June 16, 2024

Adventure Awaits Journeyers

Discovering the World Anew

Waterbom Bali | sustainability & expansion

10 min read

Waterbom Bali’s 1.3-hectare expansion, opening imminently, features a new tropical lagoon-style pool and a winding slide tower. The water park‘s expansion, which was delayed due to the pandemic, will transform Waterbom Bali into a five-hectare water park with a new sunken pool bar, poolside gazebos, and new restaurants and slides.

The project’s centrepiece is the winding slide tower featuring a cantilevered viewing platform. This will offer four new slide experiences.

For the expansion, architect Conchita Blanco of Blanco Studio designed an unusual tower which twines sinuously through the slides and trees as a single unified piece. She comments:

“I wanted to create a sense of continuity by designing an experience of moving in a circular direction as you would when you are inside the waterslides. We want the guest’s journey to the top of the tower to be a sensory climb through nature, while winding around the slides.”

Regarding new F&B outlets, Waterbom Bali will also feature an open-air restaurant and a treehouse-style coffee spot.

CEO Sayan Gulino

Waterbom Bali is working alongside sustainability consultants Mantra to reduce the expansion’s carbon footprint. The slide tower’s roof will include solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system.

“Eco-tourism, sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint has always been the core of Waterbom Bali,” said the water park’s CEO, Sayan Gulino. “We have consciously developed the water park to complement the natural environment, introducing business practices that reduce waste while protecting Bali’s natural resources.

“As a business leader, it is important to be passionate and believe in these values which will create a ripple effect amongst employees, inspiring and encouraging them to act the same and be mindful about the environment.”

Waterbom Bali was voted Asia’s top water park in the TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Awards 2022 and 2023.

Speaking to blooloop, Gulino comments:

“Bali is in full recovery mode after the disruption of the pandemic. Tourism is coming in at a pace that is borderline scary. It’s recovering with a vengeance.”

This, he says, is a mixed blessing:

“The floodgates have opened, so to speak. It’s happening almost too fast, and I say that as someone who is profiting from the industry, on the business side. But this is also my home. The infrastructure is overloaded, there’s a lot more traffic as everyone tries to recover economically, and everything else takes a backseat.”

A unique ethos

Turning to the subject of the park, he says:

“The park started in 93. It was my father’s concept. He liked the entertainment value of water parks, but he always found them aesthetically ugly. And, generally, they are ugly: we’re breaking the mould.

“Rather than destroy Bali and its natural ways, he chose to build a water slide park that is in a green space, building slides around the trees so no trees had to be cut, and no natural beauty had to be compromised.”

waterbom bali garden

That simple philosophy holds strong today and is the pillar of Waterbom’s culture and everything it means.

“My father was more involved initially on the conceptual side of things, but as it transpired he also had to deal with the rougher side of things: they had to go through the 97, and 98 financial crisis, the birth of SARS, the two Bali bombings [in 2002 and 2005]. In 2006, there was some breathing room.”

A net zero pledge for Waterbom Bali

Having lived at the water park almost all his life, Gulino had the opportunity to help out in a whole range of roles from the age of 13 onward, building a deep understanding of every element of the park’s operation. In 2007, he joined his father full-time:

“I went through the motions and worked in all the different departments. Around 2011/2012, I brought my love for nature, and I imposed it into the sustainability realms of the park. This was set, consciously or subconsciously, through my father’s concept of not cutting any trees down. We now stand at 22 slides, and are expanding; and 53% green space.”

Waterbom Bali slides with trees

“This year, I’m pledging to be net zero by 2030.”

Describing the park, he says:

“When I consult or when I explain it to board members, it’s ‘a boutique botanical sustainable water park.’ We’re trying to debunk the stereotype of this awful plastic fantastic, crap food and let’s-pack-‘em-in-like-sardines’ ethos. We’re not that. Without being elitist, in terms of sustainability, we take the approach of giving back to the environment.”

An interesting demographic

Waterbom Bali is, he stresses, non-themed:

Mother and baby waterbom bali

“That is important. We wanted to let the natural greenery be the theming. So, we have rejected a lot of sponsorship offers, which come with big financial figures, in order not to sell out.”

The demographics are unusual:

“Up until this point, we have attracted 60% adults versus 40% kids,” Gulino comments. “We’re the only predominantly adult park. It’s bizarre: we’re as likely to get honeymooners as we are to get a family of four. It’s different, but it can be difficult from a marketing perspective to convey that we’re more than just a water park.”

He cites the food as evidence:

“Obviously, we don’t outsource any junk food. In fact – and this is factual, rather than biased – we serve what is probably the best water park food in the world. The guy that’s heading up our catering used to work at top-tier restaurants. We’ve had to tone him down a bit and tell him, ‘Hey, it’s a water park. Just serve a burger. Let’s keep it comfort food, but good.’ It’s non-GMO and there’s no MSG in the food, of course.”

Choosing the right slides

Waterbom Bali’s slides are from WhiteWater, a leading water park manufacturer based in Vancouver, Canada.

“It’s funny because Canada’s not the most tropical place. Yet, it’s the location of the best slide manufacturers in the world,” Gulino says.

“There are two slide types. There are the slide types that are templated, so it’s already fixed. We have a boomerang slide, for example. We had to figure out where to put it, and how much land we would need. Then there are other slides that can mould around your landscape or your topography, so it’s possible to build slides around the trees. For every corner of the slide, there’s a level of science, a level of physics involved on the pitch to work out how to avoid uprooting a plant.”

Slide tower Waterbom Bali

“We have a good relationship with WhiteWater. We can call them up to ask for help or to brainstorm. It’s all good. We want to be a showcase for them.”

He adds:

“Then you have to get into the science of the psychology of your demographic: what kind of slides will suit that demographic? We get a lot of Australians. They tend to be more adventurous in nature. So, speed slides suit them. Whereas Indonesians, for instance, tend to prefer the tube rides where it’s more communal, and tamer.

“It’s so much more complicated than just going into a catalogue and saying, ‘No, that, that, and that, and I like the colour of that one.’”

While the park attracts a higher proportion of adults than many parks, the visitorship spans a range from the very young to the old.

 “It’s a nicer mix than the usual water park visitorship,” he says.

Expanding Waterbom Bali

On the subject of the expansion, he says:

“To give you context, if you go by the books or the theory, if you look at a business life cycle, we’ve been around this year for almost 30 years. You have to reinvent yourself, to some degree. Before the pandemic, we would update the product every few years, because not only are you in a competitive environment in Bali, in terms of attractions and entertainment, but in order to be the best you cannot just live off the glory of the past.

“You have to work to keep the dream alive. For the people that work here, it keeps it inspiring.”

Waterbom-Bali

“We came to a point where we had changed slides over the years, had done this, that, and all sorts of things, and were at this point of being recognized globally, and approached: ‘Hey, let’s build a Water Bom-type park here’. I’ve travelled to Vietnam, to Colombia. We got approached in St. Lucia in the Caribbean and South Africa and Singapore, and all sorts of random places, many of which fit in terms of the tropical brand.”

For a while, it appeared that the next logical step would be to go abroad. However,

 “Then, things didn’t line up for one reason or another, and we had to think. We decided not to force it. One lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes you can’t force what doesn’t fit.

“Then, by a sheer random miracle, the land right next door to us, which is 2.7 hectares, became available. There is no zoning here. There is no more land left, and then, suddenly, 2.7 acres became available right next to us.

“It was incredible: a no-brainer.”

Going against the grain

Having acquired the land, Gulino decided only half of it would go towards the water park:

“We’re not going to be mass market, so we would only use half of it for the water park segment, and the other half of it on another concept I’m working on that goes more towards evening.

“Before the pandemic, we picked a few two-bay slides and sat on this empty land for the two years of the pandemic.”

Pleasure Pool

“With the Waterbom Bali expansion, we’re going against the grain. I commissioned a tower to be redesigned in a more architectural form than the blocky, ugly towers that you see everywhere. In this whole area, of course, the theming is still the jungle: lagoon pools. The first phase, opening this summer, is more adult-focused, so the slides are more adult-oriented.

“Phase two is at the current land, where we’re doing a total renovation and relaying of the kids’ area, which is too small. Now we have spare land, we can afford to grow it without ruining the experience.”

Consulting the experts

Gulino is consulting with a sustainability expert. He explains:

“Before I engaged with these guys, the routine was to apply for certifications. I felt it wasn’t authentic. Essentially, I think you’re paying for a little certificate, and then you can pat yourself on the back. I didn’t think it was very genuine, and I didn’t have the heart to expose it.

“I felt it was just something people used as a marketing tool.”

He wanted something more for Waterbom Bali. He says:

“We needed environmental scientists. People whom I know, and who grew up in the same community in Bali, run a leading environmental consultancy called Mantra. I had a chat with one of them, explaining that I needed their help in focusing on three components: energy, waste, and water, and how we could track the data, and then reduce usage. They are supporting us in the plan to make us net zero by 2030. They have taught us so much, and we’re very grateful.”

Solar-Panels

The environmentally sustainable design plan means every element of the design and build of the new slides, tower and pools has sustainability in mind, from the recycled and sustainable materials used for some of the furniture, accessories, pot plants, and ashtrays, to the use of reclaimed wood from the old slide towers in the café to the pumps purchased and the use of solar panels on the café and back of house roof areas.

The new park area will also feature recharge wells, a rainwater harvesting system to refill the pools, and controlled pumps and motors for the slides, allowing around a 3% saving in energy. In the gardens, local native plants have been selected, and the large ornamental stones sourced sustainably.

An even greener future for Waterbom Bali

He outlines what the process of reaching net zero will involve:

“Right now, our waste to landfill is 8%, which is generally pretty good. We still want to reduce that, probably by creating recycling or composting plants of our own. We have to be also realistic: if we can reduce it to 3 or 4%, I think we’ve achieved our growth there.

“Water is a very tricky one. In the new area, we’ve created a rain-harvesting tank. Additionally, we recycle water; the washing water from the toilets is used in the gardens, and so forth. Water quality is another thing. There are so many things we are planning to do, but they are really baby steps.”

Waterbom Bali Python

“Stage One of the park’s expansion, comprising great tube-based rides, lagoon pools to swim in, lush gardens with lots of trees, a new massage area and a new outdoor cafe area, will open in early July, while Stage Two, the re-development of a connected tropical wonderland and water playground for younger visitors, is on track for December, though that may change, as he explains:

“We can normally target dates a little bit more accurately when we’re two or three months off, because of all the external factors that happen, and because I’m very hands-on, which drives architects nuts, but when you see things on paper, they always look pretty. Then you see these 3D models, and you go, yay. And then you see pegs on the ground, and you start realising, no, this is way too big. This should move over here, this should move over there.

“It delays things, but they have to be right.”

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