16 Nov 2018 Attractions Management Handbook
 

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Attractions Management Handbook - Joie de Vivre

Feature

Joie de Vivre


Humble beginnings to award-winning shows – Puy du Fou stands proud. Helen Patenall shares the secret behind the theme park’s phenomenal success and growing international appeal

Helen Patenall, Attractions Management Handbook
Joie de vivre
Le Signe du Triomph features gladiators, chariots and controversial lion performances
Le Signe du Triomph features gladiators, chariots and controversial lion performances
Visitors enjoy an insight into medieval village life
Local stonemasons showcase their craft and sell authentic gifts in their workshops
Puy du Fou International made its first forays abroad with the Raveleijn Show at Efteling
Historical reenactments unfold the story of British history in Kynren
Les Amoureux de Verdun garnered a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement

Puy du Fou’s enduring success is a testament to its founding motto – “surprendre le visiteur pour créer l’émotion” (astonish visitors to arouse emotion). Since stumbling across castle ruins lain forgotten in a forest in western France back in 1977, founder Philippe de Villiers and his son Nicolas have stayed true to their vision. This is a theme park with a difference – it’s devoid of ubiquitous high-thrill rides but brimming with homegrown artistic talent.

Grass Roots
Driven by a passion for his home province of Vendée, de Villiers sought to showcase the turbulent history of his fellow Vendeans while boosting the economic fortunes of this primarily agricultural region. On those grounds, the historical theme park launched in 1978 with a two-hour nighttime show recounting the destiny of a family living in Vendée from the Middles Ages through to the Second World War, set against the backdrop of castle ruins. The inaugural Cinéscénie show was performed by 600 members of the Puy du Fou Association and attracted 80,000 visitors in its opening season.

In 2001, de Villiers capitalised on this success by creating a daytime attraction, the Grand Parc, anchored by the huge and authentic Stadium Gallo-Romain. Still going strong and still recounting the story of the Gallic rebellion against Roman occupation, to 6,000 visitors per show, Le Signe du Triomph (The Sign of Triumph) has it all: gladiator battles, chariot races and, somewhat at odds with the growing number of circus-averse audiences, even live lion performances.

By 2007, the visitor stay duration peaked with de Villiers’ next big step: the park’s first onsite themed accommodation at the 100-bedroom Gallo-Roman villa in the newly developed Cité Nocturne zone.

Branching Out
Although Cinéscénie still stands proud against the magnificent backdrop of the castle, the performance has since matured to include 2,400 volunteer actors, 130 horse riders, 80 technicians, 28,000 costumes, 150 water jets, 480 LEDs, 20 free-flying drones and 3D mapping using 3,000 projectors. It’s watched by 13,200 people per show, attracting an annual 367,000 spectators. Every year, the entire show is reimagined with new sets, scenes and technology.

The Grand Parc is now grander than ever, offering 19 shows, four period villages complete with local artisan workshops, five themed hotels and 21 restaurants as well as children’s areas spread over a bona fide forest landscape.

Of the 2,220,000 guests in 2016, 1,854,000 visited the Grand Parc while 367,000 watched what is now hailed the “world’s biggest nighttime show”.

Continual reinvestment, from an initial modest €5.1m (£4.7m, US$6m) back in 2003 to a whopping €27m (£24.9m, US$31.8m) in 2016 has rewarded Puy du Fou with a 2016 turnover of €100.8m (£92.8m, US$118.8m); around 85 per cent from the Grand Parc, with the remainder almost equally divided between Cinéscénie and the company’s overseas venture, Puy du Fou International.

Visitor numbers and revenue grow year-on-year thanks to the company’s visionary outlook of continually updating its guest offering. In celebration of its 40th anniversary in 2017, the opening of Cinéscénie was completely rewritten and featured a new fleet of 20 drones to bring the set to new heights, while two new musical performances, Grand Carillon and Le Ballet des Sapeurs, opened. All this was topped off by a new medieval fortress-themed hotel called La Citadelle and two new restaurants: L’Écuyer Tranchant and La Mijoterie du Roy Henry.

Family Tree
Founded in 2010 to expand its model of artistic excellence overseas, Puy du Fou International made its first forays abroad with the Raveleijn Show at Efteling theme park in the Netherlands in 2013.

This was followed in July 2016 by an evening show called Kynren at Castle Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in England. Based on Cinéscénie, 600 local volunteers perform a story unfolding 2,000 years of British history from the perspective of a boy living in north east England to an audience of up to 8,000 spectators per show. The operator, Eleven Arches Foundation, is now building a museum and visitor centre onsite.

In 2019, the ancient hill top city of Toledo in Spain will host an evening show modelled on Cinéscénie; joined by a Puy du Fou-operated Grand Parc in 2020 based on its French counterpart. Plans further afield include China (see page 60).

Back on home soil, ambitions to boost Puy du Fou’s appeal to non-French visitors, currently standing at just 14 per cent a year, is also key to continued domestic growth. Translation headsets in English, Spanish, German, Dutch and Russian will soon be complemented by a new translation system for the six main shows operated from the park’s freely downloadable app.

Global Acclaim
In recognition of such creative spirit and passion, Puy du Fou has garnered five international awards. In November 2017, a Hall of Fame award was presented at IAAPA to Philippe de Villiers for his “extraordinary contribution in the evolution and the development of theme parks around the world”. In April that year, the park received a prestigious Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) for Le Dernier Panache, performed on a 360-degree revolving stage inside the new Le Théâtre des Géants. Previous Thea accolades include an AOA for Les Amoureux de Verdun (2016) and a Classic Award for World’s Best Park (2012).

For a memorable experience brimming with spectacular performances and epic adventures, Puy du Fou does indeed live up to its promise to “surprendre le visiteur pour créer l’émotion”!


At a Glance
Number two theme park in France

€450m investment

100 per cent profit reinvested

€277m annual economic benefit for local area

2,220,000 visitors in 2016

14 per cent overseas visitors

100 per cent poultry and 90 per cent vegetables locally sourced

50 per cent bookings made online

Grand Parc: €38/27 adult/child

Cinéscénie: €27/19 adult/child

Combined ticket: €54/36 adult/child

Fast track: €12pp/day

For the people, by the people

P utting into practice the original aspiration of creating a theme park employing local people, Académie Junior was set up in 1998 to train future Puy du Fou artists, technicians and managers. Today it’s grown to include 29 schools in all aspects of the arts and techniques of Cinéscénie and the smaller shows. Each year welcomes 600 new students. In 2015, Puy du Fou built on this concept by launching its very own primary school, combining academic training with the arts.

Likewise, 1998 saw the opening of the Equestrian Academy which now has the largest equine database and the largest stable for shows in Europe, with more than 200 horses trained in trick riding, stunts, harnessing and dressage. The Canine Academy has nine Czechs wolves trained from pups for the Les Vikings show. The Falconry Academy employs 40 falconers and 530 birds of 73 different species, with around 80 newborns each year for the Le Bal Des Oiseaux Fantômes (The Ghostbird Ball) performance. Overnight visitors can even go to behind-the-scenes workshops to discover the daily life of a falconer.

In recognition of its commitment to sustainable development, Puy du Fou has held Green Globe certification since 2012 and its ecosystems are based on the natural food chain to avoid insecticides and eliminate weedkillers. Ladybird nests tackle aphids, carp devour mosquito larvae, Ouessant sheep are ecological lawnmowers and oxen move performance sets. Puy du Fou was also the first park in France to embrace paperless ticketing.

Last but by no means least, it holds the largest number of protected species in Western France, with its Animal Conservatory providing sanctuary for local Poitou breeds.

 



Puy du Fou has even invested in its own Falconry and Canine Academies
 


Puy du Fou has even invested in its own Falconry and Canine Academies
 

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2017 issue 1

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