Twelve years ago, a former private equity guru with no children opened the first indoor theme park at which parents could pay for their kids to pretend to work at professions ranging from nursing and fashion photography to firefighting and radio announcing.
Dubbed KidZania, the edutainment facility that Xavier López Ancona opened in Mexico City proved so successful with families and corporate sponsors that KidZanias have spread to Dubai, Jakarta, Lisbon, and Seoul. More are under construction in Kuala Lumpur and Santiago. Ancona plans to open one somewhere in the U.S. in 2013.
KidZania’s business model begins with an urban metropolis whose residents will pay money to come indoors. It must have a wealth of young families and a concentration of corporations that can pay KidZania to build branded, role-playing establishments inside "cities" scaled for children. Procter & Gamble (PG)’s Safeguard soap sponsors a pavilion in Mexico City’s KidZania, while Coca-Cola (KO) has teamed with KidZania to offer kid-sized bottling plants at five locations.
KidZanian "workers" are paid in KidZos, redeemable for merchandise. There’s even a KidZanian language. Click here to see kids playing at working in Lisbon’s KidZania.
Parents Shop While Kids Work
Most KidZanias are conveniently located in malls, allowing parents to shop while their children pretend to work
Children fascinated by oral hygiene or just eager to play with a dummy’s teeth (and who isn’t?) can visit the Malo Clinic at KidZania in Lisbon
In this pretend house sponsored by Portuguese paint giant Cin, children dress up in red, paint-spattered smocks. This might be more exciting in person
Though it doesn’t pay a lot of Kidzos, KidZanians relish firefighting with child-size fire trucks and fake hoses that extinguish real-looking flames
Johnson & Johnson Infirmary
At the corporate logo-emblazoned Johnson & Johnson infirmary, children don scrubs and play with the innards of a dummy
A confident-looking TV production worker prepares the set as some KidZanian celebrities take their places at the spotlit podium
It may not smell quite like fish, but this KidZanian food vendor’s wares earn a convincing once-over from a passing shopper
A squad of earnest children learns about roll call and law enforcement at the KidZanian police department
Even KidZanian cities need emergency services. Here, two children attend to an "injured" KidZanian in an ambulance
A colorful, make-believe supermarket full of busy KidZanian workers and shoppers