24 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Attractions Management
2020 issue 1

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Leisure Management - By Toutatis!

Theme Parks

By Toutatis!

Thirty years since its grand opening, Parc Astérix is showing no signs of slowing. Tom Anstey speaks to the park’s deputy director, Guy Vassel, about how the park has grown and developed over the last three decades…

Discobélix opened in 2016 as part of Parc Astérix’s ongoing investment strategy
Parc Astérix is France’s second biggest theme park after Disneyland Paris, with the attraction welcoming more than two million visitors a year
Parc Astérix offers 48 different attractions and one of the widest varieties of rollercoaster in Europe
La Cité Suspendue is one of several hotels on offer as the park aims to increase multi-day visits
Seasonal events are becoming key for the park, with Christmas and Halloween performing particularly well

A resolute village of Gauls standing up to the repression of the invading Roman Empire is a story that has inspired France and Europe for generations.

Created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo in 1926, the Astérix comic book series has become an iconic part of French culture, spawning a number of adaptations including videogames, movies and merchandise. In 1989, Astérix even got his very own theme park in Plailly on the outskirts of Paris.

“Since opening, our aim and the way we tell our stories, has always stayed the same,” says Guy Vassel, deputy director of Parc Astérix. “It’s very important to keep the indomitable DNA of the park – the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, and the humour of it – as it always was. That’s what inspires families to visit our attraction.”

The Compagnie des Alpes-operated theme park turned 30 last year. The occasion was marked with the launch of the park’s newest attraction – a 4D cinema experience called Attention Menhir.

A 15-minute experience, the new attraction by CL Corp – a French firm which recently combined forces with Triotech – seats 300 people at a time and uses dynamic motion seats to immerse guests in the world of Astérix. The attraction also uses air blasts, wind, water jets and leg ticklers combined with the movement of the seat as the troop of Gauls offer a fierce fight to Emperor Julius Caesar.

“It opened in April 2019 and has been a big success for us,” says Vassel. “It’s ranking among the park’s top three attractions. The story is very funny. It’s very immersive and you can follow your favourite characters through their adventure in the world of Astérix.”

New investment
While Attention Menhir is the latest major addition to the park, it certainly isn’t the first and definitely won’t be the last. The park has a grand 10-year masterplan, which sits alongside a five-year development cycle for new attractions. In those five year spans, the aim is to open at least one small attraction, one medium attraction and one large attraction, constantly updating and refreshing the offering to guests at the park.

“In the last five years, we’ve opened 10 new attractions and three new shows,” says Vassel. “We’re still developing a lot of new shows and attractions, and we’ve had a big increase in investment and attendance over that development period.”

The park’s investment strategy has clearly had an effect on attendance, with annual visitor numbers of 1.5 million in 2014 rising by a substantial 800,000 guests to 2.3 million visitors in 2019. This rise places Parc Astérix as one of France’s most popular theme parks, second only to the nearby Disneyland Paris.

The park is very well known for having a large variety of rollercoasters – more than any other theme park in France. This strategy, along with its investment plans is set to continue, with rollercoaster additions planned for both 2021 and 2022. The first, by Rocky Mountain Construction, is a redevelopment of the park’s existing Tonnerre de Zeus.

First opened in 1997, the ride, originally built by the now-defunct Custom Coasters International, reaches speeds of up to 52mph along a 1,200m (3,900ft) track and heights of more than 30m (98.4ft).

As Rocky Mountain has done with rides such as Untamed at Walibi – a Dutch park also owned by Compagnie des Alpes – the wooden coaster is getting the same treatment, with its conversion into a wood/steel hybrid offering a smoother ride, which can now also include inversions.

“It’s going to be an all-new experience with lots of air time,” Vassel revealed. “We started on the project in the winter of 2018. It’s a two-year process to do all the work, so we hope to debut the ride for our 2021 season.”

The second ride, which falls under the ‘major’ project bracket has been kept a little more under wraps. Scheduled for the 2022 season, the launch coaster by Intamin is called Toutatis.

The name suggests the theme of the ride will be based on the Celtic god worshipped in ancient Gaul and Britain. In terms of Astérix, the phrase “By Toutatis!” was coined by Goscinny and Uderzo to express strong emotion in the comic book series.

Intamin revealed some technical details for Toutatis during the 2018 IAAPA Attractions Expo. The manufacturer said it would be a launch coaster reaching 51m (167ft), with elements including a triple launch halfway through the track and a top speed of 66.5mph (107kmph). The triple half-pipe launch will send visitors forwards, backwards and forwards again, with the train eventually reaching enough speed to make it over the ride’s peak. Intamin says that the ride will hold a European record for the most launches on a coaster and a world record for the most feelings of weightlessness – 23. Originally scheduled for 2021, the build was delayed until 2022 as the coaster layout impeded on a number of protected trees in the adjacent National Forest, meaning a solution would need to be reached or the ride concept would have to undergo some modification.

Destination development
With more than €100m (US$111m) worth of investment in the last three years alone, not only is Compagnie des Alpes aiming to use these investments to enhance Parc Astérix’s offering as a visitor attraction, but also as a multi-day resort destination.

In 2018, the park added fifty new rooms to its Hôtel des 3 Hiboux, as well as Cité Suspendue – a 150 bedroom Celtic-style village split into three “hamlets”. Opening in April 2020, it introduces its most ambitious hotel project, Les Quais de Lutèce, a 150 bedroom immersive experience recreating Lutetia – the name for ancient Paris – in the year 50 BC.

“We’re going to take you inside of the comics,” says Vassel. “It’s the Lutetia of Goscinny and Uderzo at the very start of the story of Astérix. We’ve recreated the River Seine and the city around it – it’s a very immersive experience which also happens to be a four-star hotel.

“You’re 100m (328ft) away from the park and resort guests will be able to come in 30 minutes before our regular visitors. Guests of the hotel will also get the chance to meet Asterix and Obelix at breakfast.”

The addition will bring room numbers up to 450. Opening in April, the staging has been created by French set designer Thierry Retif, with rooms able to accommodate up to four or five people each.

The hotel has 70sq m (753sq ft) of solar panels installed to help power the mini-city, which boasts wood elements from eco-responsible, sustainable French forests. The immersive experience will also include a 300-seat restaurant, as well as 300sq m (3,300sq ft) of conference space.

“We’ve added two hotels in five years to better position the park as an overnight destination. The total investment of €100m (US$110m) is just for the last three years. For our entire 10-year entire masterplan you can easily double it to more than €200m (US$222m),” explains Vassel.

Extended ambitions
With a rise in attendance and the addition of new accommodation has come an extension of the park’s traditional season. Opening at the start of April each year, the park now remains open right up until the new year, with both the Halloween and Christmas seasons proving fruitful.

“We had a huge summer and Halloween,” says Vassel. “Historically we’ve been a seasonal park but now our aim is to be open all year long.”

In December, the park debuted a new winter season. Called Gallic Christmas, it extends its year all the way to 5 January. During the event, the Gauls “call a truce” with the Romans to celebrate, with the park transformed to include snow-covered menhirs, decorations, special attractions and new Christmas-themed shows.

Among the offerings, a traditional Christmas market was installed in the park’s Les Rues de Paris, with Christmas carollers performing in the themed setting. The park also installed a winter sports village, which featured a 28m (92ft) toboggan run, a 150sq m (1,600sq ft) children’s skating rink and a 400sq m (4,300sq ft) adult rink. Four new Christmas-themed shows were also introduced, including an ice show, a circus performance, a magic show, and a fireworks and lights display. Rates were also reduced for the season so all adults paid the children’s prices to enter the park.

“We have a lot of shows, maybe more shows than ever and the street atmosphere we’ve cultivated is very important, says Vassel. “With the addition of our new seasons and a number of new state-of-the-art attractions, you can see where our heavy investment has gone. We’re a park for all ages and an attraction for the entire family.”

Guy Vassel is deputy director of the park
"It’s very important to keep the indomitable DNA of the park – the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, and the humour of it – as it always was"
Parc Asterix by the numbers

Opened: 30 April 1989

Cost to build: 3850m French Francs (€129.5m, US$145m)

Operator: 3Campagnie des Alpes

Size: 3 330,000sq m (3.5 million sq ft)

Attractions: 3 38

Rollercoasters:3 7

Water rides: 36

Oldest ride: 3Goudurix sit-down coaster by Vekoma (opened 1989)

Hotels: 3 3

Rooms: 3450

Distance from Paris: 3 20m (32km)

Opens: 3April

Closes: 3 Early January

Annual visitor numbers: 32.3 million

Originally published in Attractions Management 2020 issue 1

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