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First Look - March 2017

National Geographic to Open Family Entertainment Centers Worldwide

by Keith Miller

Looking to capitalize on the outstanding global regard for its brand, National Geographic is making its first foray into branded entertainment with the creation of a series of indoor interactive exploration centers around the world. Called National Geographic Ultimate Explorer, each family entertainment center will offer the opportunity to explore and learn from themed attractions, hands-on workshops, and interactive demonstrations, with content designed for families with children ages 5 to 12.

National Geographic is teaming with iP2 Entertainment in Luxembourg to develop a chain of the centers, with the first launching this June in Changzhou, China; the second will open soon afterward in the Shenyang K11 Art Mall in Shenyang, Laioning, China. The centers will be approximately 43,000 square feet; locations for other centers will be announced at a future date.

“The centers will provide different experiential attractions—20 of them—ranging from physical play, to running and racing against animals, to immersive media experiences, ocean dives, arts and crafts centers, and even being shot into space,” says Rosa Zeegers, executive vice president of consumer products and experiences with National Geographic Partners. “We have access to explorers who have experienced all of these things and who can share it, so it makes sense to invite them to speak at these centers.”

National Geographic says in the facilities, kids will travel the globe and tackle a series of engaging assignments through different environments. During these excursions, they’ll overcome physical challenges, interact with animals, and solve puzzles. It will all be documented in their digital Explorer’s Journals.

Chelsea Clarke, project manager for global experiences and events for National Geographic, says the exploration centers are gamified, and participants are rewarded for their progress. “When you go as a guest, you receive missions and challenges,” she says, “and once you complete a challenge, you receive a badge. You keep leveling up as you complete missions. The whole goal of the game part of it is to become an Ultimate Explorer. So it drives repeat attendance, and there are certain missions that can be extended outside the center and completed at home.” 

There are many experiential learning centers for kids, but Zeegers says these National Geographic facilities will be different in three ways: “First is our brand. We are all about global exploration and learning, and because of that, we have credibility. Second, we have real explorers and scientists and photographers, and all of the attractions in our centers will be based on their real-life stories and adventures. Third, we continue to be associated with National Geographic Education Foundation and to unrivaled philanthropic giveback. We continue to fund explorers, scientists, and educators.”

She notes the centers will be located in premium, high-traffic areas with heavy tourism, and she believes all will be located in malls. She says the exploration centers are attractive to brick-and-mortar retailers and developers because they provide experiences online retailers cannot offer and enormous cross-promotional opportunities. Clarke adds, “We’re very picky about who we choose to work with. iP2 Entertainment has taken the position that we can be an anchor attraction and offer not only entertainment, but education.”

Affirming she’s very pleased with the development approach that iP2 is taking, Zeegers says, “IP2 is our worldwide partner. I believe in single-minded, long-term relationships, and they’ve licensed the right to own these centers across the world. In some cases, they’ll find an investor, but they will own it and operate it. In other cases, they find a licensee.”

She mentions National Geographic has a presence in 169 countries around the world. National Geographic Live produces public programs in 26 venues, including 15 in North America. National Geographic is also a leading organizer of large-scale traveling exhibitions, seen around the world by 20 million visitors since launching in 2009.