Dancing to a New Beat
“The Ride to Happiness by Tomorrowland,” one of this summer’s most anticipated roller coaster launches, marks an exciting collaboration between Belgium’s Plopsaland De Panne and the Tomorrowland electronic dance music festival. The 17.5 million euro project fuses Europe’s first Xtreme Spinning Coaster from Mack Rides with the elaborate theming, uplifting beats, and exclusive dining and merchandise that Tomorrowland is known for.
Founded by two brothers, Manu and Michiel Beers, in 2005, the Tomorrowland music festival has grown into a lavish production that stretches across two summer weekends in the town of Boom, Belgium. In 2019, 400,000 “People of Tomorrow” saw artists including Lost Frequencies, Armin van Buuren, and Afrojack perform.
The world-class event has had to be canceled for two years because of COVID-19, but organizers hope to welcome festivalgoers again in 2022. Meanwhile, their fans and Plopsaland guests can enjoy “The Ride to Happiness by Tomorrowland.”
Creating a Harmonious Relationship
Steve Van den Kerkhof, CEO of Plopsa Group, has long admired Tomorrowland. “I visited every year. I wanted to see the decoration and the evolution of the product,” he says.
Van den Kerkhof’s interest in pursuing a partnership began after he saw how excited guests were when top DJs Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike parked their promotional tour bus at Plopsaland De Panne some years ago. But it wasn’t easy to reach Tomorrowland’s rather secretive organizers. Finally, they invited him to their stylish Mesa restaurant in Antwerp, Belgium. “They gave me one dinner to convince them to go along with it,” he says. That was the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
Van den Kerkhof—who believes in trusting his gut feelings—immediately felt they were a good fit. “We are two very strong Belgian brands,” he says. “We realized that we share the same values. We are both hands-on. We have a lot of relationships in common. We are in a completely different business on the one hand, but we are also in the same business. They theme festivals, and we theme theme parks. We can be an added value for each other.”
Several years ago, Plopsa’s team began looking for the next big thing for Plopsaland De Panne. Van den Kerkhof found it when he saw “Time Traveler” at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, in 2019. “The unique experience immediately sold me on the coaster. I couldn’t understand why nobody else in the world had bought the same ride,” he says. “We gave Mack carte blanche for the design of the ride within the planned area of the park.”
Plopsaland targets as wide an audience as possible, primarily families with children. “These days, children are not afraid to go on spectacular rides,” says Van den Kerkhof. The new ride is accessible for guests who are 130 cm tall.
Plopsa attractions are mainly based on Belgian media group Studio 100’s brands, which are aimed at younger children. “With Tomorrowland, we were able to link to a theme that more closely matched this attraction,” he says. The design of the new area is inspired by the four elements: water, earth, wind, and fire. The decoration captures “the festival vibe,” says Van den Kerkhof. He believes it reflects the best of Plopsaland De Panne and Tomorrowland. “I was already proud of Plopsaland’s theming, but the new area is exceptional.”
For both partners, it’s been a learning experience. “When we build, we build forever. A festival is built to break down and build up again,” says Van den Kerkhof.
Their successful collaboration rested on trusting each other’s talents. “We know Plopsa well, and they know Tomorrowland well. We know how to build and manage parks, but they know how to show their brand,” he explains. “That’s the reason I said, ‘Build the queue line yourself.’ Obviously, it’s better that we explain certain things. For example, how long should the queue line be? How big, how wide, and how would we make it if it’s not in
Tomorrowland? Then they have to put the Tomorrowland sauce over it.”
Van den Kerkhof values the cooperation with suppliers like Mack Rides too. “We have a very good relationship with the Mack family, so we are not only buying from a company, but from people we know well. When you are making such large investments, it gives you a good feeling. I never lost sleep when COVID-19 struck because I knew the family would fulfill their responsibility.
“The Ride to Happiness by Tomorrowland” anchors a brand-new themed area with food and beverage (F&B) and retail offerings that recreate the festival experience. F&B is a big deal at Tomorrowland—where Michelin-starred chefs are involved in the menus—and the same is true in Plopsaland’s new zone. In addition, Plopsa’s team worked closely with Tomorrowland to compose an exclusive soundtrack that enhances the ride.
Van den Kerkhof sees potential for future collaborations with Tomorrowland. “We all dream a little bit. But let’s finalize this project first and then see what comes next.”
“The Ride to Happiness by Tomorrowland” is one of a series of investments in Plopsaland De Panne that will total 75 million euros by 2024. Plopsa Group aims to make it one of Europe’s top 20 theme parks in terms of visitor attendance.
“With the opening of ‘The Ride to Happiness,’ we hope to become even more international and attract more people from farther away,” says Van den Kerkhof.
To accommodate this, Plopsa launched the first Plopsa Hotel at Plopsaland De Panne this year. The park has also applied for permission to build holiday cottages at its campsite. Plopsaland has extended its season year-round with the themed indoor water park Plopsaqua. Its success has prompted Plopsa to develop new water parks, including Plopsaqua Hannut-Landen, which opened on June 9.
The next project in the pipeline for Plopsaland De Panne is an indoor park themed around Bumba the clown, a favorite character in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Despite the difficulties of the past year, Plopsa Group has kept investing. “During COVID, we were building the Tomorrowland coaster, our hotel, our new park in Poland (Majaland Warsaw), our water park Plopsaqua Hannut-Landen, and the new areas in Holiday Park and Majaland Kownaty. We are also redoing Comics Station Antwerp,” says Van den Kerkhof. “So, I don’t think we lost time, we only lost some money. But we are still extremely healthy, and I do not expect any impact on our investment plans.”
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at j[email protected].