New world for our kids
- Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2013 - 12:00am

There is a new global phenomenon and the Philippines is now a part of it.

When I first heard about KidZania, I readily subscribed to the idea of a world-class family educational entertainment center, or family edutainment center, as they choose to call it. We certainly do not have a dearth of entertainment centers for children here – I know because my kids grew up in those play centers where the noise grated in my ears and drove me crazy every Saturday afternoon. Back then, those centers had mostly innocuous kiddie rides and video games, and in all of these, the children had to deposit tokens which parents buy upon entering. Well, back then, we spent a few hundreds on a given playing day, something which not too many parents would want to splurge on for games.

How times have changed! In this age of awareness, entertainment should not only be fun but more importantly, they should be educational, and this is the very idea of KidZania, a concept that started in Mexico in 1999. The story behind its inception is like many other success stories in that it came from an innocent school project. Mexican Javier Lopez was then studying at the Northwestern University under Professor Philip Cutler. He conceived of a thesis that revolved around a play city, a children’s size city where kids can indulge themselves at role-playing, and this Play City he initially called La Ciudad de los Ninos.

From this thesis was born the actual play city later called KidZania that became a phenomenal business venture that was embraced wholly by kids for the novel adventure that it afforded them.

The story goes that when a wealthy Japanese father brought his two kids to the center and left them there to discover and wander about, the kids later told him to go home because they wanted to stay and explore some more. The Japanese businessman brought the business concept home to Tokyo, Japan and became the first franchise holder of Kidzania outside the US in 2003. A second one came later in 2006, and as of this writing there are now 13 KidZania centers all over the world. Very soon, more KidZania franchises are opening up in Jakarta, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Nagoya, and Busan.

What is this KidZania phenomenon? To be honest, when Maricel Pangilinan-Arenas, president of Play Innovations Inc., explained the business concept to us, it wasn’t exactly something that was simple to grasp and digest in one sitting.  In fact, I think children would more easily catch on to the idea, given that they are the target market.

Play Innovations is the local franchise holder for the Philippines for KidZania, and it is a subsidiary of ABS-CBN. From the amazing concept and the magnitude of the development and investment, it looks like ABS CBN pulled the rug from under many other big local companies wanting to invest in a viable project. The facility, the only one in the country, will cost P1 billion and it is currently being developed at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig by the Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation.

Imagine a play city that sits on a 6,000 square meter property in a prime location such as the Fort, an indoor play center that is envisioned to generate close to 500 jobs. The exact site is 11th Avenue and 32nd St. Here, children can roam freely and explore a world their size and choose from 100 role-playing activities in about 70 establishments within the center itself.  Their business concept is different in that these establishments are sponsored by real brands.  For instance, there will be a McDonald’s store inside, and children from age 4 to 14 can actually try out to be among the service staff of the fast food store. McDonald’s and Johnson & Johnson are among the partner-establishments, and in the case of J&J, there will be a “hospital” facility in the center where kids can role-play to be doctors or nurses.

It is not very easy to imagine, but Ms. Arenas says that here at KidZania, kids can learn about the inner-workings of a city and learn the concept of managing money as well.  It is a different world altogether, a country if you will that is devoted solely to children where they have their own currency and even their own language, a different country that would be a delightful addition to the United Nations. 

During our Biz Watch “one-on-one” interview segment of the TV show Business & Leisure (Tuesdays, 10-11 p.m., Home Shopping Network, Channel 13, Sky Cable) Ms. Arenas greeted me “kai Butch”, which is “hi” to you and me. She said “Zenk you Butch” at the end of the interview, and you guessed right that that is KidZania’s language for thank you.

I don’t remember now what their currency is called, but as I understood it, kids are to be given some “money” when they enter the facility, and they can choose to invest it in “banks” or choose to earn more by getting “employed” in any of the establishments inside. If they spend all their money in one go, part of the discipline is to disallow them to buy more of the KidZania money.

The Play Innovations CEO was quick to explain that KidZania is not a theme park as some people are wont to believe. It is an entirely unique experience, a hyper-real experience that is going to be every child’s dream. The participation of real-life brands is novel and daring, but as Ms. Arenas says, the goodwill that will be generated among the children (and the parents I guess) will redound to the sponsoring brands.

As for the security of the kids who will want to spend an afternoon in this family educational entertainment center, rest easy, Mom. I understand that the kids will be issued RFID bracelets while inside so that at any given point, the staff will know their whereabouts.

I think the concept is revolutionary, and it has certainly caught on, what with 13 existing KidZania centers, two more set to open, and 11 currently being built. To date, over 20 million children across the globe have visited and enjoyed the KidZania experience.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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