Waterpark Executives:
Parks Aren’t Taking a Bath in the Current Economy

The 2010 season came to a close in September for many outdoor waterparks. As I look back over this year’s Waves articles, I have seen some interesting trends emerging. We continue to see that this industry, unlike many others, is somewhat recession resistant. Many entertainment facilities, including waterparks, have actually seen an increase in attendance over the past few years or no change at all. They have been increasing their presence within the local community and finding success in reaching their local audience through new social media outlets. Many water parks have used this time to refurbish their facilities or to add new attractions anticipating a continued growth in attendance when the economy starts to rebound. My recent interview with two of the countries larger water parks seems to support these observations. Attendance is staying constant, or even increasing in some instances, and new trends in marketing are starting to take hold. Parks are increasing their presence locally and offering more for the residents and their guests.

Participating in this interview were Larry Edgmon of White Water Bay and Keith Kinney of Splashtown San Antonio. White Water Bay is the largest waterpark in Oklahoma, and is owned by Parc Management, which is headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. Edgmon is the general manager of both White Water Bay and Frontier City Amusement Park and has been with Oklahoma City parks for over 25 years. Kinney is the owner and president of Splashtown San Antonio, Texas, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.
Seninsky: What were some of the trends you noticed this season in overall attendance at your park?
Kinney: We haven’t seen any real changes in attendance from prior years. Our attendance has been consistent even in today’s challenging economy.
Edgmon: Attendance at White Water Bay was up this season by 12 percent. This is the second year in a row that attendance has increased. I believe that the economy has contributed to more families staying close to home. Our demographic representation has always been family based – this has not changed in the past year. Though I believe we are seeing an increase in attendance due to the “staycation” trend that has emerged due to the economic conditions.
Seninsky: Are you anticipating any changes for 2011 based on the trends seen in 2010?
Edgmon: There are plans to do more festivals and local events utilizing local entertainment including team mascots like the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder’s, “Rumble” the Bison. We also participate in several local non-profit events like the Special Olympics. Not only does it allow us to support a great cause in our community, but keeps our name in the marketplace during the off-season. In February, we fill the pool and enlist local personalities from the radio, law enforcement, fire department, and more, to take an icy plunge to raise money for charity. We have an established “Parc Foundation” to raise money that goes back to our community. Another event we host is “Wacky Water Wahoo” where young schoolchildren from a lower socio-economic base get to visit the park a few days before it opens to the public.
Seninsky: Did the park add any new attractions in 2010 and do you have plans for any additions in 2011?
Kinney: In 2010, we added some simple basketball goals in our activity pool, which has been very popular with all of our guests. Parents and children interacted throughout the summer. It was a very inexpensive addition that produced excellent guest satisfaction. We also added seven private cabanas this year, renting them out for $50 during the week and $75 on the weekends. We were pleasantly surprised by the positive comments and the many days in which the cabanas were all rented. We do plan on adding more cabanas in 2011.
Edgmon: We did not add any new attractions in 2010, but we did give the park a face-lift by gel coating the slides and refurbishing the entire facility. We have had positive feedback from many of our guests who have been coming to the park for years. We are just now in the planning stages for 2011 and nothing has been determined at this time.
Seninsky: What are your marketing strategies and have you made any changes due to changing trends and the economy? Are you utilizing social media to reach your guests?
Kinney: The one marketing strategy that changed significantly for 2010 was the addition of General Admission and Season Pass Gift Cards in our region. The gift cards were distributed in our market by InComm, based out of Atlanta, Ga. I was pleased with the implementation of the program and the results, as approximately 9 percent of our customers chose to utilize the gift cards. I definitely plan to expand the gift card program for 2011. Eighty percent of Splashtown’s audience is from San Antonio, so we try to put together events that add to the overall entertainment experience for the local people. We have not done a very good job with social marketing thus far. We continue to explore ways to utilize this media, however, I have not seen great results yet.
Edgmon: Although we have a comprehensive marketing plan for the waterpark, we continue to market both of our parks, Frontier City and White Water Bay, as a package to our season pass holders. They get both parks for one price. This market is still very strong for us. We still utilize the traditional marketing methods such as TV, radio and print ads for the waterpark, but we have also developed a large following through Facebook and Twitter. We are finding this as an equal method to market in comparison to the traditional methods. Utilizing social media, we are able to conduct e-blasts and text offers to our guests in reaction to what is happening that day. As an example, on a rainy/cloudy day, we may make an announcement that lets people know that there are “no lines/no crowds” and provide a discount off the price that day. We can see an immediate response since guests are asked to show the text message upon entering the park in order to get the discount. –

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