe Cirque du Soleil and suggested they partner for the summer season, with a view to making it a long-term commitment. It turned out to be a fruitful ­proposal, as the Cirque du Soleil big top at PortAventura sold more than 101,000 tickets over its 10 July to 30 August 2014 run. Negotiations are underway for the collaboration to continue, with the Canadian company bringing a different show to the park next year.

“One of the keys to the success of PortAventura is that we present a new project every year,” says Fernando Aldecoa, the park’s general manager. In 2012, the Shambhala rollercoaster launched; in 2013, the new-look Costa Caribe aquatic park opened, and the ride Angkor followed in 2014. Since 2009, the park has invested over $158m (£99m, €125m) in its “internationalisation startegy”. “We want something to make people come back for the summer season. We needed a good hook for the international visitor who mainly comes in summer. If people stay for a week we have to provide enough activities,” he says.

Increasing stay time at the resort, which now has four hotels, is vital to the family-oriented park and increases the spend of the captive audience. The location is conducive to a multi-day destination. On the Costa Daurada on Spain’s east coast, PortAventura is bathed in the Catalan sun throughout the summer, with daily temperatures averaging 26°C and long hours of daylight through the peak months from May to August. With the beach, the city of Barcelona and the chance to watch Cirque du Soleil, ­tourists have a full menu of activities easily accessible from their accommodation.

Cirque du Soleil agreed to the partnership, marking the first tie-up between the Canadian company and a European theme park and the first time the troupe has positioned itself closely with a theme park outside its partnerships with Disney at Walt Disney World, Orlando, and previously at Tokyo Disney Resort, Japan.

“We were looking for a place to go regularly in the summer and PortAventura was looking for the best quality entertainment it could get, so the marriage happened from there,” says Heather Reilly, company manager for the Kooza show, who oversees the logistics of the $35m (£20m, €26m) tour and its 130 staff. “Furthermore, the collaboration partners two strong A-brands together.”

Reilly is right – they’re certainly two big players, with the park worth an estimated $556m (£348m, €439m) at the end of 2013, and the entire global Cirque du Soleil outfit generating more than $900m (£564m, €711m) in revenues last year.

For PortAventura these partnerships – which are typically bold – have always been carefully selected. In 1997, when the park was just a few years old, it decided that a widely recognised IP would help boost the visibility of its brand.

A ­partnership with NBC Universal ensued, with famous Universal characters licensed to the park, making it more recognisable to overseas customers. The US entertainment giant then bought up the majority of shares and renamed the park Universal’s PortAventura, beofre Universal bowed out in the mid-2000s. By then, Woody Woodpecker, in particular, had become synonymous with the park. The well-known ­mascot and his friends still drive marketing campaigns and retail offerings. (Today, US investment fund KKR holds a 49.9 per cent stake in PortAventura, while Italian private equity firm Investindustrial, who came on board in 2009, owns 51.1 per cent.)

In 2008, the park teamed up with Sesame Street – one of the most widely watched children’s shows on the planet, with 8 million US viewers each week, and localised versions of the programme broadcast in 120 different nations. Characters like Elmo, Bert, Ernie, and the Cookie Monster were introduced at PortAventura. In 2011, the IP got a whole area to itself when SésamoAventura opened, and became the park’s most popular attraction, Aldecoa says.

The future will bring Ferrari Land, a 75,000sqm (807,000sq ft) addition, which is currently under construction and due to open in 2016. It’s no coincidence that Ferrari has been declared the most powerful brand in the world for two consecutive years by the Brand Finance Global 500 report. “Our priority is developing the international market,” Aldecoa says. “There are different strat-egies that we follow to achieve this, but one of them is to build up partnerships with top brands. Ferrari is one of these brands, and Cirque du Soleil is another.”

Despite its alignments with other partners, bringing Kooza to Salou was a new kind of experience and a new way of working for both PortAventura and Cirque du Soleil. Both sides took a relaxed view, deciding to see how well the eight-week run of shows was received before making any further commitments. “Of course, the first time was an experiment for us and for them. It was the first time we’d collaborated with an external company on a thing like this. Our plan was that if it worked we’d keep collaborating and they’d have a permanent base in summer at the resort. We could even extend the season,” says Aldecoa.

Working side by side was key to the partnership. While PortAventura led the marketing campaigns, they were agreed with Cirque du Soleil first. Ticketing was primarily through the Canadian company’s website, while PortAventura sold tickets from the resort, Salou and surrounding areas. “We expected Kooza to be a big success not only with the international market but with the local market,” Aldecoa says. “It was possible for local people to buy a ticket and spend the day in the park and then go to the show.”

Reilly, whose 65-trailer operation travels from city to city carrying the entire infrastructure of the Kooza show, agrees that it’s about maximising potential audience members. “As well as PortAventura’s guests there’s a permanent population base,” she says. “We’ve got Reus, we’ve got Tarragona. We’ve got a big fan base in Barcelona. From our point of view, they come for the show, and from PortAventura’s point of view, they stay and go to the park, so it’s a win-win.”

The joint venture involved up-front investment in the site – including improving the terrain – from PortAventura, who provided the land for the big top rent-free. For Cirque du Soleil, the initial investment was getting the tent, stage, equipment and staff to Salou. That undertaking in itself is a logistical behemoth, but the well-oiled operation runs like clockwork.

“Our regular transfer takes us 10 days,” she says. “It’s two days to tear everything down, pack it on the trucks and get it on the road. It’s about seven days to put it all together. It’s very well organised. Everything has its place and its timing.”

That professionalism was important. “One of the reasons we chose them and no other circus or show is because they are perfect. We don’t have to worry about logistics because they are the best in the world at logistics,” Aldecoa says.

Both he and Reilly used the fledgling season to figure out the best ways to reach their diverse audience, be it international or local, on-park or far-flung. Moreover, they wanted to persuade people that this theatrical, acrobatic extravaganza at PortAventura was a fantastic reason to come back next year ­­– and it looks like they succeeded.

“We can be pretty sure that the show was a key factor that contributed to the rise in the number of visits this summer,” says Aldecoa. “And, if I’m asked to describe the audiences’ reaction to Kooza, they were completely astonished. The families with small kids were absolutely surprised. Everybody described the show as ‘incredible’ and ‘breathtaking’.”

Originally published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 4

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