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Fico Eataly World goes all-in and raises

Exclusive: the new CEO Stefano Cigarini speaks

After the initial difficulties and the forced stop for Covid-19, Fico Eataly World aims to reopen at Easter, with a new recovery plan and the leadership of Stefano Cigarini.

Fico Eataly World starts this 2021 in the name of news. The Bologna experience park will restart under the leadership of new CEO Stefano Cigarini, while Stefano Dall'Ara, director of the subsidiaries of Coop Alleanza 3.0, and Nicola Farinetti for Eataly join the board of directors of the management company Eataly World. After a 2019 that ended with revenues of 34.3 million, a Mol of -4.2 million and a net loss of 3.1 million, and a 2020 inevitably marked by the forced closure due to a pandemic, fresh capital of 5 million euros is entering and a new three-year strategic plan is launched. Compatibly with the evolution of the health situation, the intent is to reopen at Easter with a new formula that also introduces the entrance ticket. We asked Stefano Cigarini, CEO of Cinecittàworld and former vice president of Entertainment and Events at Ferrari for some anticipation.

What does this recovery plan broadly consist of?

Assuming that I cannot go into detail because the internal plan is still in progress, there is an important intervention that rethinks Fico from the foundations starting from a very simple premise: Eataly and the Coop world have put together an idea that has very innovative characters. To date, there is no food theme park in the world. There are single pieces that are part of Fico, but only individually. Sometimes he also innovates by putting together known pieces.

It is normal that there is a period, which can last months or years, in which the formats find their way onto the market. But there is an underlying idea that remains successful - and this is the reason why I personally decided to engage in this managerial adventure - that is, that an experiential park is created. A park where you can experience food in a nation that is recognized as a leader on this issue. An experience offered to the public in a simple, popular, direct and immediate way. This is a winning idea in Italy but, i add, even more abroad where this value is recognized. Exactly how Disney World is expected to be in the United States, recognized as a leader in entertainment.

What will be the differences between the “old” and the “new” Fig?

The new plan takes this great value and brings it to the level of the people, reversing the perspective that has been followed so far. At the beginning, the topic of food was dealt with in an "industrial" way, thinking by categories, explaining and teaching. Now he will try to do the same, but thrilling. To quote the saying attributed to Confucius: "Teach me and I will forget, involve me and I will understand". Here, this is the line. Today Fico Eataly World is a food outlet, from now on it will make a journey to become a theme park. This does not necessarily mean a place full of rides for children.

Are you inspired by some international examples?

After Disneyland, the most visited amusement park in France is called Puy du Fou and is historical themed. Within a day the visitor is surrounded by Vikings, then he puts himself in the shoes of an ancient Roman, then returns to the Middle Ages with hawks and eagles flying around him. This is an industrial process, made up of scenography, setting, music and shows, which is however experienced in a very natural way. Our theme is food, but we relate it to people.

We want to create an experience comparable to that of the Puy du Fou in which the visitor does not have the perception that someone is teaching him the story, but touches it firsthand. Until a few months ago, a child visiting Fico had to read a series of signs explaining how in Italy 1,000 of the 1,200 varieties of apples in the world are produced. If, on the other hand, you show that child many apples of different colors, you said the same thing in a more immediate and impactful way.

To achieve this you have a 5 million euro investment plan ...

It is an important but reasoned plan, in the sense that we do not start from scratch, we do not have an empty land on which to build the ideal park. Maybe we will do this around the world in a few years if Fico has been successful in the meantime, which we believe possible. In this case, however, we start from an object that was built not many years ago, with important investments, and inside it already has several excellences which, however, are somewhat separated from each other, so to speak. The plan takes an act of realism and says: "What do we already have and how can we bring it to the maximum of its expected result?".

How do you plan to re-involve those companies that initially joined the project and then pulled back?

First of all, in technical, historical, commercial, marketing, etc. terms, the project is in the right place. Fico is however something that did not exist three years ago and has seen about 5 million people pass by. Trivially, one in two of those who live within an hour of Bologna, and 14% of those who live in a belt of 300 kilometers, declare that they have passed through Fico. It is not a low percentage.

There is a fact that made me smile the first time i came to Rome to deal with tourism: according to a research by the Bilateral Tourist Board, 48% of Romans have never visited the Colosseum. If you can have doubts about Fico and - rightly - criticism, i would say that on the Colosseum it is not possible, right? Yet, one in two Romans has never entered it.

So the numbers are not to be considered bankruptcy as reported by press?

I understood that on Fico there are the detractors, who consider it a cathedral in the desert, and the fans. Between these two extremes there are many more lucid positions. That is, Fico is an important infrastructure for the city of Bologna and for Emilia-Romagna, which has had an important investment (substantially private, because the public contribution is not monetary but in the form of assets) and has moved 5 million of people. Research shows about 1.5 million tourist visits that have generated an overnight stay in Bologna in the last two years: 11% is linked to Fico. We are therefore talking about 160-170 thousand people who have developed a total of 15 million euros.

After that: Did it reach the numbers that were declared? No. At the time, the target was 6 million visitors a year, 5 in two and a half years. This is not debatable. According to an analysis we have carried out, there has been a concurrence of causes. Some elements are attributable to Fico, in terms of quality of experience, offer, form. Other elements instead are attributable to the number. Let me give a trivial example. In the famous plan developed at the time, it was written that Fico would attract about 1.6 million international tourists. Calculating that a plane carries on average two hundred people, that means 6 thousand planes. That is, twenty planes should arrive at Bologna Marconi airport every day, unload loads of people and take them all to Fico. I think this figure comments for itself, right? That number was wrong, stop. But what we must now grasp is the dream that is inside that number.

Beyond the current situation, what is the target you set yourself?

We have now started a package of works that will change Fico's face and type of experience. In parallel, we are redesigning the marketing-communication-sales chain. The target is generalist. Families can come and have fun, get excited, let the children go wild. Adults will be able to have fun, but also enjoy the pleasures of food that a child of five or ten may not yet be able to appreciate.

The first target is that of Bologna city and Emilia. We reconstruct from the territory, with great humility, focusing on those who live in the area and can benefit from a beautiful infrastructure that we plan to improve a lot. Few imagine that in Disneyland Paris, in the “normal” years (thus excluding 2020 which is not valid), 50% of visitors come from Île-de-France.

Then we also proceed on tourism, but with realistic targets, working on two levers. The first is the residence time which at the moment - the data tell us - is low, equal to about two hours. When I arrived at Cinecittà World, the time I spent was around one hour and 40 minutes; today it is around 7 and a half hours. The repercussion is totally different. It's one thing to go for a ride, it's another to dedicate my whole day to that kind of experience.

Will there be an entrance ticket?

Until yesterday Fico did not provide an access ticket but every proposal, every activity, had a cost. Then there was paid parking with a disincentive mechanism, because the first two hours were free and then the price went up gradually. With the new model there will be a very popular access ticket, under 10 euros: once the visitor has entered, everything is available to him.

The second lever is this: fewer people but with a longer residence time and the possibility of returns, because when we build more beautiful, more rewarding experiences, it is impossible to exhaust them with just one lap.

What is the current turnover?

The turnover is around 30 million euros but in 2020 it dropped by over 70% for obvious reasons related to Covid-19.

The opening is scheduled for spring, but it will depend on the health situation ...

Certainly. When we started conceptualizing this plan it was August-September and Italy was “open”, the general feeling was that we had overcome the lockdown. At the time we were working for 2022. Then in the autumn the situation worsened again and the park had to close in November. Even in the phases in which technically it could remain open, it would have been subjected to such posts as to make it unmanageable (such as closing at 6pm). At this point we said to ourselves: assuming it can be done, does it make sense in January to reopen with the old format? The answer was "no".

So we started forcing the time on the works so that we would be ready in spring. The symbolic date is Easter, therefore the weekend of April 2-4. We are working to be ready for that date, compressing the work that was scheduled for 12 into 5-6 months. It is not easy, but we are trying. We will of course assess the situation and, if necessary, the date will be revised. In the course of such a long and complex project, it is not an extra month or less that makes a difference.

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