Creating Katmandu Park: A Harbor for Resort Entertainment
When visitors approach the entrance to Katmandu Park, which opened earlier this year in Punta Cana on the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, they are greeted by a yeti standing in front of an ornate building that is flipped on its head.
The discombobulated scene helps set the stage for the story that unfolds within the park, and the topsy-turvy edifice is an apt metaphor for the unique park and adjacent hotel. The integrated destination resort just may turn industry expectations upside down and serves as a model of how designers can forge a partnership and become operators.
A Novel Partnership
The story of Katmandu Park in Punta Cana begins on another island on the opposite side of the Atlantic. On the Spanish island of Palma in the Balearic Sea, the Katmandu Group operates a small theme park in Majorca, Spain. During a joint venture with Meliá Hotels International, the lodging chain discovered that the modest park helped to dramatically boost room occupancy at its adjacent property.
Katmandu and Meliá reasoned that if they could achieve success with a small hotel in Majorca, they could make an even greater impact with some of Meliá’s larger, signature resorts. This realization inspired them to approach Falcon’s Beyond as a third-party vendor in 2021 to help develop a world-class park in Punta Cana.
“Very quickly, it became obvious our cultures were aligned,” says Daryl White, Falcon’s vice president for global licensing and business development. The companies decided to evolve from a client-vendor relationship to a true partnership.
“It’s every attraction designer’s dream to own a park,” White notes, adding that it was a dream come true for the Katmandu folks as well. “Everything you want to do creatively as an owner/operator is now at your fingertips. It was a great solution.”
What they developed can be classified in the attractions industry as a “micro park:” spanning a mere four acres, but nonetheless, packs in cutting-edge attractions. (Falcon’s refers to as its “big experience, small footprint” philosophy.)
Among the highlights are three attractions that feature ride systems from Oceaneering:
- The 4D flying theater ride—named Voyage of the Fathom Wanderer—sends passengers plunging down into the sea, where odd creatures reside.
- Legend of the Desirata incorporates roving motion base vehicles for a 4D dark ride journey to a mysterious Nepalese village. Kraftwerk Living Technologies contributed to this attraction, as well as Voyage of the Phantom Wanderer.
- Challenge of the Mad Mage pits guests against one another and marauding chess bots as they fire away at the menacing automatons and score points.
The interactive EtherQuest walkthrough attraction sends guests on a group mission to eradicate nefarious ghouls using projection mapping and novel tracking devices.
While experiencing EtherQuest and Challenge of the Mad Mage, guests can keep track of their scores by tapping the bracelets that Katmandu issues participants. The bracelets also serve as digital tickets to access the attractions at the free-admission park.
Rounding out the park is an interactive climbing structure, a ropes course and a giant swing supplied by KristallTurm, a carousel from Concept 1900, and two mini-golf courses along with shops and dining spots. Nearly everything is indoors, which frees Katmandu of inclement weather concerns.
More than Theming
Designed with a compelling blend of Himalayan and steampunk influences, the Katmandu narrative, which is an original to Katmandu intellectual property (IP), ties everything together at the park.
Featuring a whimsical band of characters, Falcon's leverages the franchise with merchandise, an animated series that is planned for release in 2025, and the recently launched BeyondMe gaming platform.
Guests can get a sense of Katmandu’s breadth by participating in BeyondMe, which allows them to choose a personalized digital avatar, earn virtual currency, and spend the currency known as XP while at the park and hotel.
“Katmandu is no longer just a theme park,” White says. “It’s a holistic brand.”
The nearby 432-room Falcon’s Resort by Meliá is the first hotel to carry the attraction company’s name. An upscale, all-suite, all-inclusive property, it exemplifies the high quality and level of service for which Meliá is renowned. In tandem with the park, the hotel complex represents what Falcon’s refers to as “resortainment.”
So, is the idea that the park drives occupancy at the hotel, or that the hotel drives park attendance? “It’s at the intersection between the two,” asserts Simon Philips, president of Falcon’s.
While on-site resort guests receive complimentary admission to the attractions, the park is open to visitors who vacation in the resort town, which has upwards of 45,000 hotel rooms. The attraction is not designed to compete with the beach or other existing amenities, but to complement them. Having a standalone marketable attraction differentiates the resort and offers a persuasive reason to stay there. “There’s a symbiosis between the hotel and the park,” Philips adds.
The Punta Cana resort opened in 2018 and is part of a 300-acre Meliá campus that includes four other hotels totaling 2,271 rooms. The property was rebranded Falcon’s Resort by Meliá earlier this year.
A Grander Vision
In 2024, Falcon’s Central, an entertainment, dining, and retail hub, is scheduled to open adjacent to the theme park and will complete the company’s vision for what it considers a Falcon’s Beyond destination. The hub will serve as a template for future locations, including projects under development in Tenerife, Canary Islands, and Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
White says that Meliá, which has about 400 hotels in 40 countries, is ideally suited for the rollout of the projects. “They know the markets, they have the infrastructure and connections, and they have the land. We couldn’t ask for a better partner,” he notes.
The micro parks, Philips adds, are the appropriate size and scale for Falcon’s to develop and operate. The goal is not to bring in millions of guests each year as might be the case at larger parks.
“When we look at location-based entertainment, there are parks of massive scale around the world,” he says. “They are destinations in their own right.”
Falcon’s, however, is targeting established tourist strongholds, mostly all-inclusive beach resorts like Punta Cana, that have existing foot traffic. Visitors to the Caribbean island stay about seven nights on average and are looking for things to do.
“They are coming for reasons other than going to a theme park,” according to Philips. “But our parks will be an enhancement for them.”
Reorganizing for Tomorrow
The Katmandu parks and Falcon’s Resorts by Meliá represent a major expansion for Falcon’s Beyond. The company continues to serve as a consultancy for other clients through its Falcon’s Creative Group division, which includes the design and media divisions. Yet, becoming a partner with a resort operator gave the company an opportunity to look at its overall business strategy and create new lines of business.
The newly created Falcon’s Beyond Destinations oversees the portfolio of resort hotels, theme parks, retail, dining, and entertainment complexes that launched with its Punta Cana location. Also under the corporate umbrella is Falcon’s Beyond Brands, which incorporates homegrown and external IP for a variety of clients. Senior leadership, headed by Cecil Magpuri, CEO, and Scott Demerau, executive chairman of the board, guided the restructuring.
“Cecil and Scott always had a vision to do something that hadn’t been done before, or even attempted,” says White. “They wanted to create a vertically integrated entertainment powerhouse that activates intellectual properties across multiple physical and digital lanes simultaneously.”
His advice to other companies considering major expansions? Bring in the best team possible, and don’t be afraid to reach outside the organization. Develop a solid plan and keep the faith. “It can be scary, but to quote an old saying, fortune favors the bold,” White adds.
“We want to be defined by the experiences you have,” Philips says, referring to Falcon’s Punta Cana resort and park. “It has to deliver on our promise of world-class immersive experiences that are truly unforgettable.”