Guest Column - July 2014
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Green Light? Good to Go!
Find Smarter Solutions to Manage Riders

By Samuel E. Baker

The projections for growth in square footage for waterparks in 2014 is the best it has been since the "Great Recession." So writes David Sangree in Hotel News Now, in an article titled "Indoor, Outdoor Waterparks Show Growth in 2014." With continuing announcements of new parks and park upgrades, it appears the projections should be thrilling for park operators and owners. Add to that new and improved rides that are higher, faster, scarier, steeper, loopier and generally more thrilling, plus a dedicated cadre of thrill-seekers with way too much demand for adrenaline, and you have a sure prescription for success!

The World Waterpark Association (WWA) estimates in excess of 82.5 million guests will visit waterparks this year. Tracking right along with the square footage increase for parks is the square footage increase for park visitors, a reality all too evident in the world we live in. Estimates vary regionally, but at least one calculation says that over 1 billion world citizens are considered overweight, and that cuts across all age groups. One estimate says at least 64 percent of the U.S. population is overweight. Consequently, waterparks must find guest-friendly, non-confrontational ways to accommodate the increased weight of their visitors.

Waterpark ride manufacturers are well aware of the challenge , so their solution is to supply park operators with recommended weight limits, especially for the most thrilling rides, like one where the rider "free falls at 70 degrees, speeding at 26 feet per second into a looping 240-foot long translucent waterslide," or any of many variations on that theme. The concern is even more prevalent for multiple-person rides, as well as for underweight riders. It is all great fun until the ride goes too fast, too high in the funnel or the underweight kid comes blasting out of a tube and flying 6 feet through the air before falling into a slide.

For many parks, the solution for all this fun and excitement is to measure the height of riders and put up detailed signs, as if any one goes to a waterpark to read signs. They may even ask harried attendants to size up riders and politely suggest that the individual does not meet weight requirements, or that a group of four or six riders is over the posted weight limit. The potential for confrontation seems to increase with the "size," not height, of the problem.

But, every one is familiar with stoplights—red means stop, and green means you are good to go. So, a light system goes a long way to alleviate direct confrontation. Who argues with a red light, especially when it is for their own safety? Insurance carriers and risk management companies are delighted with these solutions, as are some OSHA and state health boards.

Many parks are taking manufacturers' weight limits seriously. Consequently they have decided the best way to deal with weight limits is to actually measure "weight."

The scenario goes something like this: "Hey, Wal-Mart sells scales. Let's get one there." "No, let's go to the farm store and get one for cows." "How about one of those loading dock scales?" "We'll block the readout so only the attendant can see it—that way we won't embarrass the guests."

A blocked readout may sound like a plan, but realistically it is generally not convenient or practical. A good system avoids the use of a readout and uses a light system to eliminate attendant and guest anxiety and embarrassment. Clearly, it is important to avoid possible confrontations or challenges concerning actual weights.

The stories of ingenuity in weighing visitors are impressive if not somewhat novel. One park manager bought materials to "make a scale" at a cost of $1,500. It worked great for almost a year, then rust and corrosion took over and it didn't work. Undaunted, he went out and bought a similar setup for another $1,500. At least it wasn't such a big surprise when that setup only lasted a year.