by Juliana Gilling
With its world-class collection of water slides, Thai styling, and lush vegetation, Siam Park is one of Tenerife’s tourism jewels in the Canary Islands. For Managing Director Christoph Kiessling, who developed Siam Park with his father, Wolfgang, “it’s a showcase of a water park,” more like a theme park filled with water attractions than an ordinary outdoor water park.
“We are a storytelling park,” says Kiessling. “Everyone who comes to visit is like Indiana Jones, starring in their own adventure movie as they tour through Siam Park. We try to give people one perfect day in their vacation where they can laugh, dream, scream, and have a great day out in a secure environment with spectacular slides.”
Siam Park sits on the southern end of Tenerife, one of the volcanic Canary Islands nestled in the Atlantic Ocean. More than 5 million tourists annually are attracted by the island’s year-round sunshine, miles of beaches, and mountainous scenery. Since its launch in 2008, Siam Park’s visitors have risen from 600,000 in its first year to more than 800,000 in 2011. The attraction can accommodate 7,500 tourists per day.
Its success is especially striking, given that the waterpark was born during the last credit crunch. “That’s right, we are a child of crisis,” says Kiessling. “When we started thinking about construction there was no crisis to be seen, but when we launched we were right at the epicenter.” The fact that Siam Park was able to ride out the crisis and achieve its numbers was “actually a very good experience because we knew then that we could cope,” he says.
That confidence has helped the park grow in 2012, in spite of Europe’s financial instability. “We are happy that we live on this island. We receive tourists from different countries and are not just dependent on the Spanish economy, which is in tremendous crisis,” he says. “We differ from most European open-air parks because we operate all year. The season is going well and we are up on last year. These are good signs in bad days.”
Siam Park started life as a sister attraction for the Kiesslings’ Loro Parque in the north of the island. The zoological park, which Kiessling describes as a “five-star hotel for animals,” has its 40th anniversary in 2012, with big celebrations planned for Dec. 17. His father, a former airline director who had fallen for Tenerife’s charms in the 1970s, founded Loro Parque to meet a need for attractions in the island’s flourishing tourism market.
As tourism took off in the south, the Kiesslings realized they needed to expand: “There was always the fear that another company could establish themselves there, harming our business in the north of the island,” says Kiessling. The family spent €62 million (US$75 million) to open Siam Park as a complementary offer to Loro Parque. More investments followed, including €2.5 million ($US3 million) this year on new attractions for the water park.
Rides for All Ages and Interests
Sawasdee (meaning “welcome” in Thai) is part of the park’s efforts to develop its children’s offerings. This new children’s zone features a miniature version of the “Dragon,” Siam Park’s most popular slide. On the original ProSlide Tornado slide, a giant dragon appears to have taken up residence, hiding its construction and providing a dramatic landmark. “Kids were looking up at this marvelous ride, but they couldn’t get on it because the minimum height is 1.25 meters (48 inches),”says Kiessling. The new “Dragon”-like ride is specially designed for children to enjoy. There are four new kid-sized slides in Sawasdee, including a Mini Racer.
At the other extreme, “Kinnaree” caters to the thrill seekers. From a launch point 25 meters (82 feet) high, riders speed along a 200-meter-long (656-foot-long) slide. Four-person rafts are pushed up a ProSlide Tantrum funnel with a 45-degree tilt and then swept into a ProSlide TornadoWave. “‘Kinnaree’ is the toughest and most intense ride in the water park industry with its combination of speed, height, and feelings of zero gravity,” says Kiessling. “The ride experience is different every time you get on it because of the position you’re in or the weight in the tubes. It is more sensational and emotional than a coaster, where you always know where the track is going.”
Next-Generation Water Park
Raising Siam Park’s level of attraction is important to Kiessling: “We’re always exceeding our visitors’ expectations. People never expect that a water park could look like this, that the food could be as good as it is, or that they could have as much fun as they do. They are more used to the first generation of water parks, and we’re pushing things to the next level.”
He wants visitors to “discover” the park. The walkways, architecture, and jungle-style plantings are designed to reveal the park and its attractions in stages. “You’ll always see something different when you walk around the next curve. This is all about entertainment,” he says.
Strong environmental strategies are in place at both Loro Parque and Siam Park. The water park uses a desalination plant to treat seawater for use in the park. Water is recycled afterward to keep its landscapes in tip-top condition. A natural gas installation provides enough energy to heat the water during the winter months to 24 degrees Celcius (75 degrees Farenheit) and reduces emissions by 70 percent. The park also draws electricity from a photovoltaic system. “Everything we are doing is for the good of tourism and for a sustainable operation,” says Kiessling.
Siam Park sits on a 185,000-square-meter (2 million-square-foot) plot, around 80 percent of which has been developed. The Kiessling family is now scouting locations for a second water park, although the right site is proving elusive. Of a rumored development on neighboring Gran Canaria, Kiessling says: “They believe that as Siam Park was successful here, it could work there, but they are asking quite a lot of money for the land. We are not willing to pay triple the money per square meter than we paid on Tenerife. We are waiting for good offers to come in.”
The company has looked at sites in Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom, Kiessling says: “I believe there are lots of destinations worldwide which would love to have parks of this quality. We are traveling all over the world this year, trying to identify a destination that is comparable to Tenerife, with a big volume of tourism, a good climate, and nice people.”
He notes a cultural difference between European/American audiences, who are looking for thrill rides, such as water coasters, and Asian guests, who prefer “more relaxed rides and family-oriented experiences.”
Knowing that 40 years can pass in the blink of an eye, Kiessling is looking for long-term prospects: “We make our decisions based on our instincts. If we have a vision, we are personally involved, personally financing, and personally responsible for it.”
Theirs is a different approach to the corporate groups that have come to dominate the European market, he believes: “Big groups are very successful, and they make great numbers, but we’re slightly different. We are not being paid to think like this. We’re a hands-on family operation with a love for the details and for excellent products. For Siam Park, that means looking into new attractions, entertaining our visitors, and always trying to be the best.”
Contact Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling at email@example.com.
Siam Park: At a Glance
ProSlide Technology Inc. provided Siam Park’s attractions. Artist Paolo Bonnanno designed the theming, and Bangkok architecture professor Ruetai designed the buildings. New attractions for 2012, “Kinnaree” and Sawasdee, join 11 ride complexes, a multilevel lazy river, and a wave pool.
“Tower of Power”: Thrill ride featuring a 28-meter (92-foot) drop and a trip through Siam Park’s shark aquarium.
“The Dragon”: Dragon-themed ProSlide Tornado.
“Mekong Rapids”: Rapids-style ride in family-sized rafts.
Mai Thai River: World’s longest lazy river.
Wave Palace: Offers three-meter-high (10-foot-high) waves alongside Siam Beach, with its imported white sands (in contrast to Tenerife’s dark volcanic beaches).
“Volcano”: ProSlide BehemothBOWL with lighting effects that mimic the sensation of plunging into a crater.
“Naga Racer”: Six-lane racing slide.
Lost City: Fun-filled “water fortress” for kids.
“The Giant”: An enormous “Temple Guardian” watches riders slide around a ProSlide CannonBOWL combination.
“Jungle Snake”: Entwined slides that slither down the hill through four different journeys.
Sawasdee: A brand new children’s zone offering inexhaustible fun, with an authentic water jungle that incorporates four different slides.
“Kinnaree”: A mega-slide with a 200-meter-long (656-foot-long) winding circuit.