As Efteling celebrates its 70th anniversary, CEO Fons Jurgens is looking ahead after getting the green light for the “World of Efteling 2030” development plan. He calls it a “giant step toward the future” and says, “Investments must go hand in hand with sustainability.”
Much has changed since the Efteling Nature Park Foundation launched the Netherlands park with the Fairytale Forest in 1952. Efteling has grown into an international theme park resort destination, attracting 5 million guests a year. What is unchanged is Efteling’s commitment to long-term sustainability. “Efteling wants much more than just sustainable entrepreneurship; it wants sustainable enchantment,” says Jurgens.
He sees Efteling as a “forever” park, spreading happiness among past, present, and future generations through shared stories and memories. “That sense of connection is more important than ever,” he says.
Jurgens’ deep understanding of Efteling’s operations and audiences stems from a 26-year career that has seen him rise from trainee to CEO. Ac-cording to Jurgens, his mission is to leave Efteling more beautiful than he found it.
The fairy tale-themed park has always cherished nature.
“Efteling’s natural surroundings are an important part of our guests’ experience. So we need sustainable initiatives to preserve Efteling for the future,” Jurgens says. He has created a “Roadmap for Sustainability” to be climate neutral as early as 2030. Sustainability supports Efteling’s quest for continuity, independence, and quality.
“By 2030, we aspire to be the only theme park resort in Europe scoring a 9+ rating from visitors,” Jurgens says.
To achieve this, he says he plans to invest in five pillars:
- Sustainability: “Preserving the natural environment is key. We want Efteling to become even more of a nature park than it already is.”
- Experiences: “Attractions, accommodation, merchandise, and entertainment all provide a well-rounded experience.”
- Employees: “Our staff are the heart of the organization. We need to give them the tools they need to provide sincere, personal, and engaging service to our guests.”
- Technology: “Smart application of technology and data allows us to manage Efteling better, offering guests a seamless and stress-free visit.” For example, Efteling’s app includes reservation and food ordering services. “Technology also facilitates storytelling and offers opportunities to add extra experiences.”
- Cooperation: “We will seek out innovative partners to boldly create the experience of the future.”
Continuing to Move Forward
Faced with COVID-19, Efteling remained resilient. Jurgens and his team prioritized the organization’s continuity, keeping the 3,000 employees, maintaining quality, building capacity, and controlling costs. Despite the pandemic, Efteling reported a turnover of 140.4 million euros in 2020 compared to 227.7 million euros in 2019. It received 2.9 million visitors in 2020 (compared to over 5 million in 2019). “Now we can slowly return to the 2030 vision,” says Jurgens.
The pandemic shifted the direction of Efteling’s expansion plans. “The focus now lies within the boundaries of the Efteling theme park,” Jurgens explains.
For its 70th anniversary, Efteling is opening a World of Sindbad-themed area, the first phase of a development plan for the Reizenrijk area. The project team has transformed existing attractions into the “Sirocco” ride (where guests are caught in a whirlwind on spinning ships) and “Archipel” (a water playground). The Panorama restaurant will be rethemed later.
Efteling is expanding its resort accommodations. It already has two hotels (Efteling Hotel and Efteling Loonsche Land Hotel) and two holiday villages. Rooms at the Efteling Hotel were renovated in 2021, with all furniture donated to charity. Holiday Village Efteling Bosrijk welcomed its 3 millionth guest last September. Jurgens reports high demand for its group holiday houses.
An Inclusive Environment and Expanded Offerings
The year-round opening of the park (since 2010) and the combined park and resort offerings have been vital for Efteling. These strategies have ex-tended guest stays and attracted wider domestic and international audiences.
Efteling uses storytelling to broaden its appeal. For example, the “Max & Moritz” roller coaster, completed in 2020, is based on a tale of two mischievous boys familiar to German guests. Efteling also collaborated with Aardman Animations to tell the story of an adventurous bear and squirrel in “Fabula,” the 4D theater attraction that replaced “PandaDroom.” “Fabula’s” restaurant has “more seats and new, fresh, and sustainable meat, fish, and vegan dishes,” according to Jurgens.
“We want everyone to feel welcome at Efteling,” he says. Efteling’s new “Nest!” play forest has made accessibility exciting.
“The play elements are for everyone, with or without disabilities. We wanted all children to be able to play together,” says Jurgens.
“Nest!” has a wheelchair-accessible slide, a playground waterbed, and a ship-shaped play structure, skirted by an 80-meter-long wheel-chair-friendly wooden boardwalk. “Nest!” also offers places where children can find peace and quiet. Efteling worked on the play forest with disability advisors, including the Dutch foundation Het Gehandicapte Kind and the late theater creator and wheelchair basketball player Marc de Hond. Efteling announced the attraction with an inclusive video.
Preparing for the Future
Jurgens believes that listening to guests is essential to post-pandemic recovery. So is listening to employees. He is transparent with staff and encourages them to contribute ideas. Efteling’s “‘Dare, Learn, Do” program develops people’s talents. Efteling has also set up “Future Fit,” a cross-department initiative to “change systems, habits, and working methods if they distract us from scoring the 9+ guest rating,” Jurgens says. “We are working continuously to make our company more flexible and agile.”
After the shock of the pandemic, Jurgens is steadying the ship as Efteling navigates to 2030. “We sail our own course,” he says. “We move with the times, but we adapt in our own way and at our own pace.”
Efteling’s Sustainability Strategies
Efteling’s paper gobbler, Holle Bolle Gijs, was a fun forerunner of its current sustainability policy. Since 1959, the hungry character has invited visitors to feed him paper scraps and rewards them with a “thank you.”
In 2022, Efteling is investing in solar panels, adding 12,000 solar panels on carports in the parking areas. “Fabula” will also get solar panels on the roof. These projects follow the integration of solar panels in the rooftop garden above “Symbolica,” a magnificently themed dark ride and the biggest attraction ever built at Efteling (2017). “Symbolica’s” palace garden combines 800 solar panels with 800 square meters of sedum plants.
“We will make 25% of the theme park gas-free,” says Efteling CEO Fons Jurgens. “The park’s Anderrijk area will become gasless. Large buildings, such as the Efteling Theatre and the ‘Fata Morgana’ attraction, will be heated without gas. We will use water from the ‘Aquanura’ water show to heat and cool the buildings.”
When Efteling replaced the “Bob” bobsleigh ride with the “Max & Moritz” roller coaster, it partly reused the ride station, which is heated without gas. When the trains slow down, the energy released feeds back into the electricity grid; this drives the roller coaster.
“Growth is necessary,” says Jurgens, but only 11% of Efteling’s land will be built on. “When we build or expand, we take the park’s natural surroundings into account.” Efteling works with nature organizations to support environmentally sensitive development.
Efteling has promoted biodiversity by releasing squirrels in the Fairytale Forest, hanging nesting boxes for birds and bats, providing hedgehog houses, and establishing a swallow breeding ground at the Efteling Golfpark.
Efteling’s “Klaterwater” system maintains water levels for water features within the theme park resort. Efteling buys treated household wastewater from Kaatsheuvel and pumps it to the Golfpark. It is purified in a special reed bed before being pumped to the water features.
Efteling generates sustainable energy through geothermal heating and cooling. The system regulates the indoor climate in the “Vogel Rok” attraction, the Efteling Hotel, Holiday Village Efteling Bosrijk, and the “Raveleijn” office building. Groundwater circulates through the buildings in a closed system and is pumped back into the soil, conserving energy.
A recently installed cogeneration plant heats the water for Holiday Village Efteling Bosrijk’s indoor water playground.
Efteling has invested in electric vehicles and electric car charging points for guests. It opened the largest charging station in the Benelux in 2021, allowing 174 electric cars to charge simultaneously using renewable energy.
- Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail. com.