26 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Attractions Management
2023 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Andreas Andersen


Andreas Andersen

As Sweden’s iconic theme park celebrates its centenary, Magali Robathan speaks to its CEO about Liseberg’s brand new hotel and how plans are shaping up for its major new waterpark

Andersen joined Liseberg in 2011 when he was appointed CEO Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist
Liseberg first opened in Gothenburg in 1923 and was originally meant to be a temporary attraction Photo: Liseberg AB:Stefan Karlberg
Liseberg first opened in Gothenburg in 1923 and was originally meant to be a temporary attraction Photo: creative commons
Liseberg Grand Curiosa Hotel features a host of unusual ‘curiosities’ Photo: Liseberg:Petter Fällström
Liseberg asked LDP to provide a feasibility study for the hotel and waterpark Photo: Liseberg:Petter Fällström
Swedish architects Wingårdhs designed the Grand Curiosa Hotel Photo: Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios
Liseberg’s Luna Park area features several new rides including the Tempus by Zamperla Photo: Liseberg Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios
The team travelled the world looking for inspiration for the Oceana waterpark Photo: Liseberg Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios
The team travelled the world looking for inspiration for the Oceana waterpark Photo: Liseberg Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios
The team travelled the world looking for inspiration for the Oceana waterpark Photo: Liseberg Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios
The team travelled the world looking for inspiration for the Oceana waterpark Photo: Liseberg Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios
Because of its varied offer, Liseberg has visitors of all ages Photo: Liseberg AB:Stefan Karlberg
The Helix rollercoaster by Mack Rides at Liseberg Photo: Liseberg AB:Stefan Karlberg
Turbo launched last year as part of the new Luna Park area at Liseberg Photo: Liseberg Liseberg AB:Quarry Fold Studios

On 8 May, 1923, Liseberg opened as part of the Gothenburg Exhibition, celebrating the Swedish city’s 300th anniversary. Originally meant to be a temporary attraction for the duration of the Exhibition, the amusement park – which featured pavilions and a number of rides including a carousel and a wooden 980-ft-long funicular – was such a success that it was kept open. In 1924, the City of Gothenburg bought the park, and it is now one of the City’s municipal companies, meaning it effectively belongs to the people of Gothenburg.

Part theme park, part fairground, part pleasure gardens, Liseberg is one of Europe’s leading attractions, with more than three million guests per year. A century on from its launch, it has evolved into a modern park featuring the latest rides and a brand new hotel, but it retains a number of historical features – including the 1923 carousel, which spins next to the restaurant in the new Liseberg Grand Curiosa Hotel – and CEO Andreas Andersen believes that’s a big part of what makes it so successful.

“Liseberg’s historical foundations make it special,” says Andersen. “The park has evolved in a really interesting way – there are all these layers that you can sense when you visit.

“What makes it unique? It’s the history, the downtown location; the fact that it’s still a green park. We have 300-year-old trees here, and buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s also very Swedish – the park is a reflection of Gothenburg and of Swedish culture.

“It’s a unique place,” he says.

A year of celebrations
I speak to Andersen midway through a year of celebrations, which sees the park host a range of parties, concerts and events.

Liseberg’s board have invested heavily in a number of launches to celebrate the park’s centenary. Highlights include the opening of Luna Park at the end of last year – a new themed area inspired by amusement parks of the past – the launch of a major new ride in the form of the Luna family ‘boomerang’ rollercoaster in April 2023 and the completion of the 457-room Liseberg Grand Curiosa Hotel in May 2023. Next year will see the completion of the E110m Oceana waterpark, part of a plan to extend the season of the park and develop a less weather-dependent business model.

“We’ve had a really good season so far,” says Andersen. “We have a full programme celebrating the centennial, with events in the park and a new hotel. We’ve had great weather, and that’s helped us. It’s a big year.”

Liseberg Grand Curiosa Hotel
In 2013, the board bought a parcel of land south of the park and began development of a project that would become the Liseberg Grand Curiosa Hotel and the Oceana waterpark.

“It’s a very data driven project,” explains Andersen. “We did a lot of research into how we should develop. By 2015/2016 it was clear that a hotel/waterpark combo would be the best option for Liseberg.

“We needed the hotel to drive attendance and increase our season length, and we needed the waterpark to feed into the hotel, especially during the off season.”

Once the financial modelling was done, the team could begin working on the concept for the hotel. With its central location, Liseberg has always been a park deeply rooted in its surroundings, and the team decided to look to the history of Gothenburg for inspiration.

“The town was founded on trade with China – the Swedish East India Company here in Gothenburg was one of the primary economic engines for Sweden for many years,” says Andersen.

“We picked from that history and added our own layer in the form of a storyline about a couple – a rich merchant who lives in Gothenburg and his crazy wife who brings back curiosities from her travels. The idea is that the hotel showcases her collection and the waterpark is her garden.”

The nine-storey hotel, which launched in May, is jam packed full of ‘curiosities’, from a giant birdcage and hanging suitcases to sculptures of mythical beasts. Each floor is themed differently and it features a restaurant, café/bar, rooftop bar and bistro and a small speakeasy-style bar.

One of the hotel’s standout features for young visitors has to be the spiral slide that guests can use to travel from the second floor to the lobby – when I told my 12-year-old daughter about it, she thought it was the coolest thing she had ever heard.

While the hotel is clearly designed with families in mind, its design aesthetic feels perhaps more sophisticated that most theme park hotels. That was very deliberate, says Andersen.

“The funky thing is that it’s a family hotel – all rooms have at least five beds – but it’s also rather chic. It’s a theme park hotel merging with a design or boutique hotel. That combination works very well.”

The Oceana waterpark
“This project is also very data driven,” says Andersen. “With a waterpark, you really have to make it right from the beginning. When you build a theme park, you can always add new rides or areas, because you’re not limited by the building, but here, if you make a mistake, you have to live with it.”

Planned for completion in spring 2024, Oceana is an indoor waterpark located next door to the Grand Curiosa Hotel. It can be accessed directly from the hotel, or via its own separate entrance, and will feature waterslides by Whitewater, sandy beaches, a family water play area, a wave pool and F&B.

“From a planning perspective, the waterpark has been extremely complicated to design,” says Andersen. “We’ve got help from great consultants – WTI, Whitewater and the architects Wingårdhs, who also designed the hotel.

“It’s all about making sure guest flow and capacity works, there’s enough to do, enough seating and you can feed people – that’s been quite challenging. I think we’ve done a good job of thinking everything through.”

Andersen and the team travelled around the world visiting waterparks for inspiration. Favourites included Rulantica at Europa-Park and some of the newer Center Parcs, he says.

“Our waterpark will be a bit of a funky hybrid – like a themed waterpark meets a lush greenhouse meets a boutique spa.

“We tried to work with natural materials and lots of daylight, and we have a very extensive greenery programme. That was very important to us – Liseberg is in a green park in the middle of the city. Our waterpark has to be green too; it’s in line with our DNA.”

A career built on a love of theme parks
Andersen has worked for the attractions industry since 2002, but he originally trained as a lawyer, before starting his career working in IT for the Danish Ministry of Finance. In his spare time, he travelled around the world visiting theme parks.

“I was one of those crazy theme park enthusiasts,” he laughs. “That love of the industry has been a thread throughout my career, but what’s interesting is that it has changed. In the early days, I was fascinated by the glitz and glamour of it all – the rides, the events, the music, the atmosphere.

“When you peep behind the curtain though, you find out that there’s structure behind the magic. Today it’s not the rollercoasters that drives me, it’s the people.”

In 2002, Andersen was appointed vice president of Tivoli in Copenhagen, where he worked until 2008, when he became IAAPA’s executive director for Europe.

“Those were probably the three most rewarding years of my career,” he says. “I was hired to open IAAPA’s first real office outside of North America. When I arrived in Brussels it was me, a pen and mailbox address.

“Together with Karen Staley – and later, with [current IAAPA president and CEO] Jakob Wahl – we worked non stop.

“We worked from cars, planes, parking lots… wherever we were. When I got the job, IAAPA Europe had 350 members. Working with such a small product and community took a lot of entrepreneurial spirit. It was extremely intense and so much fun.”

Today IAAPA Europe has 2,000 members and a lively programme of activities that includes the annual IAAPA Expo Europe show.

“I can’t claim credit for all of that, but I’m really proud of the foundation we built and how it developed,” says Andersen.

In 2011, Andersen started a new chapter of his career when he was appointed CEO for Liseberg. It was the start of a period which saw him help build the company with new rides and launches. It also saw him leave Liseberg for Tivoli – in 2019 – before realising very quickly that he wasn’t ready to move on at all. “This is a job that’s quite difficult to leave!” he laughs.

While his success as CEO is most frequently measured in terms of the company’s financial results and new launches and projects, Andersen says those only tell part of the story.

“I’m very proud of our financial results and everything we’ve built, but I’m prouder still of the organisational journey we’ve been on,” he says.

“One of the challenges you have when you operate an established organisation like Liseberg is that the company culture can feel quite set in stone. A strong culture is great when it’s positive and dynamic and guest-orientated, but that wasn’t quite the case when I arrived. We’ve been on a journey to redefine the culture as more agile, guest-focused and forward-thinking. Oh, and kinder too – it’s a very kind and accepting culture here.”

When I ask Andersen how this was achieved, he says the answer is simple: “If you hire – and retain – the right people, everything else follows.”

Highs and lows
What have been the highs and lows over the past 12 years, I ask Andersen?

“The pandemic has been the most challenging period we’ve faced,” he says. “Sweden’s strategy was to keep everything open except for large music festivals, large concert venues and amusement parks. We were closed for 17 months, until June 2021, and even then we opened with such harsh restrictions we could barely make ends meet.

“When you have a big company that’s used to being in motion and that halts for so long, there are consequences. We lost about E170m in turnover and E60m in lost profit, and that obviously has consequences for our ability to invest in the future. We refinanced very quickly, so we could make it work, but it was tough, and the consequences for the organisation were quite large – we lost about 30 per cent of our employees. You also lose confidence as a company when you’re not operating for that long.

“When I look back, I’m not sure how we made it through, but we did. Hope is the last thing that dies, and that kept us going, but there were times when it was very, very stressful.”

Not ready to leave
In 2019, Andersen shocked the industry by leaving Liseberg for a job as executive vice president of Tivoli in Copenhagen. After just a few months, he surprised everyone again when he announced his return to Liseberg.

“There were many good reasons for my decision to go to Tivoli,” says Andersen. “My family lives in Denmark, my mother isn’t getting any younger, my daughter is a teenager now. I felt it was time for me to move home.

“It very quickly became apparent to me, though, that while the day-to-day logistics of my life were much easier in Copenhagen, I’d left my heart in Gothenburg. I realised that I wasn’t finished at Liseberg.

“I learned a lot from that little adventure. It wasn’t fun, but I now know I am where I’m meant to be. And I’m very glad I made that decision – I returned to Liseberg in the autumn of 2019, just a few months before the pandemic hit. Although it was tough, it was lucky I was here and not a new CEO. They wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Enough about the challenges, what have the highlights been for Andersen during his time with Liseberg?

There have been many, Andersen tells me, including the launch of the Helix rollercoaster in 2014 – “one of the best rides we’ve ever built” – and the opening of the Liseberg Grand Hotel Curiosa this year. The real high points though, he says, can often be found in the quieter moments.

“It’s the summer’s evenings, when I’m duty manager, and I’m walking through the park. The guests are leaving, we’re turning down the lights and it’s been a good day. That’s what I call a ‘pinch pinch’ moment – when I just go, I can’t believe I’m part of this. This is the best job in the world.”

Liseberg’s latest rides

In 2022, Liseberg launched Luna Park, a new themed area that pays tribute to the history of amusement parks. Situated on top of Liseberg Hill, Luna Park features two new rides – Turbo, an interactive motorcycle ride manufactured by Technical Park, and Tempus, a family spinning tower ride manufactured by Zamperla.

Earlier this year, Liseberg launched its latest ride, Luna, within the Luna Park area.

Manufactured by Vekoma, Luna is a ‘boomerang’ rollercoaster that carries guests forwards then backwards over a 225m-long track at speeds of up to 68kph. Promising to ‘fly guests to the moon’ Luna is 33.5m high –reportedly the ‘tallest and fastest ride of its kind in the world’.

Originally published in Attractions Management 2023 issue 3

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