The sprawling KidZania indoor theme park, a city built to scale for kids, offers its “citizens” a unique experience. Here, kids between the ages of 4 and 12 are racing about, performing various jobs or patronizing businesses. They can earn “Kidzos”, the local currency, which can then be spent on goods and services, re-creating the concept of supply and demand in a functioning economy.
Like any large city, KidZania features paved streets, vehicles and establishments such as a hospital, police station, fire station, bank, news agency, football stadium, department store, restaurants and more. It is laid out on two floors, plus an “underground” level for a water research centre (but the park is actually on the top floor of Siam Paragon). It’s all very organized and detailed, with 4 to 6 kids, all in specific uniforms, doing any one activity at a time, guided by multilingual staff. Pilots in training, for example, get to play with a flight simulator, while C.S.I. agents search for clues to solve a crime, medical interns perform an endoscopy, television anchors read the news, sushi chefs whip up tasty food, and workers operate the assembly lines of various factories.
Kids can also go to university and get degrees in geography, chemistry, physics and astronomy. Such “expertise” gets them discounts at certain establishments. As consumers, children can spend their hard earned Kidzos at a beauty salon, department store, photo studio, theatre, driving school, etc. There are about 80 tasks kids can do, including some toddler-friendly activities.
Meanwhile, grown-ups are relegated to second-class citizens. While they are allowed to wander around, parents must observe at a distance or wait outside closed doors. They can also hang out in a parents’ lounge although younger children may need help in navigating the maze of streets and managing their Kidzos.
A franchise originally from Mexico, KidZania is, quite simply, impressive and ingenious. The set-up is geared specifically for kids, encouraging them to do what comes naturally: role-playing by mimicking traditionally adult activities. Children will definitely have a blast (expect to spend anywhere from 2 to 6 hours there). They also learn, getting a glimpse about how certain jobs work – without the drudgery.
It must be mentioned that many of the establishments are sponsored and branded by multinational and local corporations. Specifically, kids are processing Meiji milk, bottling Coca-Cola, studying at Brand’s Junior University, working in a Honda dealership, piloting an AirAsia aircraft, banking at CIMB, shopping at Siam Paragon and so on. Be prepared for a bombardment of brands.
KidZania’s own marketing is amazing. The city has its own bill of rights, granting each child “The Right To Know, The Right To Be, The Right To Care, and The Right To Play”, as well as its own anthem and mascot team of “Right Keepers”. Everything is exceptionally well executed, down to the Braille embossing on the Kidzos bills for the visually impaired, and the system of photographers who snap costumed kids’ pictures, which parents can later buy.
Children may seem immune, on a conscious level, to such overt marketing efforts but the seeds of brand recognition must have been planted. Does it matter? After all, corporate consumerism is everywhere in daily life. Having said that, KidZania may not be for everyone. However, taken with a grain of salt, focus on the children’s learning and fun. At face value, this is pure edutainment done really, really well.