By Patrick Joossens (Parkworld.be):
One of the most popular Belgian parks is without any doubted Bobbejaanland in the region of Antwerp. After Bobbejaan Schoepen decided to sell the amusement park to Spanish amusement park group Parques Reunidos, Rudi Rasschaert became General Manager of the park. Parkworld.be had the opportunity to ask this fascinating person some questions.
Patrick: Dear Mr. Rasschaert, you have been now already for several years General Manager of Bobbejaanland. How would you evaluate yourself during this period of time?
Rudi Rasschaert: Positive. Since May 2004, many obstacles have been taken. But above all I am very proud we have been working with the entire team to take the many wonderful opportunities to turn Bobbejaanland into one of the most beautiful parks.
Patrick: What have been your own achievements that you are proud of?
Rudi Rasschaert: Definitely the constant growth throughout the years, but also the many new attractions that each one proved to be successful by the positive responses and satisfaction of our visitors.
Patrick: When looking back, would you maybe have done things differently?
Rudi Rasschaert: In the beginning you really want to do everything at the same time to get realized. But it often appears to be impossible. Now we have learned our lessons, we remain very ambitious, but we take it one step at the time.
Patrick: What are the biggest challenges since you’ve been leading the park?
Rudi Rasschaert: The toughest one must have been to get everybody get on the same line in terms of professionalism. I believe we have succeeded well.
Patrick: What are the most important qualities a General Director must have?
Rudi Rasschaert: The most important qualities are undoubtedly vision, perseverance, good work with your team and clear communication within the company and externally.
Patrick: Bobbejaanland is a park with a special history. How difficult is it to keep the right balance?
Rudi Rasschaert: In fact, it is not that difficult. It is continuity. We can build on the very rich history of “the family park” in Belgium. It is up to our team to reach and to even surpass the “standards” in means of customer service.
Patrick: After the acquisition there were some negative reactions from Bobbejaanland fans. How difficult is it at such a time to stand in the frontline?
Rudi Rasschaert: All we can do is just work very hard and just consider who and what is relevant. Luckily I have never experienced any aggression. In the first years, it was just a matter to work very hard with the entire team to obtain our goals.
Patrick: The park is now in the hands of the Spanish theme park group Parques Reunidos. Can Bobbejaanland still decide on its own course?
Rudi Rasschaert: You can be sure on that: we determine our own course. Otherwise they would not need us. Have a look at all the initiatives we have taken and all investments that were done over the years. This could never be done remotely. To be part of such a large organization has also many benefits. Mainly from learning point of view.
Patrick: Would Bobbejaanland have more success if it would exist out of the group?
Rudi Rasschaert: The facts prove otherwise. With Parques Reunidos we have more chance of success, because we can operate on a larger scale.
Patrick: In Belgium, all parks belong to several groups, is there any cooperation between the parks?
Rudi Rasschaert: We have very regular contact with each other, also via Belgo-Parks, a common organization which is handling several topics, like safety or challenges for the future. Besides that, we also exchange information. Some departments even come together on an annual base to discuss common challenges. This can be on different levels.
Patrick: Several companies suffer because of the crisis. How is this inside the amusement industry?
Rudi Rasschaert: For amusement parks, it may sound strange, but we haven’t really felt this crisis. We even feel that because of the crisis, many people decided not to travel abroad, but rather opted for day trips in their own country. And that’s obviously to our advantage.
Patrick: We can consider Bobbejaanland to be a very complete amusement park. Is this diversity not an issue, if you would like to address a certain audience?
Rudi Rasschaert: Absolutely not. We are there for the entire family, for every age, for every length. We offer family rides, high thrills, amusement for kids, entertainment,… We are very proud to have very extensive and unique rides. On top of that we are very satisfied with the good capacity, keeping the waiting lines as short as possible.
Patrick: Would it not be more cost-effective to cut a few rides, especially the similar caroussels inside the park?
Rudi Rasschaert: I don’t think so.
Patrick: Visitors are spoiled in terms of roller coasters. Yet there is some criticism that the park does not really have an eyecatcher.
Rudi Rasschaert: Many criticism ‘under the’ fans’ I guess. The Typhoon scored high in the annual lists of favorite coasters and after many years (R)evolution is still an absolute favorite for our audience. King Kong and Sledge Hammer are definitely eyecatchers.
Patrick: Would a unique, large roller coaster not have a decisive impact on increasing the number of visitors?
Rudi Rasschaert: Absolutely, but the effect would be temporary. Unfortunately, any investment must be profitable. Otherwise, we are taking risks with the company, which of course we will not take. Without efficiency, we would not invest.
Patrick: Are the current roads to Bobbejaanland not limiting further development of the park?
Rudi Rasschaert: During the busy days it is really hard working for the parking boys. Many cars are arriving via the ordinary roads. But we are working on a solution for this situation.
Patrick: Part of Speedy Bob moved to Madrid as “Vertigo”. Are there plans for the vacant space?
Rudi Rasschaert: It can certainly be considered to have some scenary or other filling of that space, but I believe we have first other priorities to develop.
Patrick:You had a successful transformation of Air Race into DreamCatcher. Will other “obsolete” attractions such as El Paso and Indiana River undergo a similar action?
Rudi Rasschaert: At this moment there are no plans for any update or even closing of these rides. Indiana River is still very popular, so at this moment there is not yet the need for a makeover.
Patrick: With the opening of Desperado City you had a risky but successful investment. The disadvantage we see is the low repetition value. Can we expect some updates here?
Rudi Rasschaert: We are for sure considering to have some upgrades in the future to make this ride ‘hot’ again. But at this point in time there are still people discovering it for the first time, or willing to ride it again. So we will wait some while before investing in it.
Patrick: Bobbejaanland is known for the daring innovations, and the purchase of prototype attractions, although it can have risks as well. What’s your position on this?
Rudi Rasschaert: It is true that Bobbejaanland has invested in original attractions. We take the dent with the bump: a lot of attention for a new type of attraction versus the bugs they might have. But in almost every case all these issues were very quickly fixed.
Patrick: Is not it safer to play it safe?
Rudi Rasschaert: Obviously it is important for a park to have a big hit, preferable with a “first time ride”. We have done this in the past several times successfully. But we have to be careful; we need to make sure that a new ride will “fit” into the park, that it complies to the general atmosphere of the park. It must reflect what people expect and want. In the long term this is much more important than having the scoop itself.
Patrick: How important is a mascot for the recognition of a park?
Rudi Rasschaert: A mascot can not bear the entire identity of the park. We should see a mascot as a recognition towards the public. But of course for children it is very important to have one, also to ensure merchandising. We start this season with the Fun Brigade, a concept that symbolizes both the park and its 50 attractions, and in the short term this will be translated into 4 concrete figures that you can meet in the park.
Patrick: Bobbejaanland is one of the few parks with a lot of indoor activity. For a country like Belgian, we could even state the park is “rain-safe”. But is this a requirement when choosing new rides?
Rudi Rasschaert: It seems logical that a good balance between indoor and outdoor rides must exist, so we certainly keep this in mind when deciding on which new ride would be built. Even with rain, you give people a reason to come to Bobbejaanland. Theme parks are heavily dependent on the weather anyway, and there we simply have no control. So all we can do, is trying to neutralize that factor as much as possible.
Patrick: Are winter openings not possible with so many indoor attractions?
Rudi Rasschaert: Perhaps – that is certainly a direction we are currently having a look at. But it requires much effort at all levels and therefore it is not always profitable.
But in case you wonder, we have no technical limitations to move forward on this concept.
Patrick: How do you see Bobbejaanland evolve in the coming years?
Rudi Rasschaert: We continue to invest in new attractions, well-trained staff and experience, a policy that we have years and who is successful to date. Especially in terms of events there are many possibilities, and people from the Netherlands to convince them to re-discover park.
Patrick: Can a park as Bobbejaanland grow any further?
Rudi Rasschaert: Yes. Look at the phenomenal growth rates of last season. Unlimited growth is of course not possible, but currently there is certainly margin for further growth.
Patrick: Does Bobbejaanland miss international charisma to attract more people from over the borders?
Rudi Rasschaert: I believe that in Belgium none of the parks have enough charisma to attract foreigners. Although we should not be to tough on ourselves: Bobbejaanland attracts 100.000 of German and Dutch visitors, which is not that bad at all.
Patrick: Thank you for your time. We wish Bobbejaanland and yourself a fantastic 2010 season.
Source: Patrick Joossens (Parkworld.be)