17 Jul 2019 World leisure: news, training & property
Sign up for FREE ezine

Attractions Management
2017 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Wolfgang Kiessling


Wolfgang Kiessling

After 45 years in the business, Loro Parque and Siam Park founder Wolfgang Kiessling could rest easy. Instead, he’s opening two more major attractions on the nearby island of Gran Canaria

Alice Davis, Attractions Management
Wolfgang Kiessling has been in the attractions business for 45 years
The Kiessling Group currently operates an award-winning waterpark and zoological park and is about to open an aquarium
The Kiessling Group currently operates an award-winning waterpark and zoological park and is about to open an aquarium
Loro Parque and Siam Park in Tenerife have won TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice accolade
The Kiessling Group currently operates an award-winning waterpark and zoological park and is about to open an aquarium
The Kiessling Group currently operates an award-winning waterpark and zoological park and is about to open an aquarium
Siam Park is located in the south of Tenerife and the theming is inspired by Thailand. Siam Park 2 is planned for Gran Canaria
Siam Park is located in the south of Tenerife and the theming is inspired by Thailand. Siam Park 2 is planned for Gran Canaria
Loro Parque boasts the world’s largest and most diverse parrot collection
Wolfgang and his son Christoph Kiessling

Attractions Management last spoke with Wolfgang Kiessling in early 2009 (see AM/1/09). He and his son, Christoph, were celebrating the launch of their second visitor attraction, a waterpark on the island of Tenerife.

That attraction, Siam Park, is now routinely voted TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice top waterpark in the world (in 2015, 2016 and 2017) and recently enjoyed an impressive 15 per cent increase in visitor numbers, welcoming 1 million guests in 2016.

Kiessling opened his first attraction on the Spanish island back in 1972 – the equally popular Loro Parque, which these days attracts some 1.2 million guests annually. The internationally renowned 13.5-hectare (33-acre) zoological park is located in the picturesque north of Tenerife and has more than 10,000 animals and the biggest and most diverse collection of parrots in the world.

Having built, from scratch, two of the best visitor attractions in Europe (and possibly the world), one might expect Kiessling, who turns 80 this year, to be thinking about retirement. But quite the contrary; he’s just months away from opening his third major visitor attraction (an aquarium), with a fourth on the horizon (a new waterpark).

The first to launch, by the end of this year, will be Poema del Mar (Poem of the Sea). The €30m ($35m, £27m) aquarium development will this time be located on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, on the Las Palmas harbour side.

The project came about thanks to a meeting between Kiessling, some local politicians, and the owners of the port, who said they had a great site for an aquarium. With Loro Parque already housing a major aquarium, Kiessling Group had the knowhow and the expertise.

Kiessling says Poema del Mar will house 300 species of fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, with a focus on creatures of the Atlantic. It will have both freshwater and saltwater exhibits, a 6,000 cubic metre, 9-metre-deep (30-foot) pool, and the second-biggest aquarium window panel in the world. (At 36 metres (118 feet), it’s just shy of Chimelong Hengqin Ocean Kingdom’s Whale Shark Exhibit tank – a world-record 39.6 metres (130 feet)).

Spanish architecture firm VDR Designs has masterplanned the aquarium, which will be ecologically sustainable and focus on renewable energy. The name of the aquarium is inspired by Canarian artist Néstor Martin Fernandez de la Torre (1887-1938), who painted a series of paintings of the ocean, titled Poema del Mar.

According to Kiessling, the launch of the 12,500sqm (134,500sq ft) aquarium will help boost tourist activity in the city of Las Palmas and the surrounding areas.

“We’re right in the harbour, next to where the cruise ships arrive, so that’s a whole new market,” he says. “We can also count on the tourists who come to Gran Canaria because, up to now, this kind of attraction has been missing. I think we can move quite a lot of people. And, naturally, we hope the residents will also come.”

Like Loro Parque, Poema del Mar will work closely with the Loro Parque Foundation – the Kiessling family’s nonprofit research and conservation organisation, which was set up in 1994 and is currently working to conserve endangered species in more than 30 countries around the world.

According to Kiessling, plans for Siam Park 2, which will also be located on Gran Canaria, were underway well before the aquarium, which is almost complete. Getting clearance for the 18-hectare (44-acre) development has taken a long time and there have been many hurdles to getting the required permissions and permits in place. However, Kiessling seems confident construction on the waterpark is starting soon, with a projected completion date within three years.

The €60m (£54m, $71m) attraction, which aims to become the biggest waterpark in Europe, will be built in a similar Thai-inspired style to its older sibling, and located at Playa del Inglés.

“It will be in the Thai style, but Siam Park 2 will be different,” says Kiessling. “The slides and attractions will be different. We don’t want to repeat what we have done before. We want the two waterparks really to compete with one another.”

All the theming is done by in-house designers and architects. The Thai inspiration is something that has endured, having first been implemented at Loro Parque, which boasts the largest Thai-style village outside Asia. For Siam Park, the family obtained the blessing of Thailand’s royal family, and the park was officially opened by Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

“I always had some kind of special affection towards Thailand and Thai art. Our visitors get really excited about the beautiful style of architecture, so we just kept on developing the theming.”

The businesses, falling under the umbrella of the Kiessling Group, have always been a family affair. In the early 1970s, German-born Kiessling managed a charter airline that flew to the Canary Islands. Enamoured by Tenerife’s scenery and people – and aware that tourism to the already popular destination was likely to continue to grow – Kiessling decided to stay.

“I didn’t have much money. I couldn’t start up with a big hotel construction or anything like that, so I was looking for something different,” he says. “Since I’d always liked animals, I was thinking about a safari park, but it was much too expensive. I talked to my father about my problems. He asked me if I remembered visiting a bird park in Miami. He said that parrots can live to be 100 years old and they eat very little. And that’s how it started.”

Kiessling and his wife did everything themselves, from sourcing the birds to planting the trees. When Loro Parque opened – loro is the Spanish word for parrot – it was about one-tenth of the size it is today, with around 200 birds and 30 staff, three of whom still work at the park. In its first year, 180,000 visitors came, and in year two, over 300,000.

However, they were the most challenging years too. The banks refused to lend money to the business. Kiessling says they couldn’t understand his parrot-themed attraction. “We had no credit,” he says. “We were badly treated, but we worked very hard and we persisted and we were not going to be easily destroyed. We managed to get through three or four years and, all of a sudden, the business started to make enough money to support itself, pay salaries and bills.”

Kiessling began buying up the land around his park and expanding. He paid the family a salary so they wouldn’t spend the profits. “We grew from 30 employees then to over 1,000 today. We invested the money into renewal, renovation and new attractions.”

He opened Loro Parque in north Tenerife – at that time, the tourist hotspot. Following the Tenerife airport disaster of 1977, when two planes collided killing 583 people, a new airport was built in the south. The south then became the destination of choice for holidaymakers, and was the obvious choice for the waterpark.

“I stepped into the park business at a time when you could start up with very little money. Today, it would be very difficult to do that. Like always in life, you have to have luck. But it’s also hard work. We’ve always been a working family. In a few weeks, I’ll be 80, but I still work eight or nine hours a day. My wife and my son are the same, but we love what we do so we don’t mind.”

About Loro Parque Foundation
The Loro Parque Foundation was established in 1994, when Loro Parque donated ownership of all its parrots – some of them highly endangered – to the charity. Its mission is to fight for animal welfare and biodiversity conservation and work in the areas of conservation and research, education and rescue. The Loro Parque Foundation especially focuses on improving the conservation status of threatened parrots and cetaceans and their natural habitats. Loro Parque supports the foundation with €2m per year, meaning all other donations and sponsorships go straight to the 36 current initiatives.

Comparing Canaries
890,000 population
2,034sq km area (785sq mi)
5.6 million tourists in 2016
5.1 million tourists in 2015
7.9% rise in tourism from 2015 to 2016
160,000 hotel beds
7.54 days average stay
€137 daily expenditure per person

838,000 population
1,560sq km area (602sq mi)
4.2 million tourists in 2016
3.7 million tourists in 2015
13.6% rise in tourism from 2015 to 2016
154,000 hotel beds
7.86 days average stay
€142 daily expenditure per person

Sources: Tenerife Tourism Corporation / Gran Canaria Patronato de Turismo

Originally published in Attractions Management 2017 issue 3

Published by The Leisure Media Company Ltd Portmill House, Portmill Lane, Hitchin, Herts SG5 1DJ. Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd