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There are very few Belgians who have never paid a visit to either the Antwerp ZOO, ZOO Planckendael or the Queen Elisabeth Hall. These are the jewels in the crown of the KMDA, the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp.


ICT Manager Kristof Van Bouwel tells the unique story of the organisation’s origins.

This year, in 2018, the Antwerp ZOO celebrates its 175th birthday. Today, the zoo is a big tourist attraction. It receives over 1 million visitors a year. But that used to be different, Kristof explains: “At first, the KMDA was an exclusive club for the local bourgeoisie. Entrance to the zoo cost 1 Belgian franc, the daily salary of a blue-collar worker at that time. So it was mostly the KMDA’s own members and some other happy few who came to stroll around the zoo.”

At that time, the Antwerp Zoo Society already had its own event venue as well. This, of course, had little to do with animals. It was just another outlet to entertain the club’s members. The Queen Elisabeth Hall was built in 1960, at the exact same location of the KMDA’s very first venue. The current hall is its successor, constructed in 2016.

Refocusing on animals and nature

Later on, animals became center-stage again. When in 1956 a baroness wanted to sell a large domain in Mechelen, the KMDA did not have to think twice. It was just looking for more space to be able to breed animals, and ZOO Planckendael was born!

Apart from all that, the organisation also manages the reptile zoo in Blankenberge (ZOO Serpentarium), it undertakes nature conservation in the De Zegge reserve, and it has its own centre for scientific research. The KMDA is a non-profit organisation that thinks and acts very much like a for-profit one. It wants to make money to be able to invest that money in animal welfare, scientific research and nature conversation.

Park versus garden

In a way, a visit to the Antwerp ZOO or ZOO Planckendael also helps to protect rare plant species and finances international research projects. Pretty cool, huh? But how do you choose between a trip to Antwerp and one to Mechelen?

Kristof points out the differences: “We call Planckendael a park. There is more room for kids to run around and play. For a full immersive experience, I think this is where you need to go. Antwerp is more of a beautiful, stately garden than it is a park. It is a green lung in the middle of the city, but even the grass lawns are classified as heritage areas. Then again, these lawns boast an impressive art collection. A whole lot of visitors prefer Antwerp because of its sculptures.”

Perfect match

Through his role as the organisation’s ICT Manager, Kristof is involved in basically all kinds of activities of the KMDA. He is responsible for the security cameras in the zoos, the dedicated software and hardware for the research centre, you name it. At the end of 2017, he was asked to come up with a solution for the music needs of all restaurants, shops and venues his employer manages.

Kristof: “We used to play MP3 files in the restaurants of the zoos. Employees weren’t too thrilled about this approach, because it resulted in them listening to the same songs over and over again. I wanted our new solution to accomplish 3 things: avoid repetition for my colleagues, allow for on-the-spot changes, and be fully compliant with any kind of legislation that has to do with commercial music.”

“I discovered Tunify on the website of Sabam, the Belgian Association of Authors, Composers and Publishers. I requested a demo and was convinced right away. Also, Tunify proved to be compatible with our Sonos speakers. We did not have to make any changes to our hardware. That was a nice bonus.”

The moods and emotions in Tunify make it so easy to find the right music for every venue and every occasion. It only takes us one click.

Kristof Van Bouwel - ICT Manager - KMDA

Today, the Tunify app is used differently in different locations. KMDA employees browse through Tunify categories to find fitting music. Kristof: “Our theme restaurant Savanne now uses an extensive playlist of cheerful lounge. At the Grand Café Flamingo, vibrant jazz prevails.”

In the Elisabeth Center Antwerp, the home of the Queen Elisabeth Hall and several more event venues, employees rely on Tunify’s moods and emotions. “These make it so easy to find the right music for every venue and every occasion. It only takes us one click, whether we are hosting a corporate conference or a family reunion”, Kristof explains.

Tunify killed the radio star?

All the music you hear nowadays in the zoos of Antwerp and Mechelen comes from Tunify channels and playlists. Visitors really appreciate this, according to Kristof: “We have a lot of frequent visitors who eat at our restaurants regularly. They are letting us know that the new music is really setting the right mood in the theme restaurants.”

This makes a difference indeed. Employees used to grow so tired of the same old playlist that they simply switched on a radio station like Studio Brussel. Today, all radio’s have disappeared from the restaurants, bars and shops.

Still, not everyone is enjoying Tunify in the zoo just yet. We are sorry, animals. A number of animal lodges have kept their own stereo systems. Tunify would not be a good replacement, because these systems are playing sound effects, not songs. And there is no channel called ‘Soothing giraffe sounds’ in Tunify. Not yet!

Fancy a trip by now? Head out to the Antwerp ZOO, ZOO Planckendael or the Queen Elisabeth Hall!

Also looking for music to set the right mood in your business?

Register now for a 7 day free trial of Tunify!