Zamperla’s product range is such that no single factory, showroom or trade show is large enough to show it all. That’s why the leading Italian ride manufacturer recently established a relationship with a park just 90 minutes from its Vincenza headquarters. Owen Ralph visits Minitalia Leolandia to discover the raft of changes that have been made the last two seasons.
Comparisons to Europa-Park, the Mack family’s amusement park in Southern Germany, are obvious. Both venues provide a useful platform for the respective ride manufacturer’s products, and both are family-focused parks. Yet while Europa-Park’s market-leading position had propelled it to such heights that the park now eclipses Mack Rides as the family’s main area of business, MinitaliaLeolandia accounts for a relatively small part of Zamperla’s efforts – at least for the time being.
As part of a strategic upgrade to the 22-hectare facility near Milan, 19 new rides have been added since the start of the 2008 season and now two thirds of the park’s major attractions are Zamperla-built. Attendance last year more than doubled and land has been purchased for a second expansion including a hotel and conference facilities.
Alberto Zamperla, who in May 2007 took a stake in the park together with the Thorus Leolandia Group (a local real estate company), admits to spending most weekends there when he is not travelling.
“I won’t be having any more holidays,” he laughs. “When it is a holiday I am here. It will be different in the future, but first you must be here to learn everything yourself.”
So why did the president of Antonio Zamperla SpA decide to invest in an amusement park? “First of all, my family used to be ride operators,” he explains. “Zamperla is one of the most innovative companies in the business and we have come up with many new rides in recent years. To have all these new rides not far away from the factory, it’s a great thing. The park also benefits because it gets new rides on the market that no on else has; there is a very good synergy.”
Alberto adds that, although he has not had this level of co-operation before with any other local park, he was keen to ally himself to an existing property rather than create something from scratch.
“In Italy it is very difficult with zoning and getting licences; it’s much easier to find a park that is already there. To build this park, if we had been lucky, would take years. Can you imagine trying to forecast five years ahead the way the economy is and all that’s happened?”
The Di Vinci Connection
A miniature representation of some of the country’s most famous landmarks, Minitalia opened its gates for the first time in 1971. Located near the town of Bergamo on the northern outskirts of Milan, it became an amusement park during the ‘90s and was renamed Fantasy World Minitalia. As well as a handful of rides, an aquarium, reptile house and children’s farm were added. Visitors numbers peaked at 800,000 a year. The park’s current owners bought the property from a travelling showman after a period of sharp decline in the ‘00s.
The name Leolandia – a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci – was added by Zamperla’s team at the start of the 2008 season, along with a new logo and mascot. MinitaliaLeolandia was born. The management stopped short of abandoning the Minitalia name altogether as it was lodged in many local people’s memories after years of hosting weddings, communions and other family functions. Evidently, though, a new direction was needed.
But was the park’s reputation really that bad? “Oh yes,” frowns Alberto Zamperla, “oh yes…”
Alberto admits that, “in Italy it’s very difficult to fire people,” but nevertheless a significant number of staff changes were made at the start of last season, including an all-new management team headed by general manager Andrea Caldonazzi. With this came a change in attitudes.
“Before the staff were not smiling, but now the customer gets a nice welcome; and because there are a lot of young people working at the park, they do not have all the old bad habits,” observes Alberto. “Now I hear families walking around saying, ‘oh it’s so nice, so many rides, so many things to do.’ I don’t think they expect all the changes we have made.”
With so many new additions in such a short space of time, the marketing hasn’t been focused too heavily on any one attraction. Last year, for example, the message was simply, “Bigger, Better, More Fun.”
New for 2009
Two of this season’s star attractions are Surf’s Up, the first ride of its kind in Europe, and Le Rapide di Leonardo, fast becoming the park’s most popular ride since it opened at the beginning of June.
The latter is Zamperla’s fourth Hydro Lift rapids ride, and easily one of the best-looking. A vertical lift and spiral descent are its signature features and hourly capacity is 700 using 6 circular rafts. As with all other new additions at MinitaliaLeolandia, the theming was designed and executed in-house by Zamperla as the venue makes the steady transition from amusement park to theme park.
“We came up with the story that we have found a secret book by Leonardo Di Vinci in which he designed an amusement park for the prince,” explains Alberto. “That is how we themed some of the rides.”
Di Vinci’s famous drawings and inventions form the backdrop to smaller attractions such as Sgulavia (a themed Samba Balloon ride new this season), Leo Coaster (Family Coaster) and Bici di Vinci (Magic Bikes). An exhibition dedicated to his life’s work also appears underneath the Leo Arena, which hosts the park’s daily Peter Pan musical and parrot shows.
Close by is the new Mine Train, which Zamperla has intertwined perfectly with the log flume it installed here in 1998. The powered coaster is 325-metres-long and sits inside the park’s Wild West town, which includes such Zamperla favourites as a chuck wagon-themed Ferris Wheel (bought from another park in 2000), Carovana Western (Crazy Bus), Wild Avvoltoi (Kite Flyer) and Town Tower (Jumping Star).
Some of Leolandia’s more high energy attractions can be found inside Strabilia Expo, a new area of the park opened last season which will eventually form the gateway to the hotel and other new developments. The entire area is underpinned by a 1908 carnival theme, with swirls, candy stripes and classic fairground motifs adorning most of the attractions. There’s even some upbeat music to keep teenage guests happy.
Key rides here include the Twister Mountain spinning coaster, Cannonball (35-metre-tall tower ride), Electro Spin (Mega Disk ‘O’); Sedie Ballerine (family Wave Swinger) and, new for 2009, Strabilia Kong, a themed Regatta ride.
Other Zamperla additions in recent years include a frog-themed Jump Around in the park’s children’s area and a new Galleon to replace a Pirate Ship from another Italian manufacturer. While there’s a certain amount of pride involved, it’s obviously much more convenient for Zamperla to be able to service its own rides at the park.
Installed last season as an experiment was the manufacturer’s new Taga J, a hybrid Tagada/inflatable aimed at young kids. Though the park operates a pay-one-price admission policy, this particular attraction costs extra, and so far plenty of parents have been willing to pay so their children can enjoy it.
Secondary spend opportunities elsewhere are relatively few and far between. There are just six midway games, for example, and even though new catering facilities were added and then outsourced last season, many guests still bring their own picnics. Merchandise sales, however, have increased since the introduction of the Leo Monster mascot and associated gifts.
School groups are an important part of the park’s business and the model exhibits inside Minitalia provide a useful educational resource. Starting with Sardinia, Minitalia is now being renovated to provide a more authentic miniature experience.
Special events at the park include Mamy Day and Giro di Minitalia (a mini bike tour of “Italy”) in May and HalLeoWeen, which will extend the season through until November 1. A E60 season pass allows entry to all these events and more. A 621 single admission (616 for those under 140cm/over 65 years) permits guests to visit on two consecutive days, should they so choose.
The new owners are probably wise keeping prices low while they build attendance. The park was attracting just 120,000 guests when Zamperla and his partners took over, but last season they grew that to 260,000 and they hope this year to break through 300,000. “We will increase the numbers by 20% each year and hope eventually to get back to 800,000,” says Alberto.
On the park’s side is its location, en-route to Lakes Garda and Como and just 25km from the centre of Milan. Over seven million people are located within an hour’s drive, and the park is just minutes from Orio Al Serio (Bergamo) airport. Milan’s main Malpensa airport is also within easy reach.
Flying in next month will be a selection of Zamperla’s best customers, which the manufacturer is inviting to visit the park, see the rides in action and enjoy the local surroundings. Such indirect sales initiatives, says Alberto, are becoming increasingly important and as the costs of trade show participation increase. Are you on the guest list?
UPDATE – JULY 2010
As it concentrates its efforts on the new Luna Park at Coney Island in New York, Zamperla has severed its formal links with Minitalia Leolandia. Alberto Zamperla, head of the ride manufacturer Antonio Zamperla SpA, took a minority stake in the park, about 90 minutes from his company’s headquarters in Vincenza, back in May 2007. A number of improvements followed, including the addition of 19 new Zamperla rides, and for a while the company used the park as an unofficial showroom.Several such rides have since been repeated for Luna Park at Coney Island, New York, with very similar theming and the park, which is operated by Central Amusement International (CAI), also features ex-Minitalia Leolandia staff including general manager Fernando Velásquez.