Feature Article - September 2013
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Trickle Down Theory

Boosting Waterpark Fun to Grow Revenues, Build Community

By Rick Dandes

Smaller waterparks, both privately run and those operated and funded by local municipalities, are finding new and creative ways to survive, and even prosper, within tight budget constraints. In fact, many municipalities now understand that their waterparks are not only beneficial to the well-being of residents, but can also be a financial asset to the bottom line of their annual parks and recreation budgets.

In the past, the private-sector mega-sized waterparks and the municipal waterparks were vastly different, said Justin Caron, a director of business development and marketing and project manager with Aquatic Design Group, based in Carlsbad, Calif. "In smaller parks," he said, "you'd have a large rectangular pool, a baby pool for area residents and an attraction or two, some slides, a wet play area maybe, but nothing very big."

Users of the park would come from the surrounding vicinity, and nowhere else; attendance and revenues were flat—not an ideal situation when maintenance costs and the basics of running an operation keep rising. In order to keep the water running at their waterparks, operators had to find ways to increase attendance.

"And so they have," Caron remarked. "The biggest trend I've seen over the last five years has been for smaller, municipally run waterparks to go bigger and bigger in what they offer their patrons, while still not competing directly against the big, private-sector parks."

To some degree, Caron noted, municipal waterparks are keeping pace with privately owned waterparks through theming and the mix of attractions; for example, offering the latest ride innovations like surf simulator rides, water coasters, bowl rides and rapid rivers. "No doubt," he said, "many small town waterparks work under incredibly tight budgetary considerations, but they are doing a lot of pretty cool things for recreation within their communities."

And all at affordable prices. Smaller waterparks get a price point of $10, maybe $20 a head to get in versus the large privately run waterparks, which cost upwards of $40 to $60 a person to enter. "What that does," Caron said, "is allow families to spend a little bit less money than they would for a normal day at a Six Flags style waterpark. Smaller parks have been able to keep their prices down by not having as many of the larger slide towers. Instead of having 15 different slides, you'll have three different slide towers with six different slides. We're seeing more and more things like Flowriders that reach out to the harder-to-entertain kids, the 12-to-18-year-olds who feel like they are stuck with their families for a day and are bored. Now they have a little bit more of those things they enjoy doing. They can see and be seen—there's more social interaction."

Smaller waterparks, both privately run and those operated and funded by local municipalities, are finding new and creative ways to survive, and even prosper, within tight budget constraints.

Smaller parks are finding ways to afford adding exciting slides, lazy rivers (spiced up rivers with small waves and rapids), specialty pools with rock climbing and other activities and bigger tower structures with large tipping buckets.

A somewhat recent trend from an attraction standpoint is the uphill water coaster, either using jets of water or linear induction motors as the conveyance up the hills, added Steve Loose, Water World general manager, Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District in Federal Heights, Colo. "We installed our first hydro magnetic coaster ride in 2012, and it is a big hit."

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