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Delphine Pons

With a brand new €36m land and the second record breaking year in a row, Parc Astérix is riding high. Magali Robathan speaks to its CEO about what’s next for the much-loved French park

Pons joined Compagnie des Alpes in 2005 and became CEO of Parc Asterix in 2021 Photo: Parc Asterix
In August 2023, 20 per cent of the park’s guests came from outside France Photo: Parc Asterix
The park has attracted record numbers of visitors since reopening after COVID-19 Photo: Parc Asterix
Extending the opening calendar is a key part of the park’s plans, says Pons Photo: Parc Asterix
Festival Toutatis features the new coaster, a playground and a new family ride Photo: Parc Asterix

As a young child, Delphine Pons was a huge fan of the Astérix and Obelix comic books. “I used to read them with my father, and they really made me laugh a lot,” she tells me, speaking from her home in Paris.

Growing up in Africa, Pons didn’t have the opportunity to visit a theme park until she moved to France to study, but when she finally did, Parc Astérix was her first.

“I was 19 when I went to Parc Astérix, and I just loved it,” she says. “The combination of rollercoasters, adrenaline and my admiration and love for the Astérix universe made it the perfect theme park for me.”

Delphine spent 16 years working across a variety of roles for French visitor attraction and ski resort operator Compagnie des Alpes. When the chance arose in 2021 to lead Parc Astérix – owned by the group – Pons didn’t hesitate.

“It was the most wonderful opportunity,” she says. “I loved the product, the universe and the team. It’s really the perfect job for me.”

The recipe for success
Launched just outside Paris in 1989 – three years before EuroDisney – by Astérix creators Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, Parc Astérix has become a much-loved attraction within France and beyond. Organised into six different ‘lands’ inspired by the comic book, it features a mix of 50 theme park rides and live shows.

“We’re the only park in the world themed around Astérix and Obelix; that’s a real strength,” says Pons. “Astérix and Obelix are at the heart of a very rich universe, with 40 comic books, five live movies, 10 cartoon movies, video games and toys. Astérix and Obelix embody the core values of authenticity, friendliness and humour, and these values are totally embodied by the park.

“The licence is also very active, which is great for us. A live film was released last year, and the 40th comic book will be released next October – that’s going to be a big event in France and in Europe. In 2024 there will be a new animation series created for Netflix by Alain Charbat. There is a lot of actuality around the licence for Astérix.”

Last year, Parc Astérix attracted a record 2.6 million visitors – 20 per cent higher than its 2019 pre-pandemic attendance. This year, says Pons, will be even better in terms of attendance and turnover, with its continuing success owing much to the launch of a major new ride and a brand new land, in the shape of the Toutatis LSM launch coaster by Intamin and the Festival Toutatis area.

“I think our success is down to the quality of the product – the rides, the shows, the F&B, the hotels. We offer our guests a very immersive and unique product.”

By Toutatis!
The genesis of the idea for Parc Astérix’ new Festival Toutatis land came in 2017, when the team were debating what major attraction to open next.

“We had just launched the Pegase Express coaster in our Greek zone,” says Pons. “The ambition was to build a new generation of coaster that didn’t yet exist in France – something very different from any other ride in Parc Astérix.”

The team settled on the Intamin multi LSM launch coaster. The ride fitted the brief of offering something different – it was the first launch coaster for the park, accelerating at a speed of 110kmph (a speed record for France). It also breaks the world record for airtime, with 23 separate instances, as well as a European record for the number of accelerations (seven).

While the team were happy with the choice of ride, it wasn’t suitable for young visitors, and it soon became clear that a whole new land was needed to cater for everyone.

Next, work began on the theming and storytelling for the area, says Pons. “We knew it was going to be in the Gaulish land, so we got together with the concept designers and came up with the story of a festival in honour of the God Toutatis organised by the Gaulish people.”

The park invested €36m into the three hectare land – its largest ever single investment since launching. As well as the Toutatis coaster, Festival Toutatis features a family ride, Chez Gyrofolix; the Le Sanglier d’Or playground; a themed restaurant; a sweet shop; and a gift shop.

The new land was an immediate hit with visitors, says Pons, with the Toutatis coaster scoring particularly highly. “It’s a real success – we’re very proud of the result,” she says. “We measure guest satisfaction via surveys at the park, and the ride Toutatis immediately became our highest ranked ride in the park, scoring 9.64 out of 10. I also check the coaster fan websites and the ride is ranked fifth at a European level and eighteenth worldwide.”

Creating a destination
When Pons took over as CEO of Parc Astérix in 2021, the park was part way through an evolution to move from being a single day destination to a multi-day destination. This saw 50 rooms added to the existing Hotel Les Trois Hiboux in 2018, and two new hotels opened – La Cité Suspendue in 2018 and Les Quais du Lutéce, in 2020.

Soon after joining, Pons drew up a new 10-year masterplan. “One of biggest focuses is on pursuing hotel development and developing accommodation capacity,” she says. “Our three hotels are working very well – they’re fully booked and the satisfaction rate is really good. We’re now planning a fourth hotel, with 300 rooms and a convention centre, to open in 2026.” Work on the theming of this hotel is underway, she adds, although it’s too early to reveal more details.

“The main aim with the hotel development was to attract visitors from further away – from all over France and from Europe. That’s working well. In August 2023, 20 per cent of our guests came from outside France, compared to 14 per cent in August 2022.”

Extending the season
Extending the opening calendar further is also a key part of the masterplan, Pons says.

A decade ago, the park extended its traditional opening season by opening for the Halloween season. Now called Peur sur la Parc, this period – from 30 September to 5 November in 2023 – has become the park’s busiest time of year.

“It’s a very important season for us,” says Pons. “It’s the period when we have the maximum number of visitors per day. During the Halloween season last year, we welcomed 432,000 visitors. On the days we are open late at night, we can welcome 32,000 visitors per day.”

Peur sur la Parc features themed attractions, spooky shows, haunted houses, a monster parade and Halloween theming throughout. This year, the park is showcasing seven late night events from 7pm until midnight, featuring an inferno and percussion show and a sound and light show. These are priced at €46.

New for 2023 is Parc Astérix’ fifth Haunted House. situated in its Egyptian zone. Called the Tomb of the Gods, it will introduce visitors aged 16 and above to ‘the most evil souls in Egyptian history’ and challenge them to survive several trials.

“I’m really happy with this product,” says Pons. “It’s a next level haunted house – multi-sensory, with smells, water, fire and very scary and strong characters.”

A new secret bar is also being launched for the 2023 Halloween season. Visitors follow clues around the park to lead them to the Sanglier Borgne speakeasy-style bar, where they must solve a riddle to gain entry.

In 2020, the park launched a new Christmas season, Gallic Christmas. Open this year from 23 December to 7 January, it sees Parc Astérix transformed, with a Christmas market, Christmas-themed shows, festive theming, and a covered skiing village – with a skating rink, toboggan runs and a special children’s area.

“It’s a really successful event and something we’re continuing to develop,” says Pons.

This year will see the launch of a new Gallic Christmas parade as well as a new Christmas show – Les Jardins Merveilleux de Pere Noel.

Future plans
What else is in the 10 year masterplan, I ask Pons.

“Another key area is the renovation of ageing infrastructure in the park. “We want to bring up the quality everywhere,” she says.

“Also, we have decided to invest in the renovation and enlargement of the ‘backstage’ areas for staff. When you have an investment plan you naturally focus on what we call ‘the show’ – what is visible for guests. We think it’s also important to create good areas for our staff. Last year we created a new building for the F&B team, we’re enlarging and renovating the building for operators, and we’re creating a new ‘show house’.”

While the board has explored the idea of a second gate waterpark for Parc Astérix, this is not part of the current masterplan, Pons tells me.

“Perhaps in the longer term,” she says. “There is no waterpark in our 10 year masterplan, but after that it could be a possibility. The masterplan does, however, contain the possibility of adding an aquatic area dedicated to hotel guests.”

When I ask Pons for some of her most fun moments leading Parc Astérix, it’s clear that she has lost none of the thrill of her 19-year-old self visiting the park for the first time. She lists the inauguration of Festival Toutatis, brainstorming new ideas and stories with the team – and her first ride on the Toutatis coaster.

“We had three months of testing the ride with mannequins, then the project manager at Intamin said, Okay, we’re ready to go,” she says. “I was at the front of the queue with my deputy CEO Sebastien Rotailard. We were thinking: I hope it’s going to be worth it. The ride lasts two minutes, and at the end of those two minutes we looked at one another, exhilarated, and just said Yes!”

The Toutatis coaster
Designed by Intamin, the Toutatis steel coaster features:

• Three trains with 20 seats made of five carriages

• 23 airtimes – a world record for a steel coaster

• Seven accelerations, both forward and reverse (a European record)

• Top speeds of 110kmph (a French record)

• A 101 degree inclined drop

• Three inversions

• 1,328m in length

Photo: Parc Asterix
Parc Astérix by numbers

• Opened: 30 April 1989

• Cost to build: 3,850m French Francs (€129.5m, US$145m)

• Operator: Compagnie des Alpes

• Size: 97 hectares

• Number of hotels: 3

• Number of hotel rooms: 450

• Distance from Paris: 35km

• Annual visitor numbers (2022): 2,632,000

• Annual opening days in 2023: 193

• Number of employees: 2,400 (400 permanent and 2,000 seasonal)

• Number of food outlets: 34

• Revenue in 2022: €170m

Originally published in Attractions Management 2023 issue 4
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