Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Defining Polin

Polin redefines the waterpark supplier model

by Martin Palicki

ABOVE: A Polin slide tower at Land of Legends in Antalya, Turkey.

The year 2018 was momentous for Polin Waterparks. Nearly 250 projects opened across dozens of countries. The company reorganized and positioned itself for a new chapter in its history. And Director of Marketing & Communications Sohret Pakis celebrated her 15th year with the company.

Anyone who has been in the industry knows Sohret. She’s the perpetually smiling centerpiece at the heart of nearly every Polin trade show booth. Any visitor to the Polin booth knows they will be offered Turkish coffee and Turkish Delight, while Sohret greets them with a warm hug or handshake. “We want people to feel as though they are our guests,” explains Pakis. “It doesn’t matter if it is in our booth or our home office – hospitality is a key component of our business.”

Her statement is sincere. On a recent visit to their offices in Turkey while researching this piece, I saw firsthand how important it was to Polin to transform visitors and clients into guests. This kind of hospitality is also extended to their employees. An office cafeteria serves free, fresh meals daily, and employees can take advantage of
complimentary shuttles to and from work, scheduled just slightly off of normal business hours to avoid the worst of Istanbul’s traffic (which, believe me, is epic in scale).

During the visit I also got to see Polin’s efficient office and work teams, their sprawling factory and their automated systems that turn waterslide designs into reality.

(And by the way, the company name is pronounced PohLEEN.)

The New Polin Group

Founded in 1976, Polin has been a leading manufacturer of waterslides in the Balkan region since the open economy policy took effect in Turkey and other countries in the region, in the mid 1980s. At that time, Polin’s founder, architect Enver Pakis, went to various hotels in Turkey’s coastal resort areas to explain the value of having pools and waterslides at their properties. At first, hoteliers were dubious of investing in waterplay when the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea were so close by. But eventually the idea took hold, and soon nearly every resort had some sort of Polin waterpark equipment.

Since then, the family-owned company has grown to over 1,500 employees around the world, boasts a network of 65 partners and distributors, and has successfully completed over 3,000 projects in 105 countries. In 2014 they moved into their current headquarters located on the outskirts of Istanbul in Kocaeli, Turkey. The building includes a 35,000 square meter factory and is home to about a third of their staff.

Earlier this year, Polin announced a reorganization of the company. Polin Group was formed as a holding company to manage the different business units the organization has developed through the years. Each unit sits under one of four main corporate umbrellas:

• Amusement Attractions, which includes Polin Waterparks, Attractions, Game Technologies, Polin Aquariums, Safari Parks and Theming

• Composites Manufacturing, which includes Composites, Fipol (fiberglass pools) and Futuraform (the company’s fabrication arm that works with fiberglass and other composites to create themed and structural elements for a wide range of markets)

• Park Development, which includes Design Studio, Park Services (providing maintenance and service packages), Project Development, and Investment Planning and Management

• Funtastic Parks, a staffing/operations company that includes Funtastic Aquariums, Funtastic Waterparks and Funtastic Amusement Parks.

According to Sohret, Polin is strategically positioning itself to be a one-stop shop for the entire amusement industry. “We realized that in order to really grow our business we needed to be able to do more than just waterslides,” she explained. “We are now capable of creating and managing an entire waterpark development.” With the line between theme parks and waterparks continuing to blur, Polin understood they needed to be able to address client needs in areas not traditionally considered for a waterpark.

Sohret wants to be clear that they are not setting up to compete with roller coaster and hard ride manufacturers; Polin is leveraging its strengths and will continue to work with established and new partners to complement their current products. “We have always had a great relationship with our partners, and they have been key to our growth model,” she said. “Cooperation often leads to better results than if we were to acquire the businesses that complement us.”

Two ideal examples are American Wave Machines, a provider of surfing attractions, and Lagotronics, a gaming system provider with which Polin partnered to create the SplashCabin product. “Our strategic partnerships help us all grow together,” said Sohret.

Aqualand Frejus
Polin’s Greatest Hits

According to Pakis, Polin prides itself on two very important strengths. First, Polin invests heavily in its manufacturing process. As a pioneer of the RTM (Resin Transfer Molding) process, Polin helped set standards of manufacturing that ultimately allowed them to develop visually appealing and structurally advanced slides that also can have theming and designs “baked” into the finish.

Polin recently was named an official Research & Development center, a designation earned from the Turkish government that sets standards for quality and safety. Fifty-four engineers are on staff working to develop even better composites that increase durability and decrease costs (see below).

This, coupled with their 42 years of experience in fiberglass, gives Polin’s customers the understanding that quality and safety remain the company’s primary goals.

Following their manufacturing skills, Polin is proud of their strength in design. “We are constantly doing market research studies to find out what our clients and, ultimately, their customers are looking for,” said Sohret. “Waterpark guests mostly want exciting slides that get their hearts pumping a bit, interactive experiences to share with one another, and fun themed attractions that make their ride more interesting.” Operators want all of this too, along with high-capacity to minimize wait times and keep people happy.

Pakis points to their history of signature rides such as King Cobra and Storm Racer (pictured on the cover of this issue) as examples of how innovative their design teams are. And the concepts are proven. In 2018 alone,

Polin has already opened customized versions of King Cobra in two venues, including the six-story Raja™ at Noah’s Ark in the United States and an armadillo themedKing Cobra at Texas Water World in China.

Storm Racer, which Polin created in 2016, opened at Aqualand Frejus (France) this season. “Aqualand is a great example,” explained Sohret, “because they are an established park and are expanding every few years with our signature slides, including King Cobra, our Racer slides and now Storm Racer.”

A Polin slide tower rises majestically above the wave pool at Land of Legends in Antalya, Turkey.
Revisiting the Land of Legends

Arguably the best showcase of Polin’s abilities to date is the Land of Legends resort in Antalya, Turkey . Opened in 2016, Land of Legends is a multi-phased development near the resort coast of southern Turkey. The initial park consisted of an extensive waterpark, with equipment provided by Polin and its partners. The ride list is virtually a catalogue of Polin products. Within this successful resort, the park stands as a living showroom of Polin’s wide-ranging products and its standards of quality.


Turkish Splash

In 2016 a shopping promenade and kids themed hotel debuted. In 2018, a Mack Rides roller coaster opened, along with a host of other smaller rides and attractions in a new theme park area.

The initially planned three phases of Land of Legends are now up and operating, and the park is clearly a hit. “If we start getting any higher peak attendance days, we are going to have to start looking at different ways to manage the crowds,” says Cem Tuna, who arrived at Land of Legends to manage the expanding water and theme park in October of 2017. After four years as Operations Manager at Dreamworld in Australia, Tuna spent nearly five years managing Isfanbul Theme Park in Istanbul before he came to Land of Legends. Tuna’s operational expertise is a great balance to the premium rides the park has amassed.

It can be likened to a hardware / software relationship. The park’s developers, Rixos and Emaar, created a structural foundation with a wide assortment of Polin attractions, and additional quality rides on the dry side of the park. Tuna is then providing his understanding of safety, operations planning and teambuilding to ensure the workers provide the type of experience worthy of the park’s mix of attractions. (See below for more on Tuna and Land of Legends)

The park has further expansions planned, though neither Tuna nor Sohret is letting on exactly what those plans might be, or when they will break ground.

InPark’s Martin Palicki visits Sohret Pakis at Polin’s showroom outside of Istanbul, Turkey. Photo courtesy Polin
Integrated Everything

Polin’s history and strategic corporate realignment are positioning the company to take advantage of a hot marketplace eager for new ideas and products. “I see waterparks as an ideal investment opportunity,” said Sohret. “They take a lower investment to build [than theme parks] and the ROI is better.” But the typical waterpark is changing, as other entertainment elements are added to the mix. Land of Legends, for example, includes a wet park, a dry park, an aquarium, shopping and more. “There will continue to be an integration of various ideas and concepts across amusement facilities,” said Sohret.

“That’s why we have built a flexible organization that can respond to the needs of the industry, and of our clients,” she explained. “We constantly strive to put our clients in the center of everything we do, because without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.” • • •

Polin’s R&D focus

Polin is proud of their accomplished R&D division, and their recent designation as an official R&D center. That enables them to work with local universities and professors to enhance the research end of the equation and ultimately deliver new products and experiences.

Ali Cansun heads up Polin’s R&D team, which consists of four subdivisions:

1) Design – Industrial product design, includes sculpting and specialty work.

2) Mechanical – Designing aquatic towers and play structures, in addition to analyzing structural wear and fatigue.

3) Engineering – Comprising mechanical, steel, civil engineering and analysis engineering. This team also addresses hydro-mechanical issues.

4) Composites – New materials and process technologies, including composite testing, mechanical testing and heat testing.

A conversation with Cem Tuna

The back story of Land of Legends comes from Franco Dragone, who was a creative consultant for the park, and produced some of the park’s entertainment offerings. According to the story, a golden meteor fell to the ground and an assortment of different cultures (legends) emerged. The Dragone Gate, located at the pathway between the Kingdom hotel and the theme park, opens and allows visitors to explore the new worlds within.

Bringing that story to life requires not only the lavishly created themed environment, but also a competent team of staff. Cem Tuna heads up the Land of Legends aqua and dry parks. “First on my list was focusing on risk management,” he explained. “I ensured we were following industry best practices for health and safety, and initiated a new three day orientation training, followed by two weeks of on-the-job training to ensure everyone fully understands their job requirements.”

Tuna says he saw the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what he considers a “miniOrlando.” The climate is similar, and Antalya already has a reputation as a tourism town, particularly among Turks and Russians. “There is real potential here to grow this market with additional parks and resorts.”

Tuna then turned his attention to creating a customer service program for staff. “We are always training for service. I want my front line staff to be able to resolve situations on their own, if possible.” Staff are rewarded with stars for positive feedback, which can lead to prizes and other benefits. “Everyone understands we all have the same three jobs: trash collector, safety inspector and customer relations expert.”

Tuna’s experience in theme parks required a little bit of adjustment when dealing with the waterpark as well. The visitation pattern is different than to a typical theme park resort. Most Land of Legends guests begin their day early at the waterpark and then transition to the dry park in mid-afternoon, relax again in the waterpark and return to the dry park in the evening when the waterpark closes. Tuna implemented queue management strategies and an upcharge fast track system to deal with some of the people flow issues.

Looking to the future, Tuna sees more interactive rides on the horizon and possibly even some Intellectual Property (IP) theming in the park’s future. “You have to make people want to come. You can’t just open the doors and expect people to show up,” he said. So far, the park has seen a marked uptick in approval ratings. In-park surveys show guest satisfaction rose from 66% to 94% this past year.

Finally, Tuna has four pieces of advice for developers looking to create a water or theme park:

1) Location really is the key. Study where your development will be located and who will be attending. Tourist visitors are different than local visitors and understanding who your market is helps tremendously.

2) Good investment in rides is critical. It’s also important to neither underinvest (guests will be disappointed) nor overinvest (operating costs will sink you) but be sure to leave room for future growth.

3) Safety has to be first in your mind. If you focus on providing a safe environment, families will start to feel safe, and then they will stay longer (and spend more money).

4) Hire an experienced manager to oversee your operations. Someone who knows the business will be able to create systems and processes that will set up your park for success. •

Cruise ships

As cruise lines have added entertainment and recreation options aboard their ships, they have also adopted and adapted waterpark offerings. While once a pool and hot tub might suffice, now waterslides, surfing machines and play areas are becoming the norm. According to Polin, these projects really highlight the company’s design and engineering skills, and customization options, as the dynamics of the moving ship impact the ride profiles.

Polin has an extensive cruise line client roster, including:

• Carnival Cruise Lines

• MSC Cruise Line

• Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

• P&O Cruise Lines

Select 2018/2019 Polin projects

Polin opened over 200 projects in 2018, and more are planned for the coming year. Here are some highlighted installs from the last few months and several that will be opening in the near future:

• Aeon Mall (Cambodia)

• Aquatic Center (Perth, Australia)

• LetoLeto indoor waterpark (Russia) 2018

• Philadelphia Zoo – Otter Waterslide – (USA) 2018

• Splash World Theme Park – large hotel resort development with a massive waterpark on the thirteenth floor, including a double level lazy river (Malaysia) 2019

• Texas Water World (China) 2018

• Tatralandia – two family slides (Slovakia)

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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