Supplement Feature - October 2017
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Riding the New Waves

Advances in Waterpark Design & Technology

By Rick Dandes

As popular and widespread as waterparks are now in the United States and around the world, owners and operators know they have to keep up with the latest industry trends and technologies in order to keep regular guests returning while finding new ones.

But the competition for guests wasn't always so tough. The first park didn't open its doors until the 1960s, though individual slides and wet rides date back to the 1940s. The latest figures, according to the trade group World Waterpark Association, paint a different picture. The WWA estimates that about 1,300 waterparks operated in North America in 2016, up about 30 percent from a decade ago. Those parks attracted around 85 million people in 2015, compared to approximately 73 million in 2004. A growing segment of the industry has been municipal-run waterparks, as cities and counties look to boost revenue over and above what their flat-water pools can deliver.

What's driving all that growth? One answer, said Aleatha Ezra, WWA director of park member development, could be that today's designers can create whatever type of attraction they can imagine.

"Compare these new rides with what the industry first offered," she said. In the past, waterparks built slides on a tower or a hill. Guests climbed to the top and slid down to the bottom. Some of the rides might have included a serpentine path or a speed path, but guests basically were still restricted to simply sliding from the top to the bottom of the slide. Today, technology allows slides to follow any path imaginable. Ride designers have created technology that allows them to move riders up and down the slide path so they're not limited to simply using the momentum derived in the past from starting out at the highest point on the ride.

Ride designers are using similar technology to create oscillating rides and bowl rides. In oscillating rides, guests are propelled from one side of the ride to the other on a flat surface that's been bent into a U shape. In bowl rides, guests slide around inside a funnel-shaped bowl before dropping down into a splash pool or run-out chute.

Trends Driving Growth

Four trends continue to dominate interest in waterparks around the world, said Sohret Pakis, marketing manager of Polin Waterparks in Kocaeli, Turkey. "They are theming, ride design, engineering and capacity."

Theming, she said, is not going away, as the industry continues to focus on creating stories and including their attractions as part of those stories.

"Similarly, ride designs and the engineering of large, thrilling attractions will never go out of favor because people will never tire of discovering a new ride that gives them the huge adrenaline rush that makes their hearts pound," she added. "And, of course, capacity is always critical; parks need rides that offer high capacity to keep queues moving and keep guests from getting bored."

But none of these trends is as important as the growing interest that Pakis has seen in technology integration. Waterpark designers need to include technology as critical aspects of their ride designs—technology that adds visual and sound effects to the experience.

"But we're not talking about basic technology add-ons," she said. "What we're seeing is a rising tide in gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality, along with social-media integration."

The goal is to integrate interactivity into the waterpark experience to deliver unique experiences for waterpark guests, Pakis said. These offerings are helping to create completely new aquatic attractions while simultaneously attracting a wider audience of guests to aquatic-attraction facilities.

Anything new is going to get guests' attention and keep them interested in visiting parks, Pakis added. "That's why we believe so strongly in new integrated technologies."

Pakis said her company is being strategic in the development of new concepts and technologies, and suggests it's best to combine the experience of skilled research and development engineers with those of other critical sectors, so as to be on the cusp of the industry's most unique gaming, interactive and technology-integrated products.

"There's no better way than that to keep guests coming back to your park again and again than to offer attractions that combine their favorite recreational interests." Pakis said.

At waterparks they design and build, Pakis explained, "We've already begun to introduce and install some of these new offerings," such as a new gaming concept that involves an interactive water battle with animated competitors in a beach-bungalow-style cabin. "We've got two versions—one uses 3-D technology, and the other incorporates virtual-reality technology to let guests get fully involved in the game play." The first version of the 3-D experience debuted recently at Aquafantasy Waterpark in Selçuk, İzmir, Turkey. "We're excited to see installations of the VR version being introduced soon," Pakis said.