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Kidzania Making a Splash Across Asia

Declining birth rates across Asia may be worrying governments across the region, but for Xavier Jopez, the changing demographics are the very reason he's expanding rapidly into Asia.

Children spray water at a simulated fire site as they play the roles of firefighters during their work experience activities at KidZania on September 15, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. KidZania offer children more than 50 career experiences with parents not allowed to help their children during 30 minutes long activities. Kidzania have been fully booked every day since its opening in 2006.
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Children spray water at a simulated fire site as they play the roles of firefighters during their work experience activities at KidZania on September 15, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. KidZania offer children more than 50 career experiences with parents not allowed to help their children during 30 minutes long activities. Kidzania have been fully booked every day since its opening in 2006.

"Because of this one-child policy in China, a lot of attention, investment is poured into one kid. And because Kidzania is educational, not only fun but educational, I think Chinese parents are going to be willing to spend some money to take them there," Lopez says.

The Mexican entrepreneur started Kidzania in his native country in 1999. Children enter the park's miniature cities and learn about the real world through role play, trying out about 70 professions and learning the value of money and work. He operates the two parks in Mexico but the business is franchised elsewhere. Jobs are tailored to the customs and cultures of each location.

"We are in the process of opening 11 more parks. Shanghai, Mumbai in a couple of year. Kuala Lumpur will be opening soon and we are also developing in Brazil, Chile, Istanbul and Cairo," Lopez says. "There are 300 million children in China and somebody has to entertain and educate them."

Kidzania is partly funded by the corporate sponsors that have booths inside the theme park. One of Tokyo's most popular sponsors is All Nippon Airways, where children train and pretend to be pilots for half an hour. For the carrier, it's a chance to brand their product to the next generation of customers.

"Companies invest as a marketing tool, to get to the know the kids, their families," Lopez says.
Lopez' biggest gamble will be an opening in the U.S., the world's biggest entertainment market. He plans to operate the parks with a joint venture and is eyeing big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

A child makes a hamburger as she plays the role of a hamburger shop clerk during their work experience activities at KidZania on September 15, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. KidZania offer children more than 50 career experiences with parents not allowed to help their children during 30 minutes long activities. Kidzania have been fully booked every day since its opening in 2006.
Getty Images
A child makes a hamburger as she plays the role of a hamburger shop clerk during their work experience activities at KidZania on September 15, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. KidZania offer children more than 50 career experiences with parents not allowed to help their children during 30 minutes long activities. Kidzania have been fully booked every day since its opening in 2006.

"You have to be where the kids are," he says. "Because it's also the largest market, it's also the most sophisticated, most competitive. Children have seen everything."

The biggest risks to any theme park are security and health concerns, analysts say, and Kidszania is trying to recover from both in Mexico. Lopez says the outbreak of swine flu hit customer traffic hard, adding that parents' fears about public safety are now higher than ever as the Mexican government cracks down on the drug industry.

The Tokyo Kidzania, the company's most successful franchise, has had its brush with health concerns too due to an outbreak of influenza last year. However, some 900,000 visitors on average have been pouring into the park every year though since it opened four years ago.

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