Feature Article - September 2014
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Riding the Wave of Success

Waterparks Find New & Creative Ways to Stay Afloat

By Kelli Ra Anderson

After almost 30 years as a waterpark attraction outside Houston, the amusement park that first began as a dry park, Hanna-Barbera Land, had begun to show its age. The time had come to forgo the occasional nip and tuck of an added new ride here or a new discount there, and to consider a serious makeover to keep the crowds coming. This summer, the park enjoyed its debut as Wet n Wild Splash Town, a reinvented, rebranded multi-million dollar attraction in Spring, Texas.

Of course, attracting more patrons with dazzling thrills and wetter spills after a generous injection of capital isn't the only way to increase revenue. It's also about addressing ways to design, manage staff and to create amenities and convenience that will keep them staying longer. It takes planning, creative ideas and listening carefully to patrons' concerns. These days, with families looking for more affordable entertainment and convenience than ever before, waterparks have to do a lot more than install the latest ride.

"People are sticking closer to home for vacations and sometimes don't leave home but spend three days out enjoying a favorite theme park," said Aleatha Ezra, director of park member development of the World Waterpark Association about a staycation trend. "And making less of an indent on their budget, I think operators have been doing a good job of listening to people's needs and finding different ways to make adjustments."

By giving options to do picnics and parties, offering discounts, bundling package deals or adding cabanas so larger groups can have private gatherings, waterparks are doing more than ever to help ensure patrons want to stay longer and take advantage of their offerings.

At the Copa, Copacabana…

Certainly, the longer a group stays at a park, the more money they are likely to spend, so it pays to keep them comfortable and happy.

"Definitely the rides and slides keep them around longer, but more than a couple of hours can be rough," admitted Lou Cirigliano, director of operations at Casino Beach Pier LLC in Seaside Heights, N.J. "But if we give them the ability to enjoy themselves longer, that's key. Whatever we can do to make their experience more convenient and more fun, that's our goal."

One of the ways Casino Beach Pier entices guests to linger longer is with very popular cabana rentals, where guests can relax and get out of the way of the park's hustle and bustle. Perhaps no other amenity says "comfort" and "convenience" quite like a cabana, and its siren call to families and large parties is undeniable.

"Cabanas are inexpensive compared to adding new $4.5 million rides, and not everyone realizes how popular they are," said John Gannon, general manager of Zoombezi Bay, of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio. "We now have 29 cabanas and they are a key amenity. Ours are sold out every weekend and most weekdays," he said, attributing their appeal to features like overhead fans, a refrigerator stocked with beverages, a safe for valuables and, of course, a lot of shade.

Certainly, the longer a group stays at a park, the more money they are likely to spend, so it pays to keep them comfortable and happy. Some high-end cabanas feature such luxuries as flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning and even personal staff to fetch food from concessions or to wait in line for a ride so Johnny doesn't have to. But even if it is only to offer some shade and a "home base" to which kids and teens can return while adults enjoy a little private peace and quiet, cabanas definitely enable guests to enjoy their longer hours at the park.