By Karen Appold
As the New Year begins, it’s good to take stock of what’s hot and what’s not in the waterpark industry as well as get some tips for running such a business. Having this information at hand can help waterparks make good business decisions throughout the year.
Regarding popular rides, Connie Byers, waterpark manager, Boji Splash, Arnolds Park, Iowa, said slides are the most popular for both kids and adults. “Adults comment that it makes them feel like a kid again.” The park has added mat racers to its tube slide, enabling guests to slide down head first, which has been a hit with guests. This provides something different than the tubes. Guests enjoy rides even more when adding an element of competition.
Michael Schwitek, general manager, Alabama Adventure & Splash Adventure, Bessemer, Ala., said wave pools and lazy rivers are all the rage. “They have the highest capacity with the lowest wait times, and appeal to the largest audience,” he said.
At Water Wizz of Cape Cod, Inc., in Hope Valley, R.I., President Patricia Kells said teenagers love free fall body slides and enclosed tube rides. Adults prefer tube rides, the wave pool and lazy river. Family tube rides still remain popular.
According to Davis Columbus, waterpark manager at LEGOLAND California Resort, Carlsbad, Calif., the most popular waterpark attractions are unique in function or theming. “When a park can make a ride a one-of-a-kind experience, it keeps guests coming back,” he said. LEGOLAND’s Build-a-Raft-River is a great example of taking a simple waterpark attraction and making it unique. Guests can build on their raft with LEGO bricks while they float around a lazy river.
As far as food goes, Schwitek said simplified menus and quick service items are becoming more important. “Some parks have over-complicated their menus to a point where guests can’t make up their mind; this complicates the service and preparation side of things as well,” he said.
At Boji Splash, Dippin’ Dots are very popular with guests because they’re something different that they can’t find everywhere else. Drinks served in a pineapple were a smash last summer.
Dippin’ Dots also rule at Water Wizz of Cape Cod, as do staple fried foods such as hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken fingers, French fries, onion rings, pizza and dough boys. Annual visitation is over 100,000, which was down due to bad weather.
LEGOLAND California Resort has found great success with offering fresh, healthy food choices as opposed to traditional theme park fare. The park offers wraps, burgers and authentic street tacos cooked to order.
Schwitek said radio-frequency identification (RFID) and cashless systems are still taking the industry by storm. “This makes it convenient for waterpark guests to have access to funds directly from a wristband (or like-item) without having to go back to their locker to get their wallet,” he said. “They can also track spending as well as other trends by using RFID technology.”
The park’s annual visitation is 212,000. “We are on a six-year uphill trend, as we are still a growing park that started from a very low point six years ago,” Schwitek said.
As Byers mentioned earlier, anything that adds a bit of competition is popular. “We’re adding a basketball court to our new outside addition that has the court lines on the bottom of the pool,” she said. It’s also appealing because it is something that a family can do together, even the older adults.
Columbus said lifeguard standards are growing rapidly. Lifeguard providers are coming out with more tools and resources to help support an industry where safety is always No. 1. Technology also seems to be coming more into play within the aquatics industry.
Keeping an Indoor Waterpark Interesting
Because indoor parks typically have less space than outdoor ones, it can be more of a challenge to keep a park interesting to a point where guests want to return again and again. To achieve that, Schwitek advised using theming elements. “Indoor waterparks that have created an entire story around the experience are the ones I remember and want to return to in the future,” he said.
Byers said that if guests feel safe at a park, that is a huge draw. “Guests remember ‘bad’ experiences, especially if they don’t feel safe,” she said. “A lack of lifeguards, guards on phones and guards eating on the stand are all turnoffs.”
In 2018, the park had 65,955 guests, which is up an average of 1,000 guests per month. “I think more people are hearing about us,” Byers said. “We use social media to promote specials and will sometimes leave a positive thought for the day so they see us on their feed.” She also works with school groups, church groups, boy scouts and other groups to schedule events.
Like Byers, Columbus said that having highly trained staff with a strong guest service and safety culture pays dividends in repeat customers. Memberships, unique theming, special events and community involvement can also play a large part.