People
Nicolas de Villiers

The biggest challenge for us is to become genuinely American in our hearts and minds, in order to understand what will move our future audience


Puy du Fou is set to enter the US attractions market with its iconic, immersive themed visitor experience, after securing a partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).

The EBCI Tribal Council has approved plans to provide US$75m worth of funding for phase 1 of The Gateway to Adventure project in Sevierville, Tennessee.

The Puy du Fou element will be a major part of the 200-acre development, located at the start of the Smoky Mountains. According to EBCI, the US’ first Puy du Fou will be a fully immersive walk-through show inspired by an “authentic and heartbreaking Cherokee story” of their heroism in World War 1.

As well as Puy du Fou, The Gateway to Adventure project will feature the world’s largest Buc-ee’s Family Travel Center, as well as shops, restaurants, other themed experiences, parks and hotels.

Here Nicolas de Villiers, chairman and artistic director of Puy du Fou, speaks exclusively to Attractions Management about this exciting project.

How did your partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians come about?
Thanks to Matthew Cross, founder of consultancy and development company OE Experiences, we crossed paths with the EBCI, who were looking for diversification by creating a family destination in Sevier County. Puy du Fou is a celebration of history and cultural roots; we mainly deal with stories inspired by history. EBCI wanted an original show with a new brand able to bring a new concept to this region. EBCI has been very open to the ideas Puy du Fou has presented; as such, this partnership makes perfect sense.

What will the show involve?
This immersive experience will be a deep dive into an authentic and breathtaking history – the story of the Cherokee volunteers who fought alongside American boys for their country and for freedom during the First World War. This story is little-known and will pay a deserved tribute to these heroes. From the Appalachian foothills to the French battlefields, our spectators of all ages will embark on an epic journey that will transform them.

What excites you and the team most about telling this story about the Cherokee Indians?
For us, each new meeting is an opportunity to discover another culture, another history, another perspective on our world. We’ve been touched by the glorious and suffering history of the Cherokees; there are some similarities with our history, here in western France. We’ve witnessed them making their path in modern America with hope, success and determination. proud of their Cherokee roots and cultural legacy. Our feeling is admiration just as much as excitement: how could it be otherwise?

Why did you choose the Smoky Mountains for your first US attraction?
During the past year, we’ve carefully screened the USA for the next step of our international expansion. It became clear to us that South-East America, and especially the Great Smoky Mountains area could be a perfect fit for us. The natural beauty of the countryside, the legendary southern hospitality, the sense of community combined with a booming tourist destination and great support from local authorities set the stage for our first flag in America.

What do you see as the biggest challenges of developing the Puy du Fou experience for the US market?
The biggest challenge for us is to become genuinely American in our hearts and minds, in order to understand what will move our future audience, trigger their curiosity and incite them to come and visit us. This is an exciting challenge which is also our signature: we don’t replicate our creations everywhere in the world. We adapt them to the local culture, where we create what we call ‘rooted entertainment’.

What are the biggest opportunities of expanding into the US?
The USA is THE country for entertainment. We’ve been coming here every year for 40 years and we’re still fascinated by the depth of the market and its perpetual evolution.

Moreover, the experts of the American entertainment industry were the first to recognise our uniqueness – in Los Angeles in 2012 (Thea Award for Best Park in the World) and in Orlando in 2014 (IAAPA Applause Award for Best Park in the World), thus paving the way for our international fame.

It’s now time for us to bring Puy du Fou to our American friends: there are so many beautiful stories to tell in this country where experiences such ours don’t exist yet.

Are you looking for opportunities elsewhere in the US?
Right now, our main goal is to create this first show. It’s likely to be just the start of our American adventure, though.

What else are you currently working on?
We’re following our strategy of ‘perpetual creation’ in order to densify our offer in our parks in France and Spain: here, new creations will soon open their gates to the public.

Our teams are also developing a great immersive show in Shanghai, which will be unveiled before the end of the year.

In parallel, we’ve launched our own train experience: Le Grand Tour – a 4,000km tour of France’s magnificent treasures, lasting six days and five nights.

We’ve also created Puy du Fou Films, a movie production company which will extend the Puy du Fou brand from stage to screen, telling beautiful and epic stories for international audiences. A first drama, The Last Bandit, will be released early next year.

Puy de Fou has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Credit: Photo: EBCI/The 407
Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (centre wearing navy shirt), during a visit to Puy du Fou France in 2021 Credit: Photo: PUY DU FOU
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2022 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Nicolas de Villiers

People

Nicolas de Villiers


The biggest challenge for us is to become genuinely American in our hearts and minds, in order to understand what will move our future audience

Puy de Fou has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Photo: EBCI/The 407
Nicolas de Villiers says Puy du Fou has “carefully screened the US for the next stage of our expansion” Photo: stephane audran/puy du fou
Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (centre wearing navy shirt), during a visit to Puy du Fou France in 2021 Photo: PUY DU FOU

Puy du Fou is set to enter the US attractions market with its iconic, immersive themed visitor experience, after securing a partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).

The EBCI Tribal Council has approved plans to provide US$75m worth of funding for phase 1 of The Gateway to Adventure project in Sevierville, Tennessee.

The Puy du Fou element will be a major part of the 200-acre development, located at the start of the Smoky Mountains. According to EBCI, the US’ first Puy du Fou will be a fully immersive walk-through show inspired by an “authentic and heartbreaking Cherokee story” of their heroism in World War 1.

As well as Puy du Fou, The Gateway to Adventure project will feature the world’s largest Buc-ee’s Family Travel Center, as well as shops, restaurants, other themed experiences, parks and hotels.

Here Nicolas de Villiers, chairman and artistic director of Puy du Fou, speaks exclusively to Attractions Management about this exciting project.

How did your partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians come about?
Thanks to Matthew Cross, founder of consultancy and development company OE Experiences, we crossed paths with the EBCI, who were looking for diversification by creating a family destination in Sevier County. Puy du Fou is a celebration of history and cultural roots; we mainly deal with stories inspired by history. EBCI wanted an original show with a new brand able to bring a new concept to this region. EBCI has been very open to the ideas Puy du Fou has presented; as such, this partnership makes perfect sense.

What will the show involve?
This immersive experience will be a deep dive into an authentic and breathtaking history – the story of the Cherokee volunteers who fought alongside American boys for their country and for freedom during the First World War. This story is little-known and will pay a deserved tribute to these heroes. From the Appalachian foothills to the French battlefields, our spectators of all ages will embark on an epic journey that will transform them.

What excites you and the team most about telling this story about the Cherokee Indians?
For us, each new meeting is an opportunity to discover another culture, another history, another perspective on our world. We’ve been touched by the glorious and suffering history of the Cherokees; there are some similarities with our history, here in western France. We’ve witnessed them making their path in modern America with hope, success and determination. proud of their Cherokee roots and cultural legacy. Our feeling is admiration just as much as excitement: how could it be otherwise?

Why did you choose the Smoky Mountains for your first US attraction?
During the past year, we’ve carefully screened the USA for the next step of our international expansion. It became clear to us that South-East America, and especially the Great Smoky Mountains area could be a perfect fit for us. The natural beauty of the countryside, the legendary southern hospitality, the sense of community combined with a booming tourist destination and great support from local authorities set the stage for our first flag in America.

What do you see as the biggest challenges of developing the Puy du Fou experience for the US market?
The biggest challenge for us is to become genuinely American in our hearts and minds, in order to understand what will move our future audience, trigger their curiosity and incite them to come and visit us. This is an exciting challenge which is also our signature: we don’t replicate our creations everywhere in the world. We adapt them to the local culture, where we create what we call ‘rooted entertainment’.

What are the biggest opportunities of expanding into the US?
The USA is THE country for entertainment. We’ve been coming here every year for 40 years and we’re still fascinated by the depth of the market and its perpetual evolution.

Moreover, the experts of the American entertainment industry were the first to recognise our uniqueness – in Los Angeles in 2012 (Thea Award for Best Park in the World) and in Orlando in 2014 (IAAPA Applause Award for Best Park in the World), thus paving the way for our international fame.

It’s now time for us to bring Puy du Fou to our American friends: there are so many beautiful stories to tell in this country where experiences such ours don’t exist yet.

Are you looking for opportunities elsewhere in the US?
Right now, our main goal is to create this first show. It’s likely to be just the start of our American adventure, though.

What else are you currently working on?
We’re following our strategy of ‘perpetual creation’ in order to densify our offer in our parks in France and Spain: here, new creations will soon open their gates to the public.

Our teams are also developing a great immersive show in Shanghai, which will be unveiled before the end of the year.

In parallel, we’ve launched our own train experience: Le Grand Tour – a 4,000km tour of France’s magnificent treasures, lasting six days and five nights.

We’ve also created Puy du Fou Films, a movie production company which will extend the Puy du Fou brand from stage to screen, telling beautiful and epic stories for international audiences. A first drama, The Last Bandit, will be released early next year.


Originally published in Attractions Management 2022 issue 2

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