Alumnus in the hot seat: Koen de Lepper

Koen de Lepper has made his dream come true. He was among the first group of graduates that graduated from Attractions & Theme Parks Management (ATPM) in 2017 and he did his graduation assignment for Plopsaland De Panne in Belgium. Meanwhile, he has become Assistant Director of Operations for the Plopsa Group and he is working across the whole of Europe.

'Smile, you’re on stage!'

‘When I was a little boy, I always said I wanted to work in the Efteling. Isn’t that what every kid wants? So it was only logical that ended up choosing Attractions & Theme Parks Management at NHTV (currently BUas, eds.). In my second year I did my placement at the Efteling and I had a great part-time job there. What’s this thing I have for Plopsa? Well, I like new things, new attractions and I am mainly interested in the operational side of business. Is everything working the way it should? What about capacity, visitor flows? That sort of thing.’

Observing in practice 

‘In my graduation assignment I also wanted to explore the operational side and I approached Plopsaland with a proposal. A minor snag here was that school required us to focus on research in particular, but that Plopsaland dropped me straight into practice. Which was actually a good thing, The observations that I made on the ‘attraction floor’ turned out to be extremely valuable. I had to combine practice and theory, which meant that I didn’t have time to elaborate all the details until the evenings.’ 

On board

‘After my graduation I stayed on board. First as a Operations Steward. In this position, you are the first point of contact for employees as well as visitors in the park. Soon I became Operational Management Assistant and now I am Assistant Director of Operations. I coordinate maintenance projects from start to finish. I check that the correct procedures are applied and I monitor quality and safety. Quite a responsible job. I am glad I took the step from mbo to hbo!’

Like knows like

‘Back when I was studying, I already started networking. However big the companies in the attractions industry are, it is still a ‘like-knows-like world’. During my studies I was already active in IAAPA, which is the international sector organisation. I went to network meetings to offer assistance and to ‘sell’ myself. Networking is also important in terms of finding out what you really want. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, keep working on your network skills. It can bring you so much.’

The connection is here for good

‘Of course, BUas is also part of my network. I was just at BUas last week, to attend the Tourism Industry Day. Whenever I’m at BUas, I talk with students and see if I can connect any motivated students to Plopsaland for a placement. Since my graduation, I come here at least once a year to give a guest lecture. Last year I contributed to the ATPM anniversary symposium. And before we started this interview, I spoke to someone from the degree programme about an intensive collaborative venture between Plopsaland and BUas. So, the connection is here for good!’

Back to the drawing table

‘What I’m working on at the moment? The Plopsa Group has taken over Comic Station Antwerp and I am guiding staff members through this transition, I familiarise them with the various procedures, but also with the ‘Plopsa way of thinking’. What that is? Well, it’s actually about implicit storytelling. We give our visitors room to make their own stories. The slogan in the park is ‘Smile, you’re on stage!’  In the hotel that is currently being built, we will turn this around. Visitors will check in backstage and will not get to meet our heroes until they arrive in the lobby. In this way, they will play a role in the story themselves. Ready-made concepts like these are provided to me, after which I work out the operational implications of it all. What I’d like to do sometimes, is to go back to the drawing table and develop a new concept from an operational perspective. That can be a good next step!’