An amusement park—with the rides, game booths, and food stalls that offer the usual carnival fare—is an easy lure for people looking for an escape from daily life. It is specifically designed to offer a fun day out with family and friends, where you can believe in magic and where childhood dreams can come true.
This is its primary purpose: It provides a feeling of relief and a suspension of disbelief, a place where even the most grown-up of adults can feel the wonder of being a kid again. Enchanted Kingdom goes a step further by turning this great escape into a venue for learning.
Mario O. Mamon, chairman and president of the theme park, says that he, together with his wife Cynthia, who is also the COO, has instilled edutainment (educational entertainment) from the very beginning. Which is why Enchanted Kingdom has become a popular destination for school field trips. They have even come out with the EKsplorakit, where they discuss subjects such as geometry and physics.
The park, which is about 25 hectares in land area, has seven zones. He explains that these are themed differently to take guests to different places and eras. The Midway Boardwalk, for example, gives a glimpse of Coney Island in the 1930s, while Brooklyn Place gives the feeling of strolling through 1940s New York.
The next zone in Enchanted Kingdom has a more Filipino flair, highlighting Pinoy culture through attractions, music, and dance performances. The centerpiece of this village is the towering Agila flying theater, which opened in May 2017. Agila: The EKsperience is a 7-D, 105-seat attraction that takes its audience on a six-minute flight with an eagle-eyed view of the Philippines set to a soaring score composed by Ryan Cayabyab. It also shows the narrative behind the effects of habitat destruction on the Philippine eagle population.
Soaring high on nationalism
Mamon recounts how they conceptualized the mammoth attraction. “We were approaching our 20th anniversary in 2015 and we were looking at launching something memorable within that time frame. One of the suggestions was to put up an attraction that would show the beauty of the Philippines. We thought it would be nice if we could give back to our country and our guests by coming up with an area or attraction that would show Filipino culture and natural resources to boost Philippine tourism.”
He remembers enjoying the flying theater at Disneyland and thinking about bringing the concept here. “Although, instead of seeing California or other places in the world, I wanted to highlight our tourist attractions.”
At Disneyland, they made it feel like you were on a hang glider, but Mamon wanted to associate their flying theater with a bird. “That is how we thought of the Agila. From showing off the popular and unknown tourist spots in the Philippines, we also added the advocacy of protecting the Philippine Eagle. So, the film would show both the flight and the eagle’s plight.”
At the Agila structure, there is also a space called Pugad, where products from local MSMEs are sold as well as a Go Lokal café that serves local coffee. Pugad is a Go Lokal partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that aims to promote and support Philippine-made products especially from Mindanao and other far-flung places, he says. He adds that they were also the first establishment to partner with the DTI in this endeavor. “It is only fitting that after they see the beauty of the country, you get to discover the range of products that Filipinos have created.”
Investing in the future
He says that building the Agila theater is an investment and a risk. “Like with any business, there is no surefire return on investment, but in our case, Enchanted Kingdom has always been an escape from reality with a deeper mission in mind, where we would like to reach out to the future generations of Filipinos. The school children who first came to the park to learn outside of the classroom more than 20 years ago now have their own children and we want to keep on going from there.”
“That is how we thought of the Agila. From showing off the popular and unknown tourist spots in the Philippines, we also added the advocacy of protecting the Philippine eagle. So, the film would show both the flight and the eagle’s plight,” said Mario Mamon.
What is really striking is that every time he goes on the Agila attraction, he notices that people clap at the end. “It is a positive indication about how proud Filipinos feel about their country. Foreigners exiting the ride comment that they want to look for a travel agent to visit the places featured there. It whets their appetite to see more of the Philippines. There are others na naluluha pa nung nakita nila ang ganda ng ating bansa.”
Mamon is one of the founders and the current president of the Philippine Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (PhilAAPA) and a member of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. He was the first Asian and first Filipino to head the latter.
PhilAAPA functions as the link between the industry and public sector while also helping to set safety standards for the attractions. “We are looking into how the industry, in partnership with the Department of Tourism, can contribute to tourist arrivals. Working together, we want to lobby for a win-win situation where we can promote domestic and foreign tourism in the country.” By way of accessibility, he hopes that the infrastructure programs started by the past administration continue, because the time frame for such developments always goes beyond a six-year term.
He also plans to add to the agenda recommendations for how other parks and attractions can highlight Filipino culture and values. It does not even have to be on the scale of Agila, he explains. “These can be things like lining up at the queues or leaving the park clean as an exercise of values and GMRC.”
Mamon says everyone can—and should—be an ambassador of the country. “When you go abroad or when you talk to people of a different race, creed, or religion, kahit paano titignan nila kung saan ka galing. Whatever they may read about the Philippines may be overturned by their impression of you. It is up to you to show the positive side of our country and invite them to visit all the beautiful sights and attractions we have here.”
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 4