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Cirque du Soleil opened its first show in 1980, but its growth truly took off in the 1990s when it started partnering with resorts, setting up permanent residencies.

Despite its decades-long success in Vegas, and what critics would say is a weakening in that market, the production company is now looking to a different breed of resorts to fuel a new participative product.

The business model began when Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn flew to Toronto to see one of the first Cirque du Soleil shows accompanied by co-founder Guy Laliberté. He brought the show to Las Vegas in the parking lot of the Mirage before the first permanent show, Mystère, opened at Treasure Island in 1993.

Fast forward to today and Cirque performers are still performing at Treasure Island in addition to permanent shows at seven more resorts in Vegas and one in Orlando, despite Wynn’s recent jabs at the company.

Cirque and its hospitality partners in Vegas follow a roughly similar execution plan. The properties build or refurbish an existing theatre for which Cirque creates a one-of-a-kind production. Ticket profits are then split 50-50 between the resort and Cirque du Soleil. Its Vegas productions account for the largest part of its ticket of sales given the location and consistent frequency of shows; however, the company also has ten touring shows.

“We started with one show and it worked so well that they wanted a second one then a third one. From Mystere to, the latest one, Michael Jackson at Mandalay Bay, shows have been running for more than 15 years,” Cirque du Soleil vice president of hospitality Sean O’Donnell explained to Skift.

“Why would you sign a chef to bring to your hotel? Because you’re bringing a signature experience to that hotel,” he continued. “We’re bringing a signature show to those properties and that’s what help drives the traffic. We try to bring the differentiating factor.”

An Entrepreneurial Mindset

Despite the model’s success, Cirque has recently announced a series of new projects aimed at making the Cirque experience more hands-on and interactive, raising questions of the company’s internal strategy.

According to company spokesperson Renée-Claude Ménard, Cirque had been looking to develop new creative platforms more than ten years. However, similar to many growing corporations, these “outside the box” projects could only be worked on when there was time of resources — both of which were scarce with three new shows being produced each year.

“We decided about a year ago to re-organize ourselves to create divisions that would be “entrepreneur-driven” and would dedicate themselves to developing these new projects,” explains Ménard.

“Cirque du Soleil will continue to develop unique productions, but also apply our creativity and production know-how to other projects that are not necessarily live-shows.”

Proof of that statement is a new touring show based on the movie Avatar, expected to start in 2015, and a new Big Top show expected to open in 2016.

New Interactive Concepts

Mirroring travelers’ demands for more personalized, hands-on experience, Cirque du Soleil’s new project put customers in the middle of the circus experience.

Most recently Cirque du Soleil announced a partnership with Mexican resort developer Grupo Vidanta to create an immersive theme park animated by Cirque. Although still in development, the theme park could include a themed water park, nature, and an outdoor evening show each including Cirque artists.

The park, slated to open in 2018 in Nuevo Vallarta, is the Cirque’s second initiative with Grupo Vidante. The pair will open an immersive theatrical and culinary experience JOYA later this month.

“We have been dreaming together with Cirque du Soleil to create new categories of entertainment for Mexico and the world for more than five years,” Grupo Vidanta founder Daniel Chávez Morán said in a statement.

Cirque also announced a new partnership with Club Med in October. The duo plan to open a “ultimate circus-inspired playground experience” in which guests can learn some of the acrobatic moves done by Cirque performers at the Club Med Punta Cana next year.

Photo Credit: A performance of Cirque du Soleil Kooza. Derek Key / Flickr