Feature Article - September 2009
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Sink or Swim

How Waterparks Are Surfing the Economic Waves

By Dawn Klingensmith

Last year when the economy plunged, it seemed at first that waterparks would surf through the downturn—and perhaps even benefit from it. Budget-minded families bought into the "staycation" concept, so instead of trips to Disneyworld and other far-off destinations, they stuck closer to home. Regional "destination waterparks" within driving distance offered a cheaper getaway.

It wasn't long, though, before waterparks felt the effects of the economy. Delayed construction starts, bankruptcies, park closings and other indicators show that the industry is not, in fact, surfing through the downturn.

Yet waterparks are still "hanging ten," in a manner of speaking. Quenching the teen demographic's thirst for "extreme" attractions, the latest waterpark craze is the surfing simulator, also called a stationary or artificial wave generator, or a "surf machine." Other industry trends include investing heavily in "dry" attractions, amenities and activities to lengthen guests' stay times; creating park-specific brands through theming; and implementing and publicizing conservation efforts.

In addition, while the standalone outdoor waterpark concept is still going, indoor waterparks attached to hotels and sometimes convention centers have been rising to prominence. However, waterparks have begun popping up everywhere, including timeshare properties, ski resorts, casinos and even on shopping mall rooftops and cruise ships. One manufacturer of water play features has created a line specifically for rooftop use in the shopping mall sector. And the Royal Caribbean International cruise line, aside from having waterparks on some of its ships, also features the wildly popular surf simulators.

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