Supplement Feature - February 2014
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Fresher Waters

Boost Attendance With Aquatic Play Features

By Wynn St. Clair

For more than a decade, the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, Texas, has worn the title of World's Best Water Park with pride. The 70-acre park features more than 100 slides and attractions, making it a popular tourist attraction and the unrivaled darling of travel writers worldwide.

The family-owned facility's managers, however, know they cannot rest on their laurels alone. If they want patrons to come back summer after summer, they must find ways to add new attractions and features to keep the park exciting and fresh.

As part of that philosophy, the Schlitterbahn opened a new park area called Tubenbach, which included a whirlpool river and a children's area complete with a butterfly slide and several body slides. The area also features the Boogie Bay Heated Pool, a secluded hot spring that offers a faux tropical setting where adults can enjoy a cold beverage.

The Tubenbach opened during the 2012 season to rave reviews. Patrons loved it and amusement-industry critics drooled over it, thereby securing the World's Best Water Park crown from Amusement Today for the Schlitterbahn for the 15th consecutive year.

"Not only do we feel that this is the most thrilling new collection of attractions to open (in 2012) in Texas, but we are also honored to be recognized as the world's largest and best waterpark," said Darren Hill, Schlitterbahn New Braunfels' general manager.

Of course, most aquatic managers don't have the Schlitterbahn's square footage or budget. But whether you're running a major tourist attraction or a local facility, the point remains the same: Aquatic centers cannot stand pat if they want to remain successful.

"You don't need to rebuild the Taj Mahal," aquatic park consultant Melanie Landress said. "Any feature that kids can control or spray at their friends will get lots of enjoyment and use. As long as you keep things new and exciting, the attendance will follow."

And that's a good thing because the stakes—as well as the North American public's interest—have never been higher.

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 301 million swimming visits taken by people over the age of 6. Swimming remains the country's fourth most popular recreational activity and the top recreational choice for children and teens, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show 36 percent of children ages 7 to 17 swim at least six times per year. An estimated 15 percent of adults do the same.

And they're all spoiled for choice, with 309,000 public swimming pools and aquatic centers competing for their attention and patronage.

In an effort to maintain the public's fancy, most recreation managers transformed their pools into modern aquatic facilities with fancy bells and whistles nearly a decade ago. But the pressure to maintain a lively, engaging facility remains. In fact, the need to keep facilities feeling fresh and new may be greater than ever.

The majority of aquatic managers already know that a slide and zero-depth entry, features that undoubtedly helped break attendance records just a few years ago, aren't enough to lure swimmers these days. The 21st-century aquatic consumers are a savvy group that simply doesn't settle for the old-fashioned—or even the 1990s—swimming experience. They want to make waves and spray their friends. They want climb, crawl and catapult.

In short, they want to be entertained. Fortunately, the aquatic industry offers several ways to enliven any aquatic programming without killing the budget. With an array of inflatables and easy-to-add splash play elements, there are countless ways to increase attendance and heighten the aquatic experience.