Business Strategies: Catering to Children at Leisure Entertainment Facilities

December 19, 2011 No Comments

December 19, 2011

When it comes to catering to children at leisure entertainment facilities, being a bit different goes a long way, whether in terms of the menu, projects or programming.

On the foodservice front, novelty appears to be a big selling point. Last summer, Albuquerque, N.M.-based Albuquerque Biological Park, which encompasses the Rio Grande Zoo, Botanic Garden, Albuquerque Aquarium and Tingley Aquatic Park, introduced cotton candy served on illuminated LED cones from Glo Cone International.

The facility rang up $20,000 in cotton candy sales for the season, a fact Glo-Cone’s Gary Lauber and Annie Fedora, the park’s general manager, attributed to the novelty of the product as compared to a plain paper cotton candy cone. Some visitors, Fedora said, were not interested in entering the park; “they just wanted the cotton candy” on the colorful, light-up sticks.

Phil Tromber, of Rio Syrup Company, agreed that children are attracted by novel menu items. Rio Syrup offers many novelty-flavored syrups for sno-cones and shave ice that draw a younger crowd, including bubblegum.

Children’s taste for novelty also extends to attractions, asserted spokespersons for Empex Water Toys and AdventureGlass.  According to the Empex spokesperson, youngsters like the unusual and highly interactive nature of the company’s water play systems. An easily replicated “Watercube” design created by Empex for Happy Magic Water Park in Beijing, China, has a central Aquadek “climb and slide” feature with a variety of small slides and water events. The area is controlled by an activation bollard which, when touched, initiates a sequence of surprising water sprays and jets. Water comes up from the floor, shoots around and across from above ground water features, and dumps from above from tipping vessels. Turning a handwheel provides different water events.

As for AdventureGlass, the main draw for kids is not only the fact that its paddleboats are easier to operate, even by younger guests, but also the fact that they are not ordinary, but rather, rendered in unusual motifs, such as flamingoes, dragons and pirate ships. One theme park customer of the company formerly had regular paddleboats as well as novelty paddleboats from AdventureGlass. On one specific day, the latter’s paddleboats rented 18 times versus three times for the regular paddleboats, leading the operator to replace its traditional models with more unusual ones offered by the vendor. A leisure entertainment facility in Alabama purchased 10 pirate ship paddleboats this past spring; and the units paid for themselves by mid-summer.

Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., recently unveiled Half Dollar Holler, an area of attractions geared towards children ages 3 to 7. It includes Treetop Trail, a maze of elevated dwellings and climbing nets, among other attractions.

Leisure entertainment facilities can also apply a heavy dose of creativity to programming intended to keep children interested and entertained, and many have already taken such a step. At Santa Clarita, Lanes in Saugus, Calif., owner Tom Cristi has introduced a Saturday morning youth bowling program for children ages 5 and up. Children are grouped by ability and learn lane courtesy as well as the ins and outs of league-style bowling; participants become eligible for local, state and national championships and scholarships. Bumpers allow even inexperienced youngsters to enroll in the program. Children who sign up for a separate “Roll For $4” weekday program, which kicked off on December 5, can bowl two games each week; the price includes shoes and instruction by volunteer coaches. Each bowler receives a “Kids Klub Card” that entitles him or her to practice bowling at the facility from noon until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for $1 per game.

Similarly, the Lutz Children’s Museum, in Manchester, Conn. operates a summer camp and offers year-round classes for children ages 2 and up. Geared toward different age groups, the classes span approximately one hour and are centered around art, music or science with seasonal or holiday themed tie-ins. These, said Executive Director Bob Eckert, almost always sell out. Additionally, the museum sponsors different outdoor events, both on-premise and at nearby facilities. An on-site “Touch-A Truck” event held last summer provided kids with a chance to explore trucks from the  town fire department, the Connecticut Army National Guard, the U.S. Postal Service and others.

Meanwhile, the Delaware Museum of Natural History, in Wilmington, Del., has created “Holiday Camps” designed as an alternative for parents who would rather not leave their children at home with a caregiver when they must work or take care of other business, but school is not in session. During a sold-out “Camp Camouflage,” held this past Veteran’s Day, children ages 5 to 10 observed camouflage outdoors, created their own camouflaged “critters,” and interacted with live animals, among other activities. The seven-hour event cost $45 for museum members and $50 for members.

“Holiday Nature Camp,” a six-hour program for 5- to 10-year-olds that ran on two Saturdays prior to Christmas, featured nature-related crafts, an outdoor hike to observe animals, and a chance to explore the museum’s special “Giants: African Dinosaurs” exhibit. A five-day “Spring Break Camp” will tout a variety of activities, from learning how to care for live animals and conducting science experiments to going “behind the scenes” of the museum’s collections.

INDUSTRY NEWS

Six Flags America Announces the Appointment of a New Park President

Six Flags America has announced the appointment of Rick Howarth as its new park president. Howarth will be responsible for all park operations, strategic direction and general management duties for the 131-acre theme and waterpark, located 20 minutes from the nation’s capital.

A native of Largo, Md., Howarth began his career in the theme park industry in 1992 as a finance intern at Wild World (later Adventure World before being rebranded as Six Flags America in 1999) while studying at the University of Maryland in College Park.  Howarth has held finance positions at Wild World, Adventure World, Six Flags America, various former Six Flags parks throughout Europe, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., and the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas. In 2009, Howarth returned to Six Flags America as the park’s director of finance.

”I’m very excited to take on this new, exciting role,” said Howarth. “I look forward to building on Six Flags America’s reputation as a unique and thrilling destination for family fun as we continue to provide our guests with superior service and lasting memories.” 

Howarth, his wife Janelle, and their three daughters live in Crofton, Md., where they are members of Mid Atlantic Community Church. He enjoys playing basketball in community leagues in Anne Arundel and Howard Counties.

Howarth replaces John Winkler, who was recently appointed park president at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Mass. He begins his new position as Six Flags America prepares for its 13th season as a Six Flags-branded property and the installation of Apocalypse, the park’s eighth world-class roller coaster. This 2,900-foot steel roller coaster, which is scheduled to open May 2012, will feature two inversions and reach top speeds of 55 MPH.

Six Flags Entertainment Corporation is the world’s largest regional theme park company with 19 parks across the United States, Mexico and Canada. Six Flags Over Texas, the company’s flagship location, is celebrated its 50th anniversary season in 2011.

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