Millions of visitors queue in French theme parks
French theme parks make by far the best attendance numbers in Europe. Their model exports throughout the world. What makes them so special? Here is a sum up of French successes in this industry.
Puy-du-Fou: show must go on!
For the Puy-du-Fou, the year 2014 was the breakthrough year: the park was awarded "best theme park in the world" by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which gathers professionals of the industry from all over the world.
This is enough to place this unique park from the Vendée region among French prides. In the much rules-defined world of entertainment, the Puy-du-Fou is an oddball. The park is strongly linked to a right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers: the aristocrat, former deputy and secretary of State launched the construction of the park in 1978 to make it the symbol of the Vendée region. As such, identity markers are highly present in the live representation of middle ages and classic history of the region.
This kitsch and cute excitement over local history has often been mocked, but its success is undeniable. Every year, the theme park offers over 60 shows driven by 3,400 volunteers. In 2015, the park passed the cap of 1.9 million visitors, thus accessing the second rank behind Disneyland Paris in terms of French attendance. The success can also been seen beyond borders: the model of the Puy-du-Fou has already been copied in the UK and the Netherlands and should also appear in Russia and China.
Parc Astérix: we all love the Gauls
René Goscinny was still alive when the project regarding a theme park dedicated to his comic books characters appeared. His mate Albert Uderzo had just visited Disneyland in the US. However, the project took 8 years to open, in 1989.
The Parc Astérix stays true to the spirit of the comic book and is full of humour, such as in "Lutèce Plage" in summer, a mock rival to Paris Plage, or a Halloween Party designed as a druid party. In France, its image is positive: less capitalist than the American Disneyland Paris, less region-centred than the Puy-du-Fou. However, it hasn't been discovered by foreigners until recently. Today, it boasts a 1.8 million visitors attendance every year and should soon export to China!
Futuroscope, focused on tomorrow
But not all French park are focused on the past, whether it is real such as in the Puy-du-Fou or imaginary such as in the village of Asterix. As its name tells, the Futuroscope in Poitiers is turned towards the future: it has opened in 1987 to offer an innovative concept mixing leisure activities and research technocentre. Three decades later, the investment has paid off: the Futuroscope is the third French theme park in terms of attendance.
10% of European offer
With 200 theme parks, France is responsible for 10% of European offer in the industry. What are the keys to this success? The financial opportunities that tourism industry represents in France may push regional politicians to develop the offer by leveraging ambitious projects. The same configuration is the starting point of the Puy-du-Fou, the Futuroscope or even Vulcania, recently implemented in the Puy-de-Dôme region: politicians who wish to improve the touristic potential of their region. Another characteristic: the will to mix leisure and serious activities, a trait of the last three parks.
But pure entertainment is still the most attractive mode for the general public. Though its construction 25 years ago and located a stone's throw away from Paris had stirred a few debates at the time, the American Disneyland Paris is still number one in terms of theme parks attendance in France, with 14.9 million visitors every year.
Photo credit: © nath921 (Parc Astérix) / Simon Hedge (Puy-du-Fou)