Feature Article - September 2011
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Riding the Wave

Keeping Waterparks Afloat in a Choppy Economy

By Jessica Royer Ocken

How to Sell It

Whatever you're able to renovate, improve or add to your facility, be sure you let your users and would-be users know about it. Have a program or activity coming up? Get the word out in advance!

"We've designed a lot of UV water systems in the past years, and a big factor is advertising and being able to tell community that you have the system in place to help prevent illnesses," said Water's Edge's Bartley. "A lot of UV systems are added for public relations."

As part of its tube-slide renovation project, the management at Magic Waters Waterpark held a naming contest and invited customers to get involved. The winner? Paradise Pipeline, which fits perfectly with the park's tiki theme. "Do your refurbs in a way that unveils something new and exciting and adds marketing buzz," Steinberg said.

Partnering with other groups and organizations in your community can also generate interest, as well as accomplish tasks that might be too expensive on your own. "If you can't afford landscaping, call the master gardeners group [in your community] and have them come in," Kempfer said. "Or talk to a greenhouse and see if they'll provide and maintain some flowers in exchange for a sign advertising their business." Then be sure they also put up a sign at their location urging the public to check out their work at your waterpark.

Having a presence at other community events can also be a boost. "Partner with local celebrations [so when people] buy a ticket, they get a free swim," suggested Bartley. If they enjoy your waterpark for free, they just might come back.

Easy Upgrades

If you are in a position to actually add something—which Randy Mendioroz with the Aquatic Design Group in Carlsbad, Calif., said you should do at least every four years—you can still do it in a budget-friendly way. Prepare to become the most resourceful version of yourself.

Your goal is to attract more guests, keep them interested longer, and encourage them to return. So your first consideration might be whether you're reaching all ages and all aspects of your community. "From a philosophical standpoint, it's multigenerational design," Kempfer said. "Grandparents, teens and tweens, kids—gotta keep everybody happy."

Putting in a "sprayground" or splash pad that includes plenty of interactive water toys and fountains, but little or no actual standing water, will definitely please moms and tots (as well as save you staffing dollars because without standing water, no lifeguard is required). The latest water play areas include toys and sprays with special universal mounts so they can be "hot-swapped" from place to place, Mendioroz explained.

His firm recently did a project for a municipal client that wanted five different splash pads in various places around the city. "We designed each fairly similarly with the same number of elements, so now they can remove the sprays and pole elements and rotate them from one park to another like musical chairs," he said. "You get a fresh set of toys in each park." If you have a sprayground more than five years old, it may have toys not built with this interchangeable system. "It would be worth the investment to upgrade to swappable anchors," Mendioroz said. "It gives you a lot of flexibility."

Adding additional shade structures and providing more lounge chairs can be a great way to make your visitors more comfortable and more likely to stay put. WTI's Nigrelli even suggested putting some benches in the water to create a "social pool." Making sure there are plenty of in-park food options is another great way to encourage customers to hang around. The pros at WTI also suggest free wi-fi access, dry play areas, and spectator stations for those just interested in watching the action as ways to lengthen visits.