Feature - Wild Things - July 2018

WILDLANDS ADVENTURE ZOO EMMEN

Safari and wildlife parks across the EMEA region are evolving with inspiring adventures and accommodations

by Juliana Gilling

Wildlife parks and zoos across the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region allow you to wake up to antelopes ambling by your veranda, see animals from the water, and enter worlds that blend the real and the imaginary. You are no longer a mere visitor now; you are actually on safari. To stay abreast of this growing trend, Funworld explores what makes some of these groundbreaking facilities tick. 

Serengeti Park’s Wild Ride

Dr. Fabrizio Sepe, Serengeti Park’s CEO, is fresh from showing a television crew his new “Splash Safari” attraction when I catch up with him. “Splash Safari” is a high-speed rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) ride around the park’s lake. Passengers feel the adrenaline rush as pilots put the 10-seat, 300-horsepower (HP) boats through their paces. 

“It’s like an amazing roller coaster ride, but on water,” says Sepe. 

“Splash Safari” follows the success of Serengeti Park’s “Black Mamba” jet-boat ride experience (2015). The park in Hodenhagen, Germany, has become known for its exciting safari tours. It started with “Jungle Safari,” a jeep ride into a special effects-enhanced jungle, where visitors face wobbly bridges, fearsome animals, and fire. 

“Aqua Safari” arrived in 2010, bringing Florida airboats to Lower Saxony. “It was a crazy success. People loved it. Their hair stood on end when they heard these eight-cylinder, 500 HP engines turn on,” says Sepe. The park then went on to introduce “Quad Safari” ATV tours. 

WILDLANDS ADVENTURE ZOO EMMEN

Wildlands Adventure Zoo Emmen introduces guests to three worlds -Jungola, Serenga, and Nortica - each with their own climates and wildlife. (Credit: Wildlands Adventure Zoo Emmen)

The park has come a long way since Sepe’s parents, Paolo and Lia Sepe, acquired it in 1983 after Hardwicke Companies Inc. slipped into bankruptcy. Paolo—who died in 2007—had been CEO of Wild Animal Kingdoms, which built six safari parks in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan (including Serengeti Park). Thanks to a contractual clause, Paolo inherited the park when the parent company went under.

The family has since transformed a 220-hectare park starved of investment into a thriving operation, comprising a safari park with 1,500 animals, an amusement park with more than 40 rides, and a growing holiday business. 

“My goal is to reach 1 million visitors [a year] before I retire, and we’re coming close to it,” says Fabrizio Sepe. He has built on his parents’ legacy, embracing bespoke safari tour attractions as a way of differentiating the park.

“These are personnel-intensive rides, but only Serengeti Park has them,” he says. “They have been extremely successful.”

Also successful: The opportunity Sepe saw to extend the guest stay.

“It was crystal clear that we had to build accommodation,” Sepe says, adding his father took some convincing. The first holiday bungalows opened in 2007; there are now 205. “We have 1,000 beds in our lodgings in the heart of the park,” says Sepe. 

Accommodations include Masai Mara Lodges, where guests can come face to face with giraffes and gemsboks from their terraces (separated by narrow water channels).

“Those are fully booked. You’d probably have to book two years in advance to get them,” says Sepe. “We’ve developed our revenues from 9.8 million euros in 2007, when my father died, to 26 million euros in 2017. So, I think my father’s looking down on us with a big smile on his face.”

Beekse Bergen Reveals New Safari Resort 

Beekse Bergen in Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, was one of the original safari parks Paolo Sepe developed. Libéma is the current owner of the park, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018. The business includes the safari park, which receives around 1 million visitors a year; a vacation park with campsites and “Jungalows” (themed bungalows); an event location with an active festival program; and the small Playland amusement park. This year Libéma added a new Safari Resort, which should push overnight stays past the 1 million mark. 

Beekse Bergen has already brought Africa to the Netherlands, creating savannahs to showcase the different species. With the resort, “we wanted to show the 24-hour experience of Africa,” says Sjors van den Boogaart, managing director of Libéma’s amusement and holiday parks. “When you see the animals morning, evening, and night, you have the same magical feeling as you have in Africa.” 

SAFARI RESORTS BEEKSE BERGEN

 Beekse Bergen offers a variety of accomodations, including treehouses, "Jungalows," safari tents, and lodges. (Credit: Safari Resorts Beekes Bergen)

Libéma invested 100 million euros in the Safari Resort, which includes 250 lodges, suitable for six, eight, or 14 people. The investment has paved the way for a second phase, which will include another 250 lodges.

The Safari Resort fulfills people’s desire for “intense, pure, authentic experiences,” says van den Boogaart, offering spectacular, unbroken views of the animals in a natural, forest setting. “We know that people are touched by what they see and experience.” 

The park worked with Philips Lighting to install a special lighting system that illuminates the animals without compromising their welfare. “You can really enjoy the animals 24 hours a day,” says van den Boogaart.

He attributes Beekse Bergen’s success to a combination of different activities from accommodation choices to different opportunities to experience the animals. A “loyal and motivated staff” makes all the difference, he believes. The park is keen to have its rangers up front, interacting with guests. 

“They make your day meaningful, funny, and adventurous,” van den Boogaart explains.

In the next five years he expects to see further investment in Playland, with extra water activities and an indoor playground in the cards. The team hopes to add a hotel and more unique accommodations such as tree houses.   

LE PAL

 "Yukon Quad" at Le PAL takes passengers on a ride through northern Canada's landscapes as they sit astride all-terrain-style vehicles. (Credit: Le PAL)

Le PAL Strikes Gold with Investments

Le PAL amusement park and zoo in Allier, France, has always capitalized on its dual offerings. Expanding into resort accommodations was a natural step. Park President Arnaud Bennet wanted to deliver “an authentic recreation of the game reserve experience in South Africa.” 

After a day spent enjoying the park (27 attractions, 700 animals, and sea lion and bird shows), guests are driven out to their safari lodges. There are 31 in total, fashioned from canvas and wood, and decorated in African style. The lodges are perched on stilts above savannahs or lakes straight out of Africa. Guests can watch as zebras roam and hippos wallow freely. 

The lodges and Le Tanganika restaurant have proved a commercial success for Le PAL, which is a seasonal business. Occupancy rates have hit 100 percent, with more than 16,000 people staying at the lodges in 2017.

The lodges are “a new entrance gate for the park,” says Bennet. They attract visitors from beyond the usual 250-km radius, extending Le PAL’s reach to guests across France, Europe, and beyond who are looking for a dream safari holiday.

Le PAL’s team is now working on a new 60-room, African-inspired resort hotel for 2021.  

As a result of developments like the safari lodges, “business is increasing every year,” says Bennet. Visitor numbers are around 601,000, which is remarkable given Le PAL is situated in one of the least populated areas in France. Investment is the key driver in Le PAL’s 80 percent repeat visitation rate. “We invest 30 percent of our turnover every year, sometimes more,” says Bennet. “In 2018, we’ve invested 50 percent.”

“Yukon Quad” is his “fantastic new roller coaster” from Intamin for 2018. Riders sit astride the all-terrain-style vehicles for a family-friendly ride through northern Canada’s landscapes. “We didn’t want it to be a ride that 20 percent of customers would try and 80 percent would look at. We wanted it to be an attractive, accessible ride that all generations could experience together,” says Bennet. Le PAL’s team wrapped the 10-million-euro ride in an area themed like the Yukon, with a gold mine and restaurant.

Last year, the zoo added a 2-million-euro Alligator Park, where visitors rediscover an abandoned alligator sanctuary in Florida. Visitors cross the 3,000-square-meter area via bridges, passing 25 basking alligators and an old airboat along the way. The story-driven Alligator Park was the first animal presentation to make it into guests’ top-rated attractions at Le PAL. The result reinforces Bennet’s mission to “make Le PAL original.”

New Worlds to Explore at Wildlands

Wildlands Adventure Zoo Emmen blurs the boundaries between real life and fantasy, creating a new species of attraction. “We are a unique park in the Netherlands,” says spokesperson Hanneke Wijshake.

Wildlands, which opened in March 2016, marked a new era for Emmen Zoo and a definite departure from tradition. Built on 24 hectares, the 200-million-euro attraction introduces guests to three worlds, each with their own climates and wildlife. Visitors can experience the humid Jungola, the hot and dry Serenga, and the cool world of Nortica. There’s also an Animazia play paradise. 

Wildlands’ imaginary places are platforms for new stories and interactions with actors. Visitors meet Jungle Jim, an ornithologist whose plane crashed in the “Jungola” jungle, amid Asian elephants and monkeys. He shares his adventures and search for the legendary LayaLaya bird.

This year “Tweestryd” (which means “Conflict”), a unique dueling boomerang racing coaster from Vekoma, joins the safari tours in Serenga. Its storyline revolves around an old mining operation and the consequences it has on nature. Riders race against one another first frontward and then backward.

“The ride is a big hit,” says Wijshake.

Wildlands attracted 1.4 million visitors in its launch year and 1 million last year. 

“We have to work very hard for every visitor,” says Wijshake. “We are still developing and listening to what our visitors want.”

Operators are constantly looking at ways to create the best environment for visitors and animals. 

“My dream is to show children that there’s hope, that there are places on Earth where animals, nature, and people can live in harmony,” says Sepe. As wildlife attractions focus on future-proofing, enhancing visitor experiences, and stirring emotions, there’s a greater chance that future generations will appreciate the natural wonders of the world.


Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the EMEA attractions industry for Funworld. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail.com