Cover Story - September 2016

PortAventura World shares its winning formula for forthcoming Ferrari Land theme park

by Juliana Gilling

Ferrari Land is fast taking shape at PortAventura World Parks & Resort, the latest in a series of developments steering the Spanish attraction toward pole position in Europe.

Shields emblazoned with the prancing horse can be seen for miles around on Intamin’s towering new Accelerator Coaster, proclaiming the partnership between Port­Aventura World and Ferrari. Due to open April 7, 2017, Ferrari Land will be the only Ferrari-branded theme park in Europe for 30 years.

“Ferrari Land will be the resort’s third gate. It will complement the existing ones—PortAventura Park and Caribe Aquatic Park—making PortAventura World the only European resort with three parks,” says Sergio Feder, CEO of Port­Aventura World. Ferrari Land is part of a plan to transform PortAventura from a theme park into a fully integrated “European destination resort that offers a world of unique experiences,” says Feder. “PortAventura World Parks & Resort is a new brand that we have created to explain this.”

PortAventura’s Journey So Far

Feder took the driver’s seat at PortAventura when Investindustrial acquired it at the end of 2009. He arrived in Spain after a successful 16-year stint as CEO of Italy’s Gardaland theme park to find a Catalonian facility with significant numbers of Spanish visitors and a hotel business under development. “In short, it was a park that had a lot of potential,” he recalls.

PortAventura started life in 1995 as a 285-acre park backed by the Tussauds Group, Anheuser-Busch, the Spanish savings bank La Caixa, and utility company FECSA. The property sits in the northeast coastal area of Spain, known as the Costa Daurada (or Dorada), close to the popular tourist hot spot of Salou and less than an hour’s drive south of Barcelona.

The park launched with a geographical theme, giving guests the opportunity to embark on an epic journey through five themed lands: China, México, Far West, Polynesia, and Mediterrània. In each lushly landscaped area, themed rides, daily shows, shops, restaurants, street parades, and amusement games complete the experience.

Since its debut, PortAventura has said “hola” to different owners. During Universal Studios’ watch (1998-2004), a water park and two hotels were added, along with two name changes: Universal’s PortAventura and Universal Mediterranea. Investindustrial’s 2009 deal was made possible through close relationships with La Caixa and its majority-owned investment company, Criteria Caixa Corp. In 2012, Investindustrial took full ownership; in 2013, it selected global private equity firm KKR as a 49.9 percent partner in PortAventura.

Stepping Investment Up a Gear

“We launched an ambitious investment plan to take the theme park to the next level, which meant turning the park into a broader holiday destination for the whole family. This family-focused strategy was a priority for us and one of the keys to success; nowadays, more than 75 percent of our visitors are families with children,” says Feder. In the last six years, the company spent around i300 million in the repositioning project, introducing new attractions, adding a children’s area, and upgrading the park and its facilities.

At the same time, PortAventura’s management team set its sights on opening new international markets. “Over the last few years we have strongly increased our brand awareness and presence in countries like France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux region, among other markets. As a result, more than 40 percent of our visitors are from international markets. This internationalization will continue in the coming years, especially with the opening of Ferrari Land,” says Feder.

Supporting this growth, PortAventura World’s owners have consolidated the resort, increasing its accommodation offerings. The business now has 2,100 rooms across five hotels, giving “a complete themed experience to all European families coming to our resort to enjoy their summer holidays,” explains Feder. The resort also offers a golf club and an Ibiza-style beach club.

PortAventura World has capitalized on its new business and events division. “In 2015, it organized more than 180 events for companies such as Coca-Cola, SEAT, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dow Chemical, Deloitte, T-Systems, HP, and IBM,” says Feder. PortAventura World has built one of Spain’s largest convention centers, covering more than 13,000 square meters and accommodating up to 3,000 people.

These developments have helped reshape the park from a May-to-October operation (the original season in 1995) into a business that opens for roughly 300 days a year. The Ferrari Land third gate is likely to produce higher attendances, longer stays, and increased interest. “In Ferrari Land’s first year alone we expect 1 million visitors, in addition to the 4 million that PortAventura World currently boasts,” says Feder.

Introducing Theme Park Novelties

New attractions have already made their collective mark at PortAventura Park. “Our first project was to develop SésamoAventura, a new themed area aimed at families with young children, based on Sesame Street characters,” says Feder. It was an immediate hit in 2011, increasing visitor numbers by half a million.

Next came the mighty “Shambhala” (2012), a record-breaking, 76-meter-high roller coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), which intertwines with PortAventura’s signature “Dragon Khan” coaster (also B&M). “Shambhala’s” elaborate, Himalayan expedition-style theming was deliberately designed with international audiences in mind.

“Angkor: Adventure in the Lost Kingdom” arrived in 2014, a i10 million water ride from Mack Rides, with extensive theming inspired by the Cambodian Temple of Angkor Wat. Billed as the longest interactive boat battle ride in Europe (300 meters in length), it further boosted ride capacity at the park, accommodating 726 people an hour.

PortAventura was the first European resort to host a Cirque du Soleil show, “KOOZA,” in 2014. That show played to more than 100,000 people, and last year Cirque du Soleil brought “Amaluna” to the resort. PortAventura World has renewed its agreement with Cirque du Soleil to bring summer shows to the park until at least 2020. “I am very proud of the agreements with Cirque du Soleil and Ferrari. These efforts have proved to be very successful,” says Feder.

Spreading the Ferrari Spirit

Bringing Ferrari Land into the resort—both physically and thematically—has required some slick maneuvering on PortAventura World’s part. The 58,000-square-meter park will have its own gate, but it will also be linked to the adjoining PortAventura Park. At press time, PortAventura World’s team was still finalizing the park’s admission strategy; tickets are due to go on sale in November.

Ferrari Land is an homage to the Italian genius that has shaped the world, from the Roman creators of the Colosseum to ­Ferrari’s founder Enzo Ferrari. Visitors will arrive in an entrance plaza, paved in the colors of the checkered flag, with a prancing horse centerpiece. In front of them, one side of the street will re-create the traditional buildings of Maranello, with facades inspired by Enzo Ferrari’s home and the Ferrari factory. Reproductions of monuments including the Campanile di San Marco and La Scala di Milan will reinforce the impression of Italian inspiration and heritage.

The other side of the street symbolizes the “speed, technology, and innovation represented in the iconic cars,” says Feder. That’s where the sleek Ferrari Experience will stand, with a gleaming roof finished in Ferrari’s famous Rosso Corsa red.

The development aims to capture and share the spirit of Ferrari with guests. “Knowing Ferrari is not enough. You have to live it,” says Feder. “It will be an unforgettable experience that shows you the Ferrari story through the eyes of the man—Enzo Ferrari—who wrote it.”

Everything at Ferrari Land is designed to immerse people in the Ferrari universe, allowing them to encounter the thrilling acceleration of Ferrari engines, the choreography of a pit crew, and the competition of race day. “You will be the protagonist,” says Feder.

“We are designing sensations and experiences. The physical project is just the tool to do it, not the target,” says Ferrari Land’s project manager, Luis Valencia. Ferrari is working with PortAventura World every step of the way to get the atmosphere and details right, welcoming guests into la dolce vita.

“The colors, the sounds, and even the smells of Italian cuisine should give the clear feeling of being in Maranello, which has always been Ferrari’s home,” says Feder.

Gaining the Spotlight

“We all know what the Ferrari brand represents. We want to make sure that we represent them as they represent themselves. It’s a matter of quality and of experience. Ferrari has chosen us as the best operator and construction team to achieve their standards,” says Giovanni Cavalli, general manager of strategic and commercial development at the resort.

For Cavalli, it’s personal, as his father was a test driver for Ferrari 60 years ago: “I’m from Modena [home to the Enzo Ferrari Birthplace Museum and the workshop of Ferrari’s father], so it’s a great honor—and a passion—to be able to represent my city to the world. The interest in Ferrari Land is unbelievable, and it’s greatly satisfying to lead this project from a commercial standpoint. It will put us on the world map.”

Cavalli expects Ferrari Land to drive growth in northern European markets, such as Italy, where PortAventura World is still little known, as well as increasing visitation from natural markets like the UK.

“Ferrari has been recognized as one of most valuable brands in the world,” says Feder. “Its reputation will be of key importance in attracting international clients from markets that are currently not familiar with PortAventura, but certainly know and respect the famous Italian brand. We want the Ferrari brand to act as an ambassador for PortAventura World.”

The pressure is on PortAventura World’s crew to deliver. “It’s a complex challenge, not only from a technical point of view, but because we have the expectations of the company, PortAventura itself, the expectations of Ferrari, and the expectations of the public. It’s a milestone project for PortAventura World,” says Valencia.

Ferrari Land has to strike the right balance, according to Feder: “As with all our projects, the primary objective is to create a range of entertainment for all family members, not only for children but also for young people, parents, and relatives. But at the same time we want to attract a sector of the public that is new for us: fans of motor racing and Formula 1. We want Ferrari Land to become the official home of Formula 1 fans in Europe.”

Feder is confident that PortAventura World is on the way to becoming the Formula 1 of family-destination resorts. 

Fast Facts: Ferrari Land

Size: 58,000 square meters

Key attractions:

  • Intamin’s vertical Accelerator Coaster. Riders will accelerate from 0 to 180 kph in five seconds. The 112-meter-high ride will use an LSM launch. Three trains seat 12 passengers each. The station will be themed like a pit stop, with staff dressed in Formula 1 uniforms. A bright yellow grandstand will give spectators a prime view of the ride launch and a spot to take photos if they’re fast enough. On-ride photos will be available as well.
  • A 600-meter-long racing circuit, equipped with 32 electric cars, which will offer some freedom for wannabe drivers to steer around the track. Italian company C&S is working on the project.
  • Ferrari Experience, comprising at least two attractions and many surprises. These were top secret at press time, but expect some serious technology in there.
  • Formula 1 semi-professional simulators, where visitors can experience driving a Ferrari on renowned tracks.
  • Pit-stop challenge, featuring two real Formula 1 Ferrari cars. Two teams of guests will compete to change the wheels in record time.
  • Two rebound towers from S&S. Both towers will be around 56 meters high with 12 seats each.
  • Children’s speedway attraction, offering gentle thrills inside the recreated Ferrari factory.
  • A Ferrari shop and a traditional Italian trattoria, featuring Ferrari memorabilia and themed props.

Competition from the Middle East?

There’s already a Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi and fresh impetus to visit the Middle East in 2016 with the openings of parks and attractions including IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dubai Parks & Resorts, and Legoland Dubai. It remains to be seen what impact that will have on the European parks industry.

“I do not believe that real competition exists between European and Middle Eastern parks. They are clearly differentiated with completely different target markets,” says PortAventura’s Sergio Feder.

As far as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is concerned, “We see ourselves as cousins, rather than competition,” says Port­Aventura’s Giovanni Cavalli. His colleague, Luis Valencia, adds: “We’re offering a completely different interpretation of Ferrari in a completely different location.”

Competition from the Middle East?

There’s already a Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi and fresh impetus to visit the Middle East in 2016 with the openings of parks and attractions including IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dubai Parks & Resorts, and Legoland Dubai. It remains to be seen what impact that will have on the European parks industry.

“I do not believe that real competition exists between European and Middle Eastern parks. They are clearly differentiated with completely different target markets,” says PortAventura’s Sergio Feder.

As far as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is concerned, “We see ourselves as cousins, rather than competition,” says Port­Aventura’s Giovanni Cavalli. His colleague, Luis Valencia, adds: “We’re offering a completely different interpretation of Ferrari in a completely different location.”

PortAventura World Timeline

1995 PortAventura theme park opens.

1997 The name is changed to Universal’s PortAventura Theme Park. The “Stampida” wooden coaster launches.

1999 The “Fiest­Aventura” fireworks show debuts.

2000 The park is renamed Uni­versal Mediterranea, and “Sea Odyssey,” an underwater submarine simulator, opens.

2002 Two new PortAventura hotels are added: Hotel PortAventura and Hotel El Paso. Costa Caribe Aquatic Park launches.

2003 PortAventura’s new Caribbean-themed Hotel Caribe welcomes guests.

2005 The park’s name reverts back to Port­Aventura.

2006 PortAventura Beach Club opens, offering ocean views, swimming pools, and spa treatments for hotel guests.

2007 PortAventura introduces the “Furius Baco” roller coaster (Intamin) with top speeds of 135 kph in the park’s Mediterrània area.

2009 The Wild West-themed Hotel Gold River opens.

2010 PortAventura celebrates its 15th anniversary with shows, parades, and special offers.

2011 PortAventura unveils the park’s sixth themed land, SésamoAventura.

2012 “Shambhala,” Europe’s tallest roller coaster, takes the park to new heights.

2013 PortAventura reveals the refurbished and expanded Costa Caribe Aquatic Park.

2014 “Angkor: Adventure in the Lost Kingdom” opens; Cirque du Soleil arrives for a summer season.

2015 New hotel developments include Mansión de Lucy and an extension to Hotel Gold River.

2016 PortAventura World Parks & Resort is announced as the destination’s new name.

2017 Ferrari Land starts its engines in April 7.

Accommodating Attitude
PortAventura World has added innovative hotel offerings over the years. Hotel El Paso—themed as a hacienda in colonial Mexico—provides all-inclusive holidays. UK tourists, in particular, have lapped up the opportunity to stay half-board and enjoy unlimited entry to PortAventura Park.

Last year, PortAventura World moved into the luxury market with the launch of its first five-star hotel, Mansión de Lucy. It transports guests back in time to enjoy a stay in a Far West-themed hotel reminiscent of the opulent mansions built by 19th century American rail, oil, and gold magnates. The hotel offers 28 Deluxe Superior rooms and two suites, as well as à la carte restaurants, a spa, and personal concierge services. The resort has also opened 78 Deluxe Callaghan rooms in a new annex to the Hotel Gold River.