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Interview
Coen Bertens

Fairytale theme park Efteling has gone from strength to strength during its 65-year history, enchanting more visitors last year than ever before. We talk to COO Coen Bertens about its success

In the recent AECOM and TEA Theme and Museum Index Report, Efteling – the fairytale theme park in the south of Holland – was singled out for its achievements in 2017.

“Some specific parks deserve a special mention,” writes AECOM’s former EMEA director, Margreet Papamichael, in the report. “[One of them] is Efteling.”

The report notes that the launch of a Thea award-winning dark ride called Symbolica coinciding with the theme park’s 65th birthday celebrations boosted visitor numbers by almost 9 per cent to over 5 million people for the first time ever – a target Efteling originally set for 2020.

These successes were not won in just a year, but are the product of a wider, ongoing plan first launched in 2014.

“The strategy was aimed at developing the park into an international, multi-day holiday destination, welcoming 5 million visitors per year by 2020,” Coen Bertens, Efteling’s COO, tells Attractions Management. “To achieve this goal, the strategy was implemented in phases, with Efteling focusing on offering guests an exceptional experience, both within the theme park and in its accommodation.”

World of Efteling
A major boon for the park was Baron 1898, an €18m ($25m) Bolliger & Mabillard dive coaster that opened in 2015, kicking off the first phase of the development strategy. The Bosrijk accommodation was also expanded at this time.

Phase two meant the addition of the €35m ($40m) Symbolica: Place of Fantasy and the opening of Holiday Village Efteling Loonsche Land, a brand new hotel, which joins the existing Bosrijk and Efteling Hotel.

“The final phase will consist of the park’s expansion by a total of eight hectares and the introduction of a new attraction in 2020,” says Bertens, adding that further details have not yet been revealed.

Dubbed World of Efteling, it will mark the resort’s first major expansion for many years, helping to attract more visitors, while keeping returning guests happy.

Efteling opened in 1952, with its Fairytale Forest at the heart of the experience.

In this area, fairy stories were brought to life for guests, and it still remains what Efteling is most famous for.

“In the early 80s, the park grew to add new and larger attractions to appeal to a wider demographic, yet we’ve always ensured to preserve Efteling’s natural character and not to forget its roots,” Bertens says.

“The latest expansion plans will ensure that Efteling’s future is protected by both building on its heritage and giving our visitors more reasons to return.”

Brabant hospitality
Located in the province of North Brabant, Efteling holds a special place in the Dutch psyche, with most of the population having visited the park at least once in their lifetime. More than 130 million have passed through its gates to date, making it one of the most visited parks in Europe.

“There are a number of factors that make our park different from others in the world,” explains Bertens. “Efteling is all about storytelling. Not only in our Fairytale Forest, but also in the more complex rides such as The Flying Dutchman, Fata Morgana or Baron 1898. Fairy tales are universal and can be enjoyed by visitors of all nationalities and all ages.

“All our rides and entertainment are custom-made by our own creative team and are of high-quality. Our employees are very important to us, they all have the innate Brabant hospitality, which contributes to creating a very special Efteling experience that enchants and amazes.”

Always innovating
Operationally, Efteling has a range of advantages. Unlike many European theme parks, it’s open year-round and also offers late nights in the summer, as well as different seasonal events. The park is also increasingly digital. For example, it has its own app and a new boarding pass that lets guests pre-book time slots to ride on the rollercoasters. “We want to offer our visitors a personal and seamless experience, as well as easy access to all information about the park, before, during and after their visit,” Bertens says.

To stay abreast of what’s going on in the park and in the wider industry and for ideas on where to innovate or improve, Bertens says he is on-site as often as possible, engaging with employees and guests. He also visits theme parks around the world, and maintains good relationships with stakeholders and suppliers.

“The key themes that we are seeing emerging today are short holidays near a theme park, demand for healthy food and an element of wellbeing and sustainability,” he says. “Economically, things are generally looking positive. However, there are still challenges that we have to overcome.

“We receive our fair share of well-travelled and demanding guests, environmental concerns have grown over the last couple of years, and it can also be challenging to find and keep good quality employees. Finally, cumulative technology is starting to have an impact on our industry. What I mean by this is more and more technology is ‘taking over’ our industry. We might lose the human touch if we let this happen.”

Invest wisely
Bertens says investment in new hardware (rides) and software (shows and entertainment) is vital if you want visitors to return year after year. This investment provides the opportunities to make exciting new memories for Efteling’s visitors.

“Each investment is carefully considered and evaluated based on the demands of our guests,” he says. “While we could invest in a new attraction every year, we choose not to, as each ride has to contribute to a particular experience in the park. Typically, we’ll build an attraction every few years to maintain our attractiveness and to increase capacity.

“Everything we do is aimed at ensuring our guests leave the daily grind of life behind them for a while.

Efteling believes everyone needs to get away from it all from time to time. We want our guests to make and share memories that will last a lifetime.”

SYMBOLICA

The €35m family-friendly indoor attraction Symbolica: Place of Fantasy marks the operator’s largest ever investment to date.

Sander de Bruijn, head of the design team at Efteling, was responsible for realising the project, which places six people into a single carriage, choosing one of three different routes – the Heroes Tour, the Treasures Tour or the Music Tour. On each of these routes is an alternate story with different adventures and interactive elements.

“Visitors live a whole adventure in Symbolica,” says de Bruijn. “They are invited to the palace by King Pardulfus to have an audience with him. When they enter the palace, there is a twist in the story. We enter rooms where we should not really be and that’s when the adventure starts.”

The concept is based on the drawings of former Efteling designer Henny Knoet, who died in 2013. Working with de Bruijn, a style book of Symbolica was created, detailing everything about the fantasy world and its characters. That work was the foundation of the new attraction.

The project, first unveiled in January 2016, was awarded a Thea Outstanding Achievement Award, with credit going to Efteling’s in house team, from the designs and technical drawings to the decoration team and the engineering of sound and special effects. The construction team and the main subcontractors included Heijmans, Hoppenbrouwers, Gubbels, ETF Ride Systems who worked on the Fantasy Carriages, Allround Dakexpert, and Garner Holt Pro-ductions.

 


Baron 1898 is a recent addition to Efteling, opening to the public in July 2015
Symbolica represents Efteling’s largest investment to date
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
The park’s Python coaster has been a mainstay since it launched in 1981
The Flying Dutchman watercoaster is one of Eftelings’s most popular attractions
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Interview
Coen Bertens

Fairytale theme park Efteling has gone from strength to strength during its 65-year history, enchanting more visitors last year than ever before. We talk to COO Coen Bertens about its success

In the recent AECOM and TEA Theme and Museum Index Report, Efteling – the fairytale theme park in the south of Holland – was singled out for its achievements in 2017.

“Some specific parks deserve a special mention,” writes AECOM’s former EMEA director, Margreet Papamichael, in the report. “[One of them] is Efteling.”

The report notes that the launch of a Thea award-winning dark ride called Symbolica coinciding with the theme park’s 65th birthday celebrations boosted visitor numbers by almost 9 per cent to over 5 million people for the first time ever – a target Efteling originally set for 2020.

These successes were not won in just a year, but are the product of a wider, ongoing plan first launched in 2014.

“The strategy was aimed at developing the park into an international, multi-day holiday destination, welcoming 5 million visitors per year by 2020,” Coen Bertens, Efteling’s COO, tells Attractions Management. “To achieve this goal, the strategy was implemented in phases, with Efteling focusing on offering guests an exceptional experience, both within the theme park and in its accommodation.”

World of Efteling
A major boon for the park was Baron 1898, an €18m ($25m) Bolliger & Mabillard dive coaster that opened in 2015, kicking off the first phase of the development strategy. The Bosrijk accommodation was also expanded at this time.

Phase two meant the addition of the €35m ($40m) Symbolica: Place of Fantasy and the opening of Holiday Village Efteling Loonsche Land, a brand new hotel, which joins the existing Bosrijk and Efteling Hotel.

“The final phase will consist of the park’s expansion by a total of eight hectares and the introduction of a new attraction in 2020,” says Bertens, adding that further details have not yet been revealed.

Dubbed World of Efteling, it will mark the resort’s first major expansion for many years, helping to attract more visitors, while keeping returning guests happy.

Efteling opened in 1952, with its Fairytale Forest at the heart of the experience.

In this area, fairy stories were brought to life for guests, and it still remains what Efteling is most famous for.

“In the early 80s, the park grew to add new and larger attractions to appeal to a wider demographic, yet we’ve always ensured to preserve Efteling’s natural character and not to forget its roots,” Bertens says.

“The latest expansion plans will ensure that Efteling’s future is protected by both building on its heritage and giving our visitors more reasons to return.”

Brabant hospitality
Located in the province of North Brabant, Efteling holds a special place in the Dutch psyche, with most of the population having visited the park at least once in their lifetime. More than 130 million have passed through its gates to date, making it one of the most visited parks in Europe.

“There are a number of factors that make our park different from others in the world,” explains Bertens. “Efteling is all about storytelling. Not only in our Fairytale Forest, but also in the more complex rides such as The Flying Dutchman, Fata Morgana or Baron 1898. Fairy tales are universal and can be enjoyed by visitors of all nationalities and all ages.

“All our rides and entertainment are custom-made by our own creative team and are of high-quality. Our employees are very important to us, they all have the innate Brabant hospitality, which contributes to creating a very special Efteling experience that enchants and amazes.”

Always innovating
Operationally, Efteling has a range of advantages. Unlike many European theme parks, it’s open year-round and also offers late nights in the summer, as well as different seasonal events. The park is also increasingly digital. For example, it has its own app and a new boarding pass that lets guests pre-book time slots to ride on the rollercoasters. “We want to offer our visitors a personal and seamless experience, as well as easy access to all information about the park, before, during and after their visit,” Bertens says.

To stay abreast of what’s going on in the park and in the wider industry and for ideas on where to innovate or improve, Bertens says he is on-site as often as possible, engaging with employees and guests. He also visits theme parks around the world, and maintains good relationships with stakeholders and suppliers.

“The key themes that we are seeing emerging today are short holidays near a theme park, demand for healthy food and an element of wellbeing and sustainability,” he says. “Economically, things are generally looking positive. However, there are still challenges that we have to overcome.

“We receive our fair share of well-travelled and demanding guests, environmental concerns have grown over the last couple of years, and it can also be challenging to find and keep good quality employees. Finally, cumulative technology is starting to have an impact on our industry. What I mean by this is more and more technology is ‘taking over’ our industry. We might lose the human touch if we let this happen.”

Invest wisely
Bertens says investment in new hardware (rides) and software (shows and entertainment) is vital if you want visitors to return year after year. This investment provides the opportunities to make exciting new memories for Efteling’s visitors.

“Each investment is carefully considered and evaluated based on the demands of our guests,” he says. “While we could invest in a new attraction every year, we choose not to, as each ride has to contribute to a particular experience in the park. Typically, we’ll build an attraction every few years to maintain our attractiveness and to increase capacity.

“Everything we do is aimed at ensuring our guests leave the daily grind of life behind them for a while.

Efteling believes everyone needs to get away from it all from time to time. We want our guests to make and share memories that will last a lifetime.”

SYMBOLICA

The €35m family-friendly indoor attraction Symbolica: Place of Fantasy marks the operator’s largest ever investment to date.

Sander de Bruijn, head of the design team at Efteling, was responsible for realising the project, which places six people into a single carriage, choosing one of three different routes – the Heroes Tour, the Treasures Tour or the Music Tour. On each of these routes is an alternate story with different adventures and interactive elements.

“Visitors live a whole adventure in Symbolica,” says de Bruijn. “They are invited to the palace by King Pardulfus to have an audience with him. When they enter the palace, there is a twist in the story. We enter rooms where we should not really be and that’s when the adventure starts.”

The concept is based on the drawings of former Efteling designer Henny Knoet, who died in 2013. Working with de Bruijn, a style book of Symbolica was created, detailing everything about the fantasy world and its characters. That work was the foundation of the new attraction.

The project, first unveiled in January 2016, was awarded a Thea Outstanding Achievement Award, with credit going to Efteling’s in house team, from the designs and technical drawings to the decoration team and the engineering of sound and special effects. The construction team and the main subcontractors included Heijmans, Hoppenbrouwers, Gubbels, ETF Ride Systems who worked on the Fantasy Carriages, Allround Dakexpert, and Garner Holt Pro-ductions.

 


Baron 1898 is a recent addition to Efteling, opening to the public in July 2015
Symbolica represents Efteling’s largest investment to date
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
Attractions at Efteling are based on elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore
The park’s Python coaster has been a mainstay since it launched in 1981
The Flying Dutchman watercoaster is one of Eftelings’s most popular attractions
 


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