Cover Story - November 2017
It’s March 2015, and more than a hundred IAAPA members are touring Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi. Dressed mostly in collared shirts, they stand beneath the beaming desert sun watching park guests splash down out of slides. Suddenly, up out of the water pops Andreas Andersen clad in nothing but a pair of swimming trunks, with droplets sluicing off his flyaway blond hair. Clark Kent-style, the amusement park executive went from business attire to swimwear without his colleagues realizing.
“Everybody was laughing, because I just went for it,” Andersen recalls now, sitting in his corner office overlooking Liseberg, the amusement park he runs in Gothenburg, Sweden. “I want to experience it as a guest. You can talk about water cleaning and per-cap spending, and that’s all interesting, but I want to feel it.”
Andersen, originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, took over as CEO of the Liseberg Group in 2011 at just 39 years old, bringing with him the same passion to the boardroom that sends him hurtling down waterslides. In the years since, he’s made dramatic changes—in both form and function—to one of Europe’s grand city-center promenade parks. It’s easy to spot the new thrill rides that now burst into the Gothenburg skyline; subtler are the alterations he’s made to the park’s brand and management structure.
“In our industry, you can build the best rides in the world, hire the best performers for your stages, and buy all the advertising you want, but if the service delivery is not working, none of that really matters. We’re not a roller-coaster business—we’re a people business,” Andersen says, in between sips from an ever-present cup of coffee. “What we’re selling is tickets, merchandise, and F&B. But what the guests are buying is emotions, experiences, and memories. If you start focusing too much on the product, and not on the guests’ expectations, you can get lost. We were a little bit lost. We were still a valued brand and delivering a world-class experience, but we had to calibrate it a little bit.”
In November, Andersen will become IAAPA Chairman of the Board, one of the youngest people to ever hold the position. He calls IAAPA his “window into the world,” as it helps him and his team “get out of the bubble” of Liseberg. He sees his chairmanship as a way to give back to the industry he loves and the association that’s helped shape his career and his park. But it’s also an opportunity for him to dialogue with his colleagues around the world about challenges he foresees in the future of this business.
“I always try to express my opinion and try to be honest. Those two rules have worked quite well for me,” he says. “I’m very transparent.”
|Andersen has loved amusement rides since he was a child. (Credit: Liseberg)|
‘Rabbit, You Live There’: Liseberg’s New Brand Identity
One of the toughest fights of Andersen’s career was with, of all things, a cute little green rabbit.
“You have to be very respectful when you take a job. In many ways, I’m as much a custodian as I am a CEO,” he says of joining Liseberg. “I had really big ears for the first six to 12 months. I tried to be respectful of the fact I was taking over a company with a long story and strong culture.”
Liseberg measures its history not in decades, but in centuries. It was originally a summer home and pleasure garden built by a merchant for his wife, Lisa (hence the park’s name); some of the buildings date back to the 17- and 1800s. The park itself was founded in 1923 as a fairground celebrating Gothenburg’s 300th anniversary. Owned by the city, Liseberg evolved into “not a theme park, per se, but an urban park with themed environments,” Andersen says.
He finds both advantages and disadvantages to operating a municipal park. It is highly profitable and pays a dividend back to the city; the past three years were the most successful in Liseberg history, but he knows it could make even more money, if that was the sole goal. There are more political forces at play when it comes to decision-making, but the municipality is focused on a long-term vision rather than quarterly results.
“If we were operating Liseberg as a completely commercial company, it would be quite different from what we do today. We give a lot to charity—we spend a lot of money on music and culture,” Andersen says. “But if you can accept that the business model is a little bit different, it’s great fun to work long-term with a product like this one.”
|Liseberg can draw 20,000 people to its outdoor concerts. (Credit: Liseberg)|
Liseberg offers three distinct experiences within its gates: the gardens, the rides, and live entertainment. There are several stages throughout the park, including two indoor theaters and a main outdoor concert venue that can accommodate upward of 20,000 people when big acts come to town (Alice Cooper, Emmylou Harris, and House of Pain played the park this past summer). Throw in a robust food and beverage program and a bevy of midway games, and Liseberg is a complex organism.
Andersen’s first visit to the park wasn’t until his mid-20s, so he didn’t have much of an emotional connection to the place when he took the job. One of his first tasks was defining its DNA: “What makes us special? Why do we exist? What do we want to be in the future? Liseberg is many different things to many different people. That can be challenging when you’re developing the product. What pulls everything together is the garden. We are first and foremost a park, and the garden element is really important.”
|Liseberg offers many peaceful respites for guests to enjoy (Credit: Liseberg)|
The new CEO spent about a year holed up with his team, “where we asked ourselves a lot of questions.” The answers, at times, were difficult. “We were seeing declining attendance numbers. We had to stabilize that, and it was clear we had to win back some of our guests,” Andersen recalls. “When you have a company like this, that has had more or less the same management for decades, the culture is in the fabric of everything we do—it’s in the walls. There was nothing wrong with that culture, but it was in need of a little shakeup.”
Case in point: Liseberg’s logo featured a friendly green rabbit. Andersen knew he had to splice the park’s DNA to figure out how to “handle the rabbit” and still move the brand forward: “A rabbit makes total sense when you want to sell a T-shirt to kids. But it makes absolutely no sense if you want to communicate concerts or a big new roller coaster.”
The answer was Rabbit Land, which rebranded and refreshed the park’s children’s area, theming it to the iconic animal. “We sort of built a fence around that area and said, ‘Rabbit, you live there.’ That was quite controversial, because we established that green rabbit through 30 years of use. How could we just ditch it?”
Excising the rabbit was part of a “total revamp” of the Liseberg brand. The animal dropped off a sleek new logo, with a more modern font and colors. Marketing efforts shifted to digital platforms as part of “a new take on how we communicate and represent the brand to our guests,” Andersen says. The park had a new mission statement, a new business model, new core values, new objectives, an aggressive expansion plan (see sidebar) … and some new members of the executive team.
“When you’re in this position, you’re often judged on what you build or the financial results you create. I’m proud of what I’ve built and the shape we’re in financially, but the thing I’m most proud of is the organizational journey. That’s the tough one, and it’s often unmeasurable. I’m proud of my colleagues and the organization and the culture of the company.
“The first two or three years were not that fun, though. Very often on a Friday evening, I checked off another week I didn’t get fired. It was just so chaotic—some of which I created myself, learning by doing. But I think we’re much more nimble than we used to be.”
‘Amusement Parks Have Always Been a Safe Space for Me’: How Andersen Turned His Passion into His Career
Andersen was a self-described “serious child” whose parents never respected the attractions industry (when he took the Liseberg position, his mother said: “When are you going to get a real job?”).
“I think I’ve seen every museum, every church, every castle ruin in Europe, but they never took me to parks,” he says, remembering his first sight of Liseberg was with his face plastered against the back window of his parents’ car as they drove past—and didn’t stop.
Growing up in the outskirts of Copenhagen, Andersen managed to sneak an occasional visit to Tivoli Gardens, where his godmother took him on his first roller coaster, “Rutchebanen,” an old woodie that requires an employee to manually operate a hand brake. “I was blown away,” he reminisces, the awe still palpable in his voice. “It was the craziest sensation—just fantastic. I can still remember it today, the smell of the grease … that’s where I really got hooked.”
Andersen hails from a long line of family lawyers and went to the University of Copenhagen to become an attorney himself. Upon graduation in 1996, he took a job with the Ministry of Finance of Denmark, which afforded him the time and money to engage his true passion: amusement parks. The Internet was still in its infancy, but Andersen went online and discovered “this world of parks” and people who loved them, and he “slowly got to know a lot about the industry, from a user perspective.” He traveled in spurts all over Europe and scrimped for trips to Orlando and Japan.
“I think there was a lot of compensation—making up for lost time,” he says. “We live in a serious world and in a challenging time. But amusement parks have always been a safe space for me, where I can reconnect with my 11-year-old self. It’s important as a grown-up that you can still play and be excited.”
Andersen felt his career path was pretty well laid out for him, but in 1999, Tivoli posted an opening for a company lawyer. “I got the job at Tivoli because I think they were afraid of what would happen if I didn’t,” Andersen says with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I may have actually intimidated them into giving me the job—I was so focused.”
Tivoli CEO Lars Liebst was challenging to work for, Andersen says, but was also “the best mentor I could imagine … he is one of the people I’ve learned the most from. He pushed me over the edge time after time.” Liebst constantly gave Andersen new responsibilities—even if the Dane felt woefully under-qualified for those tasks. By the time he left in 2008 to join IAAPA as a full-time employee, Andersen oversaw operations and the park’s construction projects.
“It was very challenging, and I grew tremendously,” he says. “I fell in love with Tivoli—to this day, it is still my great love. It is such a magical place, with its heritage and the delicate nature of the park. When I left Tivoli to work for IAAPA, it was almost like getting divorced.”
|"We have to make sure we are well prepared for handling disruptions as an industry—together."|
Andersen had been lightly involved with IAAPA to that point in his career, participating in a few committees. When the IAAPA Board of Directors decided it was time to invest more resources in Europe and open a permanent office there, then-Liseberg CEO Mats Wedin (the 2007 IAAPA Chairman of the Board), suggested Andersen should apply for the job. IAAPA had already taken over full ownership and operation of the annual Euro Attractions Show by that time, but the idea was to reposition the IAAPA brand on the Old Continent with more services tailored specifically for members in the region.
“I thought it would be fun to do something with more of an international perspective. It was a startup, and from an association perspective, there was little infrastructure in Europe,” Andersen says. “Those three years with IAAPA were the most fun I’ve ever had at work. I loved it, because it was very entrepreneurial. It was a peek into a world I didn’t know, and I got even closer to the industry I loved.”
The IAAPA posting required nearly constant travel, and a few years of that grind started to wear on Andersen. He was actually attending a meeting at Liseberg when he saw an ad in the local paper for the CEO position; Wedin was preparing to retire, and the park’s board was searching for a replacement. “I didn’t think more about it, and then two weeks later I was unpacking that bag while I was on holiday in France and I found the paper,” Andersen remembers. He called the number on the ad “just for fun,” and the person on the other end of the line said he was just getting ready to call Andersen. Slightly flabbergasted, Andersen ended his vacation early and made his way back to Gothenburg; three interviews later, he booked the gig: “It was so strange, because I didn’t think I would get it. My life has been a long chain of jobs I haven’t been sure I’m qualified for.”
So while the first few years were rocky as Andersen learned Liseberg and helped shape the park’s brand and staff to a new vision, he is more comfortable in the role now. He has an easygoing relationship with his team, and the weekly gathering of department heads is often full of laughter resulting from healthy creative brainstorming and problem-solving; it has the feel of a meeting the participants enjoy, rather than dread. Andersen says he tries to empower his people by delegating as much as possible: “If you look at an amusement park as an organization, it’s extremely complicated. We have people from every trade, and it’s a lot of different moving parts. In isolation, all those moving parts are usually working very well, but sometimes you have to bring them together. It’s in that context where I go into details.
“Leadership is not a costume you wear—it comes from inside,” he continues. “You can practice certain things and become more aware of yourself, and there are many things you learn along the way. But I think you either have it or you don’t. It’s very much about liking people.”
‘We Have to Adapt Much Faster’: Sustainability, IAAPA, and the Global Attractions Industry
If Andersen thinks of himself as a custodian of Liseberg, the philosophy also extends to the broader attractions industry. That’s why he remains passionately involved with IAAPA even after leaving the association as a full-time employee.
“Generally speaking, we’re in a good place,” he says of the global business. “We’re seeing growth in disposable income and an increase in tourism. Visiting parks is something you want to do with other people, sharing an experience—it caters to some fundamental needs in the human psyche. We’re social beings, and a park is a place where you can be with your friends, your family.
“But there are also some clouds in the sky. We have to make sure we are well prepared for handling disruptions as an industry—together. We’re all in the same boat. What happens in the Philippines, Australia, or the United Kingdom—it affects me. So I want to be able to influence where the industry is going.”
Andersen plans to use his year as chairman to share his perspective on the industry’s need for sustainability. Typically, that term refers to environmental issues, but he uses it much more broadly; Andersen is concerned with sustaining this industry he loves.
|Liseberg plans to open a new hotel and indoor water park in 2021. Andersen says this massive project will help secure the park’s prosperity for the next generation. (Credit: Liseberg)|
“It’s not just environmental—it’s being a good citizen. Any issue that becomes a public agenda could affect us,” he says. “I know it’s abstract, but it’s about seeing culture changes and shifts in values and thinking everything all the way through.”
Here’s an example from Andersen’s real life: Liseberg is planning to open a hotel and indoor water park in 2021 (see sidebar for more details). That project will be built on what is currently a parking lot outside the park’s southern gate, so Andersen and his team have to find a new place for visitors to put their cars. The seemingly easy and obvious solution is to construct a parking garage, but Andersen is “thinking everything all the way through” and sees European cities beginning to ban fossil fuels; he’s envisioning a not-too-distant future where automobiles are no longer the primary form of transportation guests use to visit his park. If that happens, what do you do with a multilevel parking garage that now has no use? Does he solve short-term pain at the expense of long-term feasibility, or vice versa? That question will need to be answered soon.
“The speed of change is accelerating, so we have to adapt much faster. These disruptive forces can pull the carpet from underneath you if you’re not agile,” he muses. “One of my passions is to equip the industry for what’s coming. It’s not sexy—it’s complicated and boring and gray. I would much rather look at pictures of carousels all day or something.”
For Andersen, IAAPA is the mechanism for protecting the industry’s long-term health. Liseberg on its own does not have enough of a voice to address these issues on a global scale; Liseberg adding its voice to the worldwide conversation through the association can make an impact.
“IAAPA is one of the main reasons for Liseberg’s success. The park has always been open to the industry—that was here before I came,” says Andersen, who is now the third chairman to come from Liseberg, joining Wedin and Bo Kinntorph. “We always bring a lot of people to IAAPA events—I want them to get out of the bubble. A lot of us in this industry can quickly and easily get isolated, but IAAPA connects the dots. By doing that, you learn by other people’s successes and mistakes. When you are generous in sharing, you get that back 10 times over in what you learn.
“I’m proud and privileged to be chairman, because it gives me a platform to meet people I never would have otherwise. I’m not motivated by money or status—I’m motivated by being part of something bigger than myself. I have to make sure I hand the industry over to the people following me in a way that secures its long-term success.”
‘We Don’t Operate Liseberg to Make Money—
We Make Money to Operate Liseberg’
How Andersen balances an aggressive expansion plan with the park’s core experience
In 2013-14, Liseberg invested more money in new product than its previous 10 years combined. The new Rabbit Land children’s area in 2013 was merely an appetizer for what was to come the following year: “Helix,” a custom Blue Fire steel coaster from Mack Rides.
Liseberg’s layout is unusual in that it incorporates a mountain into its acreage, with attractions both above and below. A 260-foot-tall Mack hypercoaster was originally earmarked for the top of the mountain, but questions arose when design work began. Andersen was concerned the coaster’s visual impact would overwhelm the rest of the park, and that its potential noise would lead to contentious relationships with Liseberg’s downtown Gothenburg neighbors.
“It was great—a beautiful ride. As an enthusiast, I was thrilled,” he says. “The more we worked with it, though, the more evident it became that it was a high-risk project.”
After much soul searching, Andersen terminated the coaster by the end of 2011 and literally went back to the drawing board with Mack. The new design had to be long, with multiple types of experiences (launches, airtime, inversions); it had to hug the terrain and keep low to the ground to avoid any visual or auditory concerns; and it needed good pacing with thrills from start to finish.
“Helix” satisfies all these criteria and then some. The train drops right out of the station and begins and ends with corkscrew inversions; it features two launches and a maximum speed of 64 mph across 4,500 feet of track; and it tops out at only 134 feet, but goes all the way down the side of the mountain and back up again to still provide dramatic changes in elevation without impacting too much of the city skyline.
“The ride we actually built is very close to first drawing we did on paper,” Andersen says. “It has an edge, but it’s not too much. That is the success of ‘Helix.’”
Europe’s Longest Dive Coaster Set for 2018, with a Hotel and Water Park to Follow
Following “Helix,” Liseberg opened two high-impact flat rides: a Zierer Star Shape called “Mechanica” and an Intamin Gyro Swing, “Loke.” Next year sees another major investment with a Dive Coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard. “Valkyria” will stand 154 feet high and plunge through an underground tunnel at 65 mph, and will be Europe’s longest Dive Coaster at nearly 2,300 feet. Like “Helix,” Andersen hopes “Valkyria” will be thrilling but re-rideable: “We’re pushing the edge a little bit with this ride. It’s going to be big and impressive—you’re going to see it from the highway and it’s going to change the skyline of Liseberg, definitely.”
The ride will complete the park’s new Myths & Legends area, which helps define Liseberg as “an amusement park with themed areas” not reliant on intellectual property licenses. As Andersen puts it: “We want to create a sense of space. When we theme, it’s at arm’s length. We’re not trying to create something ‘real.’”
Andersen’s team is also well underway in developing a new hotel and indoor water park complex that will reside outside Liseberg’s south entrance. Slated to open in 2021, this massive investment should draw more than a half-million new guests, Andersen hopes: “If you look at our core business, we need another economic engine. Our hotel is a way of securing the long-term success of Liseberg. We want to make sure we’re handing the park over to the next generations in even better shape than when we took it over.”
Liseberg’s DNA Is in Its Gardens
Even amid all this massive expansion, Andersen is careful to not lose sight of what Liseberg is at its core: “It’s a pretty special place, in that it’s one of the last remaining classic, European city-based parks. The rides are what pay for the party, but we’re trying to move the gardens back into the park.”
Even with all its big coasters and flashing lights, Liseberg is also full of quiet, pastoral pathways to explore, where each trail seems to end in a beautiful view and a bench to enjoy it from. Over the past several years, Andersen invested heavily in landscaping and other beautification projects, tapping back into the garden-walk feel of the park’s heritage. His goal is eventually to not have a single stretch of asphalt in the entire place.
“I always say, we don’t operate Liseberg to make money,” he says. “We make money to operate Liseberg.”