Feature Article - September 2004
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Water 101

Tips for squeezing every last drop of success out of your waterpark and splash play area

By Stacy St. Clair

Lessons from the deep

Some parks make a bigger splash than others. The Travel Channel combed the country looking for the greatest thrills, the highest waves and the best rides. And while not every facility can be a world-class park, there are ways to learn from and emulate their success.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark
(New Braunfels, Texas)

The park boasts more than 3 miles of tubing adventures, seven children's water playgrounds, 17 slides, three uphill water coasters and the world's first surfing machine. Schlitterbahn opened in 1979 with just four slides and has grown into one of the world's largest parks. It offers 200 family resorts accommodations, ranging from vacation homes to motel rooms.

COOL TIP: Connect to your customers and offer handy info to enhance their visits, before they even arrive. The Schlitterbahn Web site provides convenient traffic and construction alerts to patrons.

Disney's Blizzard Beach (Orlando)

Mickey Mouse really got it right with this theme park. According to Disney legend, a freak winter storm blanketed the area with snow and prompted Florida's first ski resort. When the snow eventually melted, the area was covered with water and slush. Disney had no choice but to convert the toboggan runs and slalom courses into water slides. This, of course, led to the creation of the aptly named attractions Slushgusher and Teamboat Springs, among others.

COOL TIP: A unique theme and creative back story can add value and help attract patrons. Blizzard Beach even carries its snow theme throughout its concession stand, Avalunch.

Raging Waters (San Jose, Calif.)

Do you know the way to San Jose? If you do, you'll be able to get yourself to one of the country's coolest parks. With more than 23 acres of slides and attractions, the park has everything a waterpark aficionado could want. One of its most popular attractions is the Dragon's Den, where patrons catapult through darkness, plunge into the dragon's mist and disappear again.

COOL TIP: Maximize your selling efficiency. Raging Waters sells season passes online, offering discounts and convenience to Web surfers.

  Beyond the rides

Without question, patrons come to waterparks and aquatic centers looking for big thrills. They want fast rides, giant drops and big splashes. The most successful parks, however, look beyond the attractions. They realize there is money to be made beyond the admission price. Here are some ways to glean more dollars from your park.

Birthday parties: Show us a waterpark without a birthday package, and we'll show you a park that's losing money. The idea is simple: For a set price, partygoers receive admission to the park, lunch and drinks. Some packages offer a cake and party favors for an additional charge. The most successful parks have special venues for the party, preferably a highly visible one that serves as an advertisement for the service.

Hotel deals: Many parks offer discount tickets when their patrons stay overnight at a local hotel. The deal, while not hard to arrange with a nearby establishment, encourages patrons to spend the day at the park, stay at the hotel and return for a second day. It also may make your facility eligible for tourism grants.

Gift shop: For a lot of kids, a waterpark visit will be the highlight of their summer. Give them a way to remember it. Even municipally owned waterparks have found financial success in the gift-shop business, selling everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs. Others act as mini-convenience stores selling items such as sunscreen, disposable cameras, swim diapers and anti-chlorine shampoos.

Concession stands: The latest trend in food-service operations is to offer high-quality food to patrons and ask them to pay a bit more in return. Old-school philosophy, for example, suggested patrons would never pay more than $1 for coffee. Starbucks has changed all that. These days, people don't blink when asked to pay $4 for specialty coffee. Consider offering healthier fare like fresh salads and grilled fish. Be sure to have some low-carb options, too, for all your patrons on the Atkins and South Beach diets.

Entertainment stages: Water isn't always enough to keep patrons amused today. Several facilities now have entertainment stages where bands and other acts perform. At Noah's Ark Waterpark in the Wisconsin Dells, Wis., costumed water animals put on a choreographed show. It also has all-day karaoke to keep the masses entertained.