With school out for the summer, parents return to the task of planning their childrens’ daily activities. For those that did not schedule a babysitter or summer camp, KidzMondo, a mini city for children that opened its doors last month, could provide respite. Located in Beirut’s Waterfront area, the 10,300 square meter (sqm) indoor children’s amusement center allows youngsters to play at real life professions such as postman, cook or even pest control officer. And in imitation of real-life wages, kids earn points — in Kidlar currency — for each profession which they can spend on toys. “The harder you work, the more points you earn,” says Ali Kazma, chairman of the new mini city.
Children can try out a range of professions, including being a doctor
While new to Lebanon, the concept of a city for children has been around for over a decade. It came to prominence about 14 years ago in Santa Fe, a suburb of Mexico City. The invention of Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona, KidZania opened in 1999 and started franchising shortly after. Its first franchise in the Middle East, a 7,400 sqm amusement park, was launched in Dubai in January 2010 in partnership with United Arab Emirates’ Emaar Retail, an entertainment and leisure developer, and plans are under way this year to establish KidZania in Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar by 2015.
For Lebanon’s mini city, Kazma partnered with his old university friend Hind Berri, daughter of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and kicked off the construction of the theme park in May 2011. Initially called KidzMania then KidzVille, KidzMondo was finally settled on because of trademark issues with prior names; it is now registered in 32 countries and the corporate website, copyrighted to Kidz Holding sal, invites franchise seekers.
Majority owned by Kazma and Berri, the ambitious project cost $25 million. The rent of the 4,300 sqm land — secured for nine years from Lebanon’s behemoth real estate developer Solidere — came at a “low price” says Kazma, while refusing to disclose the exact amount. He is targeting annual sales of 400,000 tickets and hopes to break even by the fourth year of operation.
Entry to the amusement playground is set at LL40,000 ($26) per child and LL20,000 ($13) per adult, and kids under the age of eight must be accompanied by an adult. A family of four is therefore looking at paying LL120,000 ($80) for a day out at KidzMondo. The ticket price gives points — similar to cash — that can be stored in an account at Bank Audi’s KidzMondo branch. As professions are learnt throughout the center, further points can be earned. A hi-tech bracelet given to each child upon entry tracks their location and monitors their activities so parents need not worry about losing them in the large center or wonder whether they are participating in the activities.
Go-karting is popular with many of the children
For the training of its 300 employees, 220 of whom work directly with the children, KidzMondo partnered with Canada-based Kidproof Safety, a worldwide provider of child safety education as well as Beirut-based MCA People Solutions, a training, consulting and recruiting firm. While the center lacks sunlight and, like Beirut generally, green spaces, it has a wealth of activities. This includes up to 40 earning professions — such as how to be a fireman— and 40 spending professions — Burger King, for instance, lets children make their own burger, but they still have to pay.
As for sponsorship, the center hosts 55 establishments with exclusive sponsorship per category. For instance, Bank Audi is the only bank, MTV the only television broadcaster and Hypco the only gas station. The prices paid for this exclusivity, which vary depending on the type of contract signed — its duration, level of exposure, etc. — are expected to rack up to 30 percent of the total revenues, with annual fees ranging from $75,000 up to $250,000. With a capacity to host up to 1,500 people at once, the bulk of the revenues will come from ticket sales and other items such as food and beverage.
The mini city opened its doors in the midst of political instability and a distressed economy that has decreased spending power, and it remains to be seen whether it will face difficult times generating hard currency. Kazma doesn’t seem too worried, though: “I believe in the project. I am afraid, but I believe in it.”