Antonio Zamperla is perhaps one of the most recognised and respected names in the attractions industry – and no less the name Alberto, who took over from his late father more than 20 years ago. And the company – the world’s biggest manufacturer of amusement rides – has gone from strength to strength, increasing ride design and production from 50 to almost 250 units per year.
This year, the family business celebrated its 50th birthday, but the loss of his father makes the occasion bittersweet for the current president.
“Replacing my father as the head of the company when he passed away in September 1994 was definitely the biggest challenge I have faced,” Alberto Zamperla told Attractions Management. “But I was able to make it through thanks to the things he taught me, including common sense and values, and thanks to the unconditional support from my family and my employees.”
The ride company, which was born of a 100 years family history in the circus tradition, was established in 1966. In 1976, Antonio Zamperla moved the sales office to Montreal, Canada, and soon his son went to set up an office in New Jersey. The company grew rapidly, helped along the way by some high-profile contracts.
“One of the real turning points for us was when Disney came to Europe and we were selected to build seven of the initial 12 rides for Disneyland Paris,” Zamperla says. “Because we delivered the job on schedule, Disney asked us to make another ride for California, and so we started a very good collaboration which is still progressing to this day. We have sold 25 rides to Disney, with more to come.”
Zamperla is continuing the tradition of keeping the company in the family, as his sons Antonio Jr and Alessandro are both actively involved in the business. Alessandro is in the US, while Antonio manages the company – which has an annual turnover of €70m (£63m, $76m) – in Italy. But he says nothing is to be taken for granted: “They have to demonstrate they have the qualities to run the business in the long term.”
Innovation has been central to the Italian company’s growth over the years, whether that’s with the success of the family thrill coaster Thunderbolt or the brand new multi-feature Factory Coaster (which is themed like a factory). More innovations will be unveiled at IAAPA in Orlando, Florida, in November, including an Oculus-powered VR ride and 100 per cent Zamperla theme park concept.
“We have a natural inclination for innovation and for questioning our decisions and strategies in an effort to improve constantly,” he says. “We’re working on the first Factory Coaster for an important Chinese customer. We’re also looking in depth at the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution and how it’s likely to affect our present way of working and doing business.”
Another area where Zamperla is one of the few companies leading the way is in accessible ride experiences. The company donated an adapted Magic Bike Ride to the Give Kids the World park in Kissimmee, Florida, in 2014 (see page 84) and has since pursued this line of ride development. Zamperla admits that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to create universally accessible rides because everyone has unique needs, but says it’s important to start somewhere.
“Zamperla is already working on the development of a family amusement park concept where people of all ages and abilities can come together and have fun in a safe environment. Giving seriously ill kids the opportunity to have fun is highly rewarding and a way to give back a little bit of the richness that a child’s smile offers.”
Protecting the innovation and intellectual property of the company is something Zamperla is passionate about, even more so since the company was forced to issue a statement in May this year following a ride accident that killed one and injured 23 people in Chennai, India.
The Disco Dancer, which bore similarities to Zamperla’s Disk’O came off its rails and crashed. “It is important for the public to know that the ride involved in this accident was not a Zamperla product,” said a statement at the time. “The ride involved in this accident was an unauthorised, poorly executed forgery of the Zamperla design.”
It was an important move by the ride maker, drawing attention to the level of engineering and manufacturing needed to achieve the high safety standards and the to the matter of creative ownership. It also sent a message to manufacturers of forged rides and the operators who buy them. Zamperla’s determination to act severely on these incidents is clear.
“We are very proud of our designs, whether special projects such as branded IP rides or ‘ready-to-go’ themed attractions,” says the 64-year-old Italian. “I am very proud of our technical, art and prototyping departments and we invest considerably in research and innovation, so I think it’s not only my right to protect my investments and IP, but it is also my duty to protect the hard work of my employees.”
“I am very serious in addressing the issue of knock-off rides and I have no intention of backing down,” he says.