Eric Bertch is the General Manager of Lost Island Themepark in Waterloo, IA. Having started his career as a lifeguard at Lost Island Waterpark in 1999, Eric worked his way up from checking pool chemicals to leading a team, and has served as the theme park’s general manager since the project began. Opened in 2022, Lost Island Themepark is one of the Midwest’s only themed entertainment experiences, immersing guests into a story, versus building the tallest and fastest rides like the comparable amusement parks in the region. In this interview, Eric talks about building a city, creating new IP, and employees being part of the attraction.
Building a city
“When we started this project, at one point we had over 400 different workers at the same time trying to put this together.”
Eric compared the construction of Lost Island Themepark to building a city, which is apparent of all major theme parks and many other similar attractions. They require a massive amount of infrastructure, a significant number of construction workers, and are as organizationally complex as geographic regions and municipalities.
Through these complexities, Eric shared several hurdles that the park had to overcome to reach completion. He talks about supply chain issues, weather delays, cost overages, and the COVID-19 pandemic that slowed down the progress of the park. Despite the hurdles, Lost Island Theme Park opened on June 18th, 2022; however, Eric shares that even though the park was able to open on time, it was not fully complete, meaning that construction continued even while the park was operating.
Creating new IP
“Our background is in themed entertainment, and it’s an area we felt was underserved in this part of the country.”
Intellectual property is often used as a strong driver of attendance in theme parks due to familiarity and fandom of popular brands, stories, and characters. However, rather than leveraging existing IP, Lost Island immerses guests into new stories and characters that were created in-house. This allows for more latitude in storytelling as the brand parameters for the IP are internal to Lost Island.
Eric shares that the theming that has gone into the park extends far beyond rides, and is positioned to enhance the atmosphere of the experience. This includes several Easter eggs that can be discovered throughout the park, which creates more “wow” moments for guests as they encounter unplanned experiences. These discoveries help to increase dwell time and overall spending, along with the memories that guests carry with them when they leave.
By focusing on the park’s cohesive theme of elements including fire, water, air, earth, and spirit, Eric also shares that it creates an experience that is more cost-effective than building the tallest and fastest rides, all while enhancing guest satisfaction.
Employees being part of the attraction
“If you ever want someone to learn something, it better be fun.”
Eric shares a glimpse of Lost Island’s recruitment and training process. Rather than individual interviews with the same 15 questions asked to each individual, Lost Island conducts group interviews that are able to assess a team member’s intention rather than history from their past experience – many of whom have none as they are applying for their first jobs.
In training, Eric stresses to employees that they are part of the attraction, not a wallflower who is just facilitating the experience. This has led to Lost Island’s hospitality standard being exceptionally high, and team members are regularly mentioned in online reviews. When a team member sees themselves mentioned in a positive review online, it further motivates them to continue their enthusiasm for the experience and builds momentum within the guest service standard.
To learn more about Lost Island, visit www.thelostisland.com to learn about both the theme park and the water park, and you can also download the Lost Island Adventure Guide app on Google Play or the Apple Store. To follow Eric on Twitter, check out @LostIslandChief (Disclaimer: sometimes Eric says crazy things and hopes he doesn’t offend too many people!).
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