"There was a gap in Spain that nobody had filled," said Lluis Rull n, who as director general of Port Aventura theme park helped turn packaged adventure into a booming tourist attraction.
Mr. Rull n said the $400 million park comfortably surpassed the goal for its first May-to-October season: 2.5 million visitors and break-even revenues to cover $98 million in operating costs and debt service. Attendance totaled 2.7 million, but officials aren't releasing revenue figures.
"The goals weren't easy, and to have met them, yes, is a success," Mr. Rull n said.
Foreigners account for 20% to 25% of the park's visitors, fewer than the pre-opening estimate of 40%; increasing their numbers is the next goal, Mr. Rull n said.
But more heavily targeted Spanish day-trippers and vacationers flooded in, lured in part by $6.6 million of the introductory $8.2 million budget handled by Bassat/ Ogilvy & Mather, Barcelona.
Regional outdoor ads last year teased the opening, with TV, print, radio and cinema added this year.
The park splurged on a 4-minute broadcast TV spot to explain the unfamiliar concept, Mr. Rull n said. Filmed in sites including Polynesia, Mexico and Arizona, it ran once, just before the park's opening, on every station at the same time in prime-time throughout Spain. One-minute versions also aired.
"Now people know what Port Aventura is," said Mr. Rull n, 40. "A year ago not many knew what a theme park was, just the lucky few who've been to the United States."
Consumer advertising was used only in Spain, Mr. Rull n said. To contain costs, the rest of the budget, $1.6 million, was spent on trade advertising and events in the main foreign markets of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the U.K.
The park's basic sell, an exotic adventure, was decided after researching consumer preferences. Ads tried to convey the idea that the park offers the flavor of a foreign trip in its five theme areas-China, Polynesia, America's Wild West, Mexico and Spain's Catalonia region, where the park is located.
Because Port Aventura is on the Mediterranean coast about an hour south of Barcelona, the idea of a visit as an add-on to a city trip went over well, said Mr. Rull n. Ticket packages were arranged with major area hotels, as well as through tour operators.
Season pass sales were halted after exceeding expectations. A total of 18,000-4,000 more than budgeted-were grabbed up in 10 days.
Marketers including Coca-Cola Espa¤a, Nestle, Volkswagen and Kodak have joint promotional agreements with Port Aventura.
Now Europe's second-largest theme park, Port Aventura learned from the mistakes of the biggest, Disneyland Paris, which had considered sites in Spain before deciding on locating in a Paris suburb. High prices, bad weather and a hotel glut kept Disney in the red until this year, three years after opening.
Port Aventura has put resort and shopping construction on hold until the park is on solid financial ground and it can be fine-tuned to satisfy the Spanish market. One change already has been made for next season. The park will open in March instead of May. Mr. Rull n expects "more than enough" visitors to fill the longer season.