IAAPA 2001: Holiday World's Will Koch: The CoasterBuzz Interview

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Holiday World, a small family-run amusement park in Southern Indiana, has been the talk of the industry following a number of moves that made people stand up and take note that guest experience is one of the most important aspects of any day at a park. The park's two wood coasters, The Raven and The Legend are regarded as two of the best in the world. Guests are treated to unlimited amounts of soda during their stay. They've won the Golden Ticket Awards for friendliest and cleanest park. Why all the attention? We asked Holiday World president Will Koch what it takes to be one of the most respected operations in the business.

CB: Describe Holiday World before Raven was built. Why did the park decide to take on a relatively large investment for such a small park?

WK: Holiday World had been growing prior to the addition of The Raven. In 1984, we added our Frightful Falls Log Flume, and changed our name to Holiday World. In 1986, we added a Chance Falling Star that we call The Banshee. In 1990, we added an O. D. Hopkins White Water Rapids Ride. In 1993, we started on our Splashin' Safari Water Park. Prior to adding The Raven in 1995, our attendance had already grown from 100,000 (1975) to nearly 400,000 in 1994, the year before we added Raven. Since then, we've further increased our attendance to (in 2001) 627,435.

CB: Did you expect the ride to get the attention it has?

WK: The attention The Raven has received has exceeded my expectations!

CB: At what point thereafter was it obvious you had to build Legend?

WK: We decided to build Legend during IAAPA in 1998. Once we made the decision, we moved very quickly to get CCI out on site and started on a design, etc. We really like the idea of being the world capital of great wooden roller coasters.

CB: Tell me a little bit about the design process for Legend, specifically about the involvement of enthusiasts.

WK: When we contacted CCI, they did an initial site visit and we started brainstorming ideas for the ride. We had two different potential station locations, one of which is the one that was chosen. We talked with them about where generally the ride would need to go, and what terrain we could take advantage of. Then, we followed up by posting the design on our double secret Web site, and we invited enthusiasts to view the preliminary design and make comments and suggestions to improve the ride. We received over 200 e-mails, letters, and phone calls. I reviewed the suggestions and summarized them, and sat down with Denise Dinn-Larrick to review them. Many of the comments were included in the final design. Specifics include the "double up" and the full enclosure of the tunnels (that is, the tunnels have solid bottoms).

CB: What possible incentive did you have to retrofit the ride for 2002 with two train operation and new PTC's?

WK: Two trains will speed up operations and shorten lines. People are not having fun when they're standing in line. We believe that the PTC's will be a better train in the long run, and will require less maintenance. In addition, enthusiast input has been very strongly in favor of the PTC's ever since we built Legend. We hope enthusiasts will like the change.

CB: For 2002, you've decided to build a gigantic water slide. Why was that the best "next move?"

WK: We haven't done a major project in the water park since 1998. Doing a major project in the water park allows us to shift our marketing focus back to the water park for 2002. Splashin' Safari has been a huge factor in our growth since it opened in 1993. It was time.

CB: Describe your audience a little bit, both in terms of demographics and where they're coming from.

WK: We draw families. Virtually every group of guests coming in our park will have at least one child age 14 or under. Geographically, they come from Southern Indiana, Southern Illinois, and Western Kentucky.

CB: The focus of your local marketing, and the attention you get nationally, is largely focused on the family atmosphere, friendly people and cleanliness of the park. Is this the "company culture" you inspire?

WK: Our entire park organization is focused on being a great family park. We believe that we can't have the largest, tallest, or fastest rides, but that we can be the friendliest, cleanest park anywhere. This spirit pervades our culture.

CB: Would you and your family ever consider selling the park, and under what circumstances?

WK: We like the park business, and we seem to be doing pretty well at it. We're certainly not looking to do anything in the foreseeable future.

CB: Do you think the media attention to ride safety is deserved or largely overblown? What does Holiday World do to make sure safety standards are held in the highest regard?

WK: I think a lot of the media attention to safety is based on faulty data that has been blown out of proportion by the CPSC and Representative Markey (D-Mass). I don't believe that the incident rate of injuries in parks has increased dramatically in the past few years. We emphasize safety in every aspect of everything that we do. From my point of view, the big issue is walking the talk by prioritizing safety issues over other items when I need to in order to show that safety really is number one.

CB: Tell me about free soda. Why did you do it, how do you pay for it and what has the response been from the public? This is normally a high-margin item for most parks. Are you moving the income to something else or letting it go?

WK: The primary reason for free unlimited soft drinks was strategic. We wanted to do something that would set us apart from the larger, "corporate" theme parks. We believe that it has worked very well. The public has responded very positively. Park guests frequently stop me in the park and say, "Thank you for the free drinks." The year we introduced free unlimited soft drinks was also the year we added The Legend. We took the general admission price up $4.00 that year. Part of that increase was for The Legend and part was for free unlimited soft drinks. We've been very happy with the results.

CB: Finally, what do you think draws people from all over the country to tiny Santa Claus, Indiana, a place that isn't really close to any major city?

WK: I really believe deep down that there is a niche for a high quality, family-oriented, friendly, clean park like Holiday World. I believe that as long as we remain true to our identity, our mission, and our core values, that we can continue to grow and expand, and to draw more visitors to Santa Claus, Indiana. An additional, but important, component, is that I also believe that we can add quality attractions as we grow to keep our wait times at a "reasonable" level. By "reasonable," I mean reasonable by the guest's standard, not by the "corporate park" standard.

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"An additional, but important, component, is that I also believe that we can add quality attractions as we grow to keep our wait times at a "reasonable" level. By "reasonable," I mean reasonable by the guest's standard, not by the "corporate park" standard."

The more i hear the man speak the more i realize that he is perhaps the smartest man in the industry.  My hero. 

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

No question about it, he definitely knows how to run a park.
"The Peoples Elbow" or "The Spinaroonie?. Cant decide which is the most electrifying move in sports entertainment!!! LOL
That was great insight.  Overall, a very enjoyable article to read.  The problem is that I have never been to HW because when I make coaster trips, I enjoy 3 or 4 parks at a time, then come home.  Since I am not a big fan of PKI (Nothing personal, here, I'm just not), then I haven't been to HW.  Looks like a trip should be made....I heard it's incredible.
janfrederick's avatar
Woody, it's only 2-3 hours from Indiana Beach!

My only regret from this summer past was not allocating time for Holiday World. My next trip will center around coming to this park. I can't wait!

"I'll bet that thing hits 5 Gs going through that loop.....faaar ooouut!"

i agree, this guy knows how to run a park!
Thanks for the interview! Great selection of questions, all with great answers. Can't wait for SRM!
403 Laps
Greeat idea asking enthusiasts(THE REAL PEOPLE) about what they wanted in a new woodie, new ideas made Legend a HIT!  Will Koch, keep on running that park like a pro!
Nothing but respect for Mr. Koch here!
I think that because of his leadership and foresight, many of us can say that Holiday World can hold its own with any park in the nation or world for that matter.
I have never been to the park, but if I ever find myself anywhere near Indiana, I know where I'm headed!
Thanks for the interview Jeff!

Knotts 2002...ready when you are!

What a class act the Kochs are and really the entire staff of HW. Some corporations could learn a thing or twelve from Mr Koch and his great staff.

Jim W

SRM '02 in less than six and a half months

Thanks for the interview! And for those of you that haven't been to the park, I STRONGLY urge you to make it a part of your next trip through the great Hoosier State. Your way of looking at the entire amusement park experience will forever be changed, leaving you shaking your head at those other places. EVERY person at HW cares, and I have yet to find a better overall park experience (besides Disney). Whether it's a frightening chase with the Headless Horseman, a cheerful greeting from one of the park's owners, or Kringle's fudge, you will never be the same!
Moxie: Not quite Cola, not quite Root Beer, not quite Asphalt!
Model coasters and rides: www.angelfire.com/oh4/tk173
Is somebody from SF reading this?  They could learn a few things from this guy.
"If somebody throws a rock and knocks a man off his donkey, do we say that he's stoned off his ass?
I also have to strongly echo the comments above, for those you that haven't been to HW before *get to SRM 2002!!!* this is one of *the* coaster events of the year for a reason folks! The addition of PTC's to the best wooden coaster around (IMHO at least) will make already short lines even better and you can bet that HW will be running two trains unless there is *no* line, at all, period. The Koch family have done a spectacular job turning HW into a premiere enthusiast destination over the past few years and now with neighbouring park Indiana Beach also installing yet another CCI creation next year I think everyone will have plenty of reasons to visit Indiana next year, the first time for some, a return visit for many others but a fun time for all!

SRM 2001: No Lights! No Brakes! No Bell?!

"In 1986, we added a Chance Falling Star that we call The Banshee."

Banshee... lol

Tommy Penner - GTTP Regular, Coaster Buzz Lurker...
http://coolforce.cjb.net - The Most Important Web Site... EVER.
"When this baby hits 88 MPH, you're gonna see some serious $***."

I can't explain it but when you visit this park you feel like your at a family outing.  Everyone is drinking soda and having a good time!  I see that many parks have no clue to how to make a visit enjoyable on the buisness end and can only rely on building bigger, faster longer rides that are not neccessaraly the best or even close to it of their type.

Build quality, Make it affordable and enjoyable and visitors will come back again and again.

Three cheers for the Koch's (Cook).

Chuck, telling everyone he knows in Cincinnati about the fun park only three hours away!


I know this is an older interview, but I dont care anyway. This man is a HUGE great in the amusement park industry! He knows how to run a theme park. It is great to see a park that truely and I mean TRUELY puts its guests as the number one! Not all these new rollercoasters and MONEY MONEY MONEY like SF. This park knows how to treat its guests with sincereity and downright homefelt care :-)! Congrats Mr. Will Koch on a job that is excellently done and I hope to visit HW in the near future! :-). Keep going great with Holiday World, you are doing a great job!

*** This post was edited by SaxPlayer on 6/13/2002. ***

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