Feature Article - September 2011
Find a printable version here

Riding the Wave

Keeping Waterparks Afloat in a Choppy Economy

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Economic Impact

You're probably extremely in touch with the economy's impact on your own operations, but here's a look at what some others are reporting. Whatever is happening, you're not alone!

Jessica Steinberg, Magic Waters Waterpark, Rockford, Ill.: "The economy has definitely made a big impact on our revenue stream. Over the past three years, we've seen decreases in revenue, particularly for groups. We still have organizations and businesses that are coming to the waterpark, but maybe in the past they used to come five or seven times a season. Now they've cut their budget and only come once or twice. We've also seen a decrease in businesses able to provide private events for employees. Or some of them are still doing private events, but they cut something out, like the catering."

Bruce Verink, The Falls, Cedar Falls, Iowa: "The economy here in Iowa really hasn't had a negative effect on our business per se. We still have lots of people coming here to vacation. At our recent swim meet I saw about 30 out-of-state cars in the parking lot."

Melinda Kempfer, Water Technology Inc., Beaver Dam, Wis.: "The economy is bad in the sense that there are a lot of stopped projects, but it's good in the sense that everybody's wallet's a little thinner. [People may not] have $200 a night for a resort or $25 a head for commercial waterpark, but when municipal waterparks start operating like commercial centers, they can attract people who want to do something fun. You can capitalize on that part of the market. Everyone is looking for affordable family entertainment."

More on Marketing

In addition to making sure your community knows all the good stuff you have to offer, you'll maximize your marketing power when you get a firm grasp on just who your community is, and when you use social media tools to create a community online.

There's another waterpark in the Cedar Falls metro area, according to The Falls' Verink. "It's a great facility," he said. "I take my own family there once a season." But, that's the difference: once a season. That park may be a spectacular destination, worthy of a whole day and perhaps even some planning ahead, but The Falls wants to be a more frequent place for customers to visit. "We realize our niche is not to be a big, commercial waterpark. We're meant to be a facility where you come four or five times a week—or even twice a day," he said.

And that knowledge is a great guide for Verink when it comes to everything from ticket pricing to activity planning. It costs much less to get into The Falls than the other park, and they sell a lot of season passes. They focus most of their marketing on the local community, but that doesn't mean word-of-mouth (the best marketing of all!) and events like the swim meet they host don't attract visitors from farther afield. "I got a call yesterday from a camp about 90 miles away, and they were coming," Verink said. "We've gotten a lot of press from the off-the-wall type programs we run. When the swim meet was here, the press ate that up."

Another way to know your audience? Talk to them. "If you build it they will come may work for baseball fields, but not this," Kempfer said. "You can have the greatest rides and neatest, most colorful stuff, but if you don't cater to your audience…"