We all love theme parks. Some parks are more loved than others, but in the end we all want all theme parks to do good. Sometimes it’s just personal taste which makes the difference. Sometimes, the directors of a theme park make it hard not to hate the park. A park in that situation is Bobbejaanland. The textbook example of how not to run a theme park.
First of all, you have to know the history of Bobbejaanland. It was founded by Bobbejaan Schoepen, who gave his name to the park, in 1961. Bobbejaan was a popular Belgian artist who searched a fixed location to perform after years of touring. In the first years, Bobbejaanland was nothing more than a center of shows with daily music performances. Later on in the seventies, Bobbejaanland made the transition to a theme park after adding mechanic rides like a monorail and later on the iconic Schwarzkopf Looping Star.
Bobbejaanland flourished in the eighties and nineties. Bobbejaan became older but his popularity never faded, and so his park became also popular. It was the biggest competitor for Walibi Belgium in Belgium. Eventually Bobbejaan sold the park to Parques Reunidos in 2004. Since the Spanish group took over, the park slipped off and attendance started to fall back. And improvement isn’t to be seen on the horizon…
Some theme parks are being blamed for not investing regularly. Well, you can’t say that from Bobbejaanland because they do invest in new rides from time to time. The problem is what they are putting their money in! A selection:
- 2006: Desperados city – An interactive shooting simulator. Basically you sit on a horse in a cinema, instead of a normal seat. There are targets in the movie and you have to shoot them, the horse you’re sitting on vibrates and moves a little. Don’t have to say much why it wasn’t popular, Bobbejaanland already broke it down six years later.
- 2008: King Kong – Maybe you’ve never heard of a King Kong ride (and no, we’re not talking about Universal’s ride) and that’s because they never became popular with parks. It’s a giant gorilla that holds a van, where you sit in, which shakes the van. Bobbejaanland announced it as a new exciting thrill ride. But there’s one problem with it… it is boring. It gained bad critics soon and it is a ride you only do after you’ve done everything else. Definitely not the big thrill ride that should pull crowds to the park.
- 2008… now: Revolution, Evolution, Revolution, Mount Mara, Mount Mara and revolution – The old and iconic Revolution coaster has been the victim of different theme changes last years. They changed the classic space theme in 2008 to a jungle theme and renamed it Evolution. The new theme was poorly implemented and not very liked by the fans. So when the coaster became 25 years old in 2014 they just undid the change and got rid of the new jungle theme. Revolution was back. For two years because in 2016 Bobbejaanland introduced virtual reality and decided Revolution was the best fit for it. VR dramatically slashed the capacity and so Bobbejaanland decided to use only half the train for VR. So now you have one queue for the first half of the train, which is Mount Mara (the VR experience), and another queue for the last half of the train which is just Revolution. Confusing? We can’t blame you, let’s wait what they will do with it in the coming years…
- 2011: Dizz – A Maurer Söhne spinning coaster. What could be wrong with that?! They gave us Tarantula, the Winja’s and Dragon’s Fury, the best spinning coasters in the world. But every great manufacturer has one black sheep, one misfit. And when it comes to Maurer spinning coasters… it’s Bobbejaanland’s Dizz. Is the lay-out that bad? It doesn’t look like it. The real problem are the brakes which are way too hard, they almost stop you completely. This takes obviously all the speed and momentum out of the coaster. And the fun. And this is not a decision from Maurer, no, it’s a decision from the park itself because the coaster had to be family friendly. Spinning more than once is not family friendly according to them apparently.
Too few visitors? We close
Some parks extend their opening hours when it’s crowded. And us theme park fans love it! Bobbejaanland succeeded to use that system the other way round… Not enough people in the park? Well, in that case we just close our doors an hour earlier. See here, the logic from the Bobbejaanland directors. I don’t have to explain how rude this is against the customers, it shows Bobbejaanland does not give a shit about their customers. Almost everyone checks the opening hours before visiting a theme park and most plan to stay until the end, or at least until they rode everything they wanted.
But even that is made quite difficult by Bobbejaanland. Because when the park opens, there are almost no rides open yet. Most of them open 15 minutes later on. Some half an hour or more. And if you think you can keep entering queues until the advertised closing time? Dream on, because almost every ride close their queue half an hour in advance. Some 15 minutes. But almost none is open until the advertised closing time. When a ride opens half an hour late and the queue already closes half an hour before closing time, the guest loses one hour to ride. We would like to hear from Bobbejaanland why they do it and think this is good customer service. If they don’t answer it is to cut costs, they are openly lying.
Not that lying would be special for the directors from Bobbejaanland. In an interview with Themeparkfreaks from October last year, the new CEO from Bobbejaanland, he declared that they would better stick to the advertised opening hours. He told the closing time should be adjusted positive and not negative. Looking at the calendar it seemed like the man put his money where his mouth is, proving that even in big Belgian holidays the park is only advertised to stay open until 5 PM. That’s early, but with the new tactic they could always stay open later and never have to close earlier again, right?!
Nope. On Easter Theme Park World visited Bobbejaanland and noticed they closed the park an hour earlier than advertised on the website. Their own website said they would close at 6PM but in reality they closed at 5PM. And of course, the queues already closes before that. Who can still believe them?
Let the staff renovate the park
It’s no secret Bobbejaanland has a lot of places in desperate need of upgrading. Think of El Paso or the log flume outside. There are a lot of parts in the park who seem to be stuck in the eighties or nineties and are just not pleasant to look at. One of those areas in need of an upgrade was the cowboy village. When Bobbejaan Schoepen invested in a cowboy village in his park, he made some western scenes with dolls inside some buildings. That part of the cowboy village was slacking off and in desperate need of some maintenance.
But that is not what the directors interested. Some staff members took initiative and decided to recover the cowboy village themselves. The directors luckily wanted to give them a budget for buying new props but the time invested by the staff members was pure voluntarily. There are people working for Bobbejaanland with love for the park, but they can’t be found with the directors.
Murdering competition nearby
Can the park revive itself and become one of Belgium’s best theme parks again? The odds are against them. Nearby there the Efteling, the biggest theme park in the Netherlands and internationally known. They pull around 4 million guests each year and want to increase that number by investments like Baron 1898, a B&M dive coaster, and Joris en de draak, a GCI wooden roller coaster. Also nearby is Toverland. Still considered a little park but they are growing every year and already have a world class wooden roller coaster. They have ambition to grow and if we can believe rumors, they are working on a B&M wing coaster.
In Belgium itself Bobbejaanland was already passed by Plopsaland De Panne when it comes to attendance numbers. Saying Plopsaland passed them in every category like better rides, better atmosphere,… could be called subjective but you can hardly call it completely false. And then there’s Walibi Belgium. The park with the kangaroo mascot didn’t invest the last ten years but now found his mojo back and installed a world unique roller coaster with Pulsar, and it seems like that is only the beginning of a new series of investments. The competition with Walibi Belgium was always close for Bobbejaanland but if Walibi keeps investing like Pulsar, they are off and Bobbejaanland won’t be seen in their rear view mirror.
Take in account that more of the general public gets to know parks outside of their country, and they more and more chose to go to those theme parks (maybe even for multiple days) instead of the usual Belgian parks they already know. Phantasialand is less than a two hour drive away, the general public seems to have less and less problems doing that drive in order to visit something more exciting. Can you blame them?!
We can go on, but let’s end it here. We don’t hate Bobbejaanland, we would love to see the park flourish again like it did before. But it doesn’t seem likely it will happen anytime soon. Not until they change the management completely or is sold to another group who does want to invest in the park. All the love Bobbejaan Schoepen and his family put into the park seems to be disappeared. Today, Bobbejaanland is nothing more than a neglected theme park meant to hit the money out of the visitors money.