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EN: Job@Park N°4 – Michael Kreft von Byern : General Manager of Rulantica

Recently, we had the opportunity and the chance to meet the director of Rulantica, Michael Kreft von Byern. We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his work at Europa-Park’s new Water World. We would like to thank Mr Kreft von Byern for taking the time to answer our questions.

Pour lire la version française, cliquez ici !

Can you introduce yourself?

I am the General Manager of Rulantica. I am working for Europa-Park since 1988. I started as an intern and before that, I was working as a scientific assistant for a research institute in Würzburg, and I was writing my thesis about theme parks and doing some research for the Efteling. The first park I visited was Legoland in Billund in Denmark in 1968, in the year of the opening.

What is your typical day in Rulantica?

Every day is different. Yes, there are patterns, the sun rises in the morning, the guests are coming, the sun sets in the evening and the guests are leaving. That is mostly the same structure. But working in a theme park is always full of new ideas and impulses being brought in by the team, 300 people, 300 creative ideas sometimes, and 3’000 guests and 3’001 creative ideas how to behave or misbehave in a water park. There is a lot of creativity presented on both sides of the story. My answer if there is a typical day: not really, every day is different but it is always great to be here.


What are the positive and negative aspects of your job?

It is not a standard job, it is a team effort. You are not standing here and trying to do it on your own, you always are… It is a little bit like a coach of a football team, you have to train your team, you have to present your team, you have to conduct your team, and they will have good results. That is what I like very much: that it is teamwork. What I also like very much is that we are doing a great thing, we are producing fun for many people, and we can do this in a very creative way, that is the best job to have. I really love my job and due to that fact, I do not have to work. I just can be here, it is not a job, it is my passion I can live.

I don’t like people in my team not following our dream. Sometimes you have to talk with them and convince them. I need passionate people here. We have to hire everybody and sometimes we have people in our team who do not really share our values. It is harder to bring them into line. You have guests which perform in a way that is not nice and pleasant for other guests and there you have to control them, guide them and sometimes guide them outside.

 What are the most challenging and the most difficult aspects of your job?

The most challenging thing is leading the team, it is a heterogeneous team form that stands behind the ideas and does that every day. It is not that I am coming in and one day I can burn a big bonfire of attractions, happiness and friendliness. I have to have a rock-solid campfire, every day. It has to be nice and not burn all your fuel in one moment.

What was your relationship with theme parks before Rulantica?

I always loved the industry and I am working in this industry for more than 33 years. You can only do that if you really have a passion for this. I like roller coasters, slides, pools. I also like to entertain people, be a host and make people happy. If you have that passion that is something that gives you a good opportunity to work successfully in a theme park or in this case in Rulantica.

We know that you visited many parks during the conception of Rulantica, what was your favourite?

Yes, I visited many parks before we opened Rulantica. I travelled for many years. I travelled to theme parks and I always in my private life visited pools and saunas. In preparation for Rulantica together with a friend from New York, I toured more than 50 water parks worldwide. I looked at parks in China, in the US, in Germany and Europe. In Switzerland, I went to Aquabasilea, Splash e Spa Tamaro and Aquapark in Le Bouveret. I went there to learn and understand what they offer and to see what is good, what is not so good, what I like, what people like. Developing such a concept is a little bit like fishing, the lure, and the worm has to taste the fish and not the fishermen. I had to find out what do fish love, what do we have to present and you can do that by research and by benchmarking.

I was very impressed by Siam Park in Tenerife. I have been there several times and I really like that park. I think there is a nice amount of excellent slides, the setup, the theming is nice, the location is good and it really stands out in that southern area of Tenerife as the best visitor experience there. In Orlando, I visited a lot of Water Parks and I was in favour of Volcano Bay at Universal. There is constant development needed in the future and we should never stop benchmarking. We should always look at innovations, and new attractions, new slides, new concepts and so, I will continue to travel.

What was your role during the design process of Rulantica?

I was really starting earlier than that. When we started the permit process in the 90s, I was part of the team doing the first research to find out the concept. The most important phase is finding the right concept. More indoor? More outdoor? What are the target groups? What are we aiming for? What do our guests want? My job was to do some research, then I worked very intensely in the permit process, which was the biggest challenge. We had to get the buildings permits and all the construction permits are a long process. That was not easy because we were touching new fields of activity, new fields for Europa-Park but also new fields for the authorities around us. They had to learn with us what is feasible and what is not. Water supply was also a big topic, and we had to work on it. After that, my job was to explain the project to the people, answering their questions and going into details. At the end of that process, my job was to push operations.


How did you experience the transition from managing the Rulantica project to managing the finished product?

I have learnt totally new skills. One skill is to manage a project and to follow project rules and the other is operating apart. What helped me was that I was head of operations at Europa-Park already. I had an operational backgrounded experience but you could not take that experience one to one to the water park because the water park needs other skills which we do not need in Europa-Park. Obviously, we have more water here which brings other tasks and challenges and it is a new community.

Is the way of running a water park the same as running a theme park like Europa-Park? What are the major differences?

As I said, there is more water in the water park. When it comes to visitors in a theme park, they are always in a safe and controlled space whereas the slides represent a bigger challenge for the guests. We have to be extra careful that nobody is hurting themselves and to keep people from drowning. That is a big job and we thought that the water safety team should be very well trained and we exceeded the legal requirements in Germany. We are more looking into the American set of regulations and decided to do more than usual in Europe. I think we did a good job and up until now, we did not have major topics here. We have to save some people who overestimated their skills of swimming but the most dangerous thing is that people are running in the hall, slipping and bruising themselves on the floor. Running in a water park is a bad, bad idea! Some people learn it the hard way, some people believe that this is not a good thing to do.

How independent are you from the other management teams at Europa-Park Resort?

We are in a big team together, especially being a family company with the Mack family as the very active owners. They are not only owning Europa-Park and Rulantica, they are also an active part of the operations. They like the details, they love it but here in Rulantica, I have a little bit more freedom, and that freedom comes with the success of Rulantica. As long as something works very successfully, your degrees of freedom are bigger. But, at the same time, Rulantica has a role in the system of Europa-Park. I would say Rulantica is a refinancing marketing tool for Europa-Park. On the other hand, it is bringing more customers to the hotels. Unfortunately, our Swiss guests prefer Europa-Park and are not coming to that level to Rulantica. So I am looking for support from the Swiss side.

My real boss is Snorri. I would say, in the development of Rulantica, having Snorri as a character was a home run. He is a different character than Euromaus. If you are thirsty, Euromaus will hand you a glass of water, Snorri would come and throw it over and spill the water. He is a little bit brave. I like him very much. He is really my style. When you ride Snorri’s Saga, in the beginning, we thought, oh, we could spice it up and then we brought in another Snorri having four buckets of water which he can dump on the guests and that turns out to be a nice idea and I will continue to push Snorri being a bit edgy.

What is your direct relationship with Rulantica employees (from operators to managers)?

As an operator and even as a General Manager, you have to be very present, to work with your team, to see it, to support it and to understand it. I am always looking to have a lot of direct contacts because if I am sitting in my office and I am smiling at the guests, that does not have a benefit. You are not having a nice day if I am smiling at my assistant. It is important to be out there to work with the employees, have an open eye and an open ear for them, understand them and support them when they need support.

What was your role and what did you put in place during the pandemic closure?

I am an expert in opening water parks. I opened Rulantica three times now, on the 28th of November 2019 for the first time, and then on the 10th of June 2020, and on the 3rd of June 2021. I know how to open water parks by now and my role was to keep the ball rolling. It was of course important to check out how could we use that time of the lockdown for maintenance, for improvements, for new developments, like Svalgurok, and keep the team together.

The biggest impact of pandemic development was losing a lot of good employees. Many not just left our company, they left the industry and when you talk to operators throughout the industry whether it is water parks or theme parks there is a big complaint worldwide, that there is a lack of employees because of that situation. We are still suffering and the next message to the world, if you can swim and if you are interested in working in a water park, please come and work. We will welcome you to our team and if you have some passion for the industry, we would love to have young people here.


Were you disappointed at any time with any aspect of Rulantica during its development and construction?

Yes, the permit process, of course! This was no fun. There are so many authorities involved, there is so much bureaucracy, that sometimes you felt guilty. I was sitting in a hearing with 30 authorities from the different departments who were responsible for giving us the permit and there was one group saying « oh, you have to go more left », the next group was saying « you have to go more right », the next group was saying « you have to go straight forward », the next group was saying « you have to go backwards », and the last group was saying « you do not move at all ». I was standing and I said, « could you please talk to each other and then agree on a position and we would love to follow that indication ». They were contradictory and it was simply not possible to fulfil everybody’s wishes.

We had to partner up with authorities and get there step by step to do that but this was a really challenging one. But, the head of the local administration in town, Mayor Klare and in the region the District Administrator Scherer were really supporting and helping us to go through this maze of bureaucracy. These were the biggest and most unhappy moments but when you manage to overcome such a problem, that makes you happy.

Your loyalty to the park for more than 30 years allowed you to become director of Rulantica, was there a moment when you wondered if you saw your future elsewhere than in this field or in Europa-Park?

Yes of course! As a young man you are always looking if there is something else out there but what was great for me was that it was always possible to develop within Europa-Park. I started as an intern, then I became public relations assistant, then director of public relations, then marketing director, then in charge of operations, then of the shows, then of the training and then in charge of Mack Solutions. I had a lot of different jobs in Europa-Park and I always had the opportunity with the trust of the Mack family to do something new. I would say Rulantica is the biggest and most rewarding task here at Europa-Park and this stands at the end of the row of a lot of different jobs I did.

I am a loyal supporter of Europa-Park and the Mack family. You need to have this kind of close cooperation, trust, loyalty to follow the same direction, to support this big dream of the Mack family, which I totally share from day one. It is to welcome many people from all over Germany, France and Switzerland, more from Switzerland. That was the second advertisement (come to Rulantica the Swiss!).

What would you like to see at Rulantica in the future (infrastructure, services, entertainment, attractions, catering…)?

When we started Rulantica, if we didn’t know what to do, we just looked at other successful examples and our successful example is Europa-Park. We just looked at what made Europa-Park nice, appealing and strong. It is offering something at a good price for families, highly themed and with great quality, and develop it step by step, corresponding to our guest feedback. We only used one third of the existing area for this resort and we set up a master plan for how we can develop it for the future. Is the master plan we created some years ago still active? Yes, but it continues to develop and new projects like Yullbe and Eatrenalin are enriching this concept. Yes, there is more to come, yes it will be more slides, yes it will be more storytelling, more Snorri, and more Swiss guests.

Do I know what will happen and when precisely now? This is a very complex process. We dream up ideas, I have a thousand ideas what we could do next and then could do in the future. Our job is now to find out what the best next steps to continue will be. We learn every day what our guests want. After the first step, we saw it would be smart to have more outdoor. Even before the opening of Rulantica, we started the project Svalgurok and we saw that Svalgurok was for the whole family except very small ones, there we should have something else, so we created Snorri Strand. Then Michael Mack had the idea and wanted to do something with VR and we created an underwater VR experience. Then Roland Mack said that we should have a nice relax area with some saunas, and we created Hyggedal.


It is important to always spice it up at several places and we are working on it, but also develop new big concepts and also small ones. Yes, there is more to come but we have to wait a little bit. We are planning something for 2022, most likely outside. We are planning to increase also the indoor area, we do not know how fast it will be but we should always level out. Will there be a second hall? Possibly! Our intention was not to build one giant big hall but rather cut it in half and build one hall, see what it does and then have the opportunity to build the second hall.

Do you have a message for the Europa-Park and Rulantica fans who read this article?

The best is yet to come. There are many nice ideas for Rulantica and Europa-Park of course. Share your passion, come and see, let us be inspired by new things. If you have ideas or visions, share them with us and please understand that we have to create something for everybody and the families.

We would like to thank Michael Kreft von Byern again for answering our questions. We look forward to seeing you soon for other Job@Park and stay tuned because this may only be the first part of the interview with the General Manager of Rulantica;)

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