Expansion on the Horizon for Futuroscope
At Futuroscope, giant silver crystals erupt from the Earth, tornados send visitors into a spin, astronaut trainees take off, and space-age architecture fills the skyline. Guests who venture to the park near Poitiers in France will feel they have time-warped into some strange future.
How do you future-proof Futuroscope? That was Rodolphe Bouin’s task when he became CEO in the spring of 2018. By the summer of that year, he had presented shareholders with an ambitious development and investment plan. The 10-year plan, signed off in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 crisis, committed €300 million to Futuroscope’s expansion.
“At the time, Futuroscope was attracting 1.9 million visitors and generating sales of around 100 million euros,” Bouin recalls.
After closing for seven months in 2021 because of the pandemic, Futuroscope successfully reopened in 2022 and has recovered. “We achieved a level of attendance close to 2019 and had very positive sales growth, with a turnover of 125 million euros,” Bouin says.
He is optimistic about 2023. “We expect to exceed two million visitors and 130 million euros in turnover, thanks to increased visitor spending. We are where we promised our shareholders we would be, despite COVID.”
The 2020-2030 plan strengthens Futuroscope’s positioning as a resort destination. Bouin wants to grow short-term stays and attract more visitors from farther afield, including from neighboring countries, mainly Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium.
“We’ve divided the investment between the historic park (around €200 million) and the new area at the park’s gateway (around €100 million), with two themed hotels, one experiential restaurant, an indoor water park, and a plaza to link all this together.”
Futuroscope was previously served by surrounding hotels and its own budget hotel, but Bouin believes themed accommodations are the way forward. “The benefits are multi-layered. We offer our visitors a complete experience, day and night, and we increase the spend per visitor.”
The first hotel, Station Cosmos, launched in April 2022. “It has 75 cabins and is a top-of-the-range 4-star hotel. It lets you sleep in a space station on the Kepler 442-b exoplanet,” Bouin explains.
The second, Hôtel Ecolodgee, opened this past summer. It is a very different concept, with 120 wooden lodges where families enjoy woodland and river views from their terraces. Hôtel Ecolodgee is “a haven of peace after the day's excitement,” Bouin says. “We have chosen not to install any TVs or air conditioning in line with our eco-responsible positioning.”
To manage growing visitor numbers between 2017 and 2019, Futuroscope’s team focused on building “high-capacity, high-quality, world-renowned attractions.” These could handle 1,000 guests an hour, compared to 700 visitors an hour as in the past.
Naturally, these rides can cost more: “€20 million in 2020 for Objectif Mars and €21 million in 2022 for Chasseurs de Tornades, compared with €14 million in 2017 for Extraordinaire Voyage, our biggest previous investment,” Bouin explains.
Harnessing a Creative Spirit
Futuroscope is known for its originality. “Futuroscope has always been an unusual park,” Bouin says. It opened in 1987, five years before Disney arrived in France. Its creator René Monory was a politician who wanted to bring jobs to his predominantly rural region. “He anticipated the advent of the leisure society,” Bouin says.
Futuroscope differed from other amusement parks, eschewing the usual rides in favor of multimedia and cinematic storytelling to engage audiences across its attractions. Guests might find themselves flying around the world, journeying through cosmic collisions, enjoying a comical dash through time and space, or racing with a World Rally champion.
Novelties keep guests coming back, which is especially important for Futuroscope as 80% of guests live more than two hours’ drive away. “We have to re-conquer our visitors every year,” Bouin says.
“Futuroscope is now part of the major French leisure group Compagnie des Alpes, but we've kept our DNA of putting people and innovation at the heart of our business,” he continues.
Chasseurs de Tornades is a case in point. The immersive attraction sends guests on an exhilarating trip into a tornado. Seated aboard a dynamic 120-seat platform surrounded by a 470-square-meter cylindrical LED screen, visitors are swept up in a whirlwind that reaches speeds of 27 kph. Special effects and live scenes enhance the theatrical experience.
In 2020, Futuroscope debuted its first roller coaster, Objectif Mars. “Visitors were demanding more thrills,” Bouin explains. The Intamin family launch spinning coaster boosted ride capacity and allowed Futuroscope to become known as more than just a “science park."
“But we did it the Futuroscope way,” Bouin says. “Every time we build a prototype, we think about a plot. In this case, we wanted to take our visitors into the world of astronaut training. It was a great way to offer a thrilling experience and some scientific content in the waiting line.” Guests encounter a friendly robot, electromagnetic fields, solar flares, and galactic views. The coaster features special effects in the indoor section and a hidden final fall.
Guests have appreciated the new investments, according to Bouin. “Objectif Mars and Chasseurs de Tornades are in the top three of visitors' favorite attractions. The Station Cosmos hotel is filled to capacity with a very high level of satisfaction, and the occupancy rate at our Space Loop roller coaster restaurant exceeds our forecasts. 200,000 meals have already been served,” he says.
Water Wonderful World
“In 2024, we're going to create a water park unlike anything that's been done before in France or Europe.” Named Aquascope, the themed water park will participate in a phased opening during the park's season, which lasts around 285 days. It will have a maximum capacity of 1,500 people.
“The park will offer highly original aqua-digital experiences based on mapping projected on the water,” Bouin reveals about the four-area water park. A “sensations area” will include eight slides of different levels for families and intrepid youngsters. An immersion zone will include a truly unique experience that allows people to play with, swim, and float through images projected on the water. There’s an area with games and slides suitable for children aged three and over. An outdoor space with a swimming pool and beach will be open in the summer.
The expansion will be “consistent with the park’s roots and values, which have allowed Futuroscope to retain its uniqueness for 36 years: innovation, humanity, optimism, and curiosity,” Bouin says.
He praises Futuroscope’s teams, “without whom nothing would be possible.” Their enthusiasm has helped the park score 9/10 for its welcoming environment. With a technologically inventive park, “we always have to re-train and re-mobilize teams to maintain the same level of quality,” he adds.
Predicting the future is tricky, even for a futuristic park. “Nobody predicted COVID-19, which shook the tourism industry for two years. Nobody predicted the Ukraine war and the explosion of energy costs. No one predicted labor recruitment difficulties. The only certain thing is that you have to be agile and adapt constantly,” Bouin believes.
He sees opportunities ahead. “It's clear that people still want to get away from it all and share timeless moments with their family and friends, despite the purchasing power issues. There is also an underlying trend indicating that we will travel abroad less and for shorter periods. Leisure parks can provide a change of scenery and local travel.
“The industry is investing a lot in an intelligent way, which results in quality products. That's pulling the whole industry upwards. So, in my view, it has a bright future.”