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Walibi's €100m transformation plan: 'A new page in our history'
What can you tell us about the new development?
We’re investing more than €100 million over a number of years, and the first brick was laid last year with the opening of the Pulsar, a thrilling water ride. The objective is to create more fantastic moments for the public and to continue to be at the summit of theme parks. This transformation is a new page in Walibi’s history. We are enlarging the park by 4.5 hectares and we will create eight new themed zones with individual landscaping, four new restaurants offering different culinary experiences, and 10 new rides. We currently employ 300 people fulltime equivalent and this will increase by 12-15%.
What’s your background?
I have a degree in business studies, a master’s in management from Solvay Brussels School and a certificate in people and organisation from the Louvain School of Management. It’s important to continue your education. I’ve always been interested in the leisure and tourism sector and I was lucky enough to start my career at Club Med in the Bahamas, Spain, France and Morocco. It was a great experience, and a chance to experience communal life, its advantages and disadvantages, but also a good multicultural experience, which enabled me to have a better understanding of the world.
How would you describe your management style?
I would say it’s based principally on listening and confidence. Listening, because in a society like ours, and especially in leisure and tourism, you have to recognise your employees as individuals. Confidence is also an essential element because we’re working with human beings. If you don’t show them confidence, they can’t have a good time with clients. Whether it’s Club Med or Walibi, people have to feel relaxed and work in an atmosphere of complete confidence. I’m always happy to have direct contact with our clients; it’s fun, and important to understand what they want. We can do that simply by moving out from behind the scenes to talk to people. After all the planning, it’s very satisfying to participate in this first phase of the park’s expansion. It’s not really a job for me, it’s a passion.
Are you rebranding Walibi?
It’s more a continual process of renewal and improvement. The expansion is principally based on two things: customer satisfaction surveys completed by our visitors and studies into future sociological and technological trends. The visitor will be more immersed in the park than previously and it will be an all-round experience, including the atmosphere and the food outlets. It’s an important investment, so prices will rise, but it’s mainly an opportunity to increase internal sales though the restaurants and gift shops. We have to offer a higher quality experience, so the visitor is ready to pay the price. But it’s part of our DNA to be a park that is accessible to most families, so we have to still be attractive to a large sector of the population. The aim is to increase daily visitors, but while the maximum figure is 20,000, this will only be on exceptional high season days. It’s important that people feel comfortable here.
What goes on in the park over the winter?
People often joke that we work for six months and sleep for six months, but it’s actually busier than people think. For me, it’s a very intense period. We prepare new business strategies and marketing, and of course there’s maintenance and gardening work. In 2018 we will be enlarging our water park Aqualibi, creating a new zone for children who can’t swim yet. It’s important to offer a wide range of activities for children of different ages. We will also build an adventure park and a family ride for children taller than 1 metre so they can have their first roller coaster experience.
This article first appeard in WAB (Wallonia and Brussels) magazine. Photo: Reporters / E Herchaft