industry leaders weigh in on current trends in the waterpark industry
What sort of attractions are most popular with your guests?
Mike Fijas: Our most popular attractions are shared experience rides like our family raft rides or unique experience rides like our Cannon Bowl.
Lori Gogel: Our water coasters – Wildebeest and Mammoth – are the most popular with our Guests.
Tim Morrow: The most popular attractions at Aquatica San Antonio are attractions that integrate animal experiences into the ride and our guest’s day. One of our signature slides is Stingray Falls. This ride takes riders down a family raft ride, then under water through a grotto for a slow float with a face to fin view of hundreds of tropical fish and stingrays. At ground level of Ke-Re Reef families can view, feed, pet and even wade in with these majestic animals. This year we added a Tortoise exhibit and a Conservation Cabana where guests can learn about the natural world we share and meet a wide variety of animals. We have open-air bird exhibits and even started free flying Macaws and other tropical birds over our guest areas this season. All of the Aquatica parks feature different and unique animal experiences. They are truly parks only SeaWorld could build.
Jim Basala: Our wave pool still remains the number one attraction at our park for all age groups. After that we follow the classic mix. Older guests prefer the lazy river while our younger guests enjoy our slides with the bowl rides being very popular.
Kristie Moses: Our guests find our larger slide attractions to be the most popular. We have a relatively small park, but our two most popular attractions are our Boomerango slide and our children’s activity structure (tipping bucket play feature).
How do you think technology is or soon will be impacting waterpark operations?
Mike Fijas: Technology is always impacting our operations with new developments. The POS systems get better and more diverse all of time, the filter technology has improved with the regenerative filters, the chemical controller systems are constantly changing and adding features, social media is changing how we communicate with our guests and online ticketing / sales is changing how we do business. I’m sure a lot more is on the horizon.
Lori Gogel: I think technology will start to really change and improve our daily operations. We’ve already seen some huge improvements with remote chemical monitoring of the pools, lifeguard tracking, and waterpark ride technology, not to mention all the benefits of RFID technology.
Tim Morrow: I think it is incredible how fast technology is integrating and changing the waterpark industry. I feel these technological advances will help produce a wider variety of attractions while increasing safety in an already very safe industry.
We have seen great advancements on the dry ride side of the industry for many years, and now there seems to be a new focus of utilizing technology in waterpark attractions. On the attractions side we are seeing things such as LIM launch raft rides, floor dropping body slides and rides that have special effects not seen before in our industry. Ride photo eye systems, rider count systems and other technological enhancements to dispatching and other aspects of operation are improving safety as well as providing quantitative ride analysis for operators in the industry. I am very excited to see what the future brings as every year we see the ride manufactures work to “one up” each other!
Jim Basala: Technology has changed and will continue to change how we operate. We continue to market more and more through our web site and social media. Our mobile web site version continues to grow in popularity. Our guests access our information more and more through their smart phones. How we continue to interact with our guests is primarily a function of how many resources we are able to commit to keeping up with and managing that technology. Operationally, we are able to access more and more data through our mobile devices on how the park is running. Whether it’s attendance, water temperature or chlorine levels, staff is able to access that information at any time no matter where they are. Moving forward we will continue to gain efficiencies by becoming more connected to our park and to our customer base.
Kristie Moses: I think an area for improvement in technology in waterpark operations is going to be felt in the maintenance area with new guidelines for water treatment, etc. coming out of the MAHC. I think older parks are also going to be looking for cost effective solutions for maintaining and updating older rides and creative ways to expand in smaller footprints.
What is one practice or idea that you think would help make the industry stronger?
Mike Fijas: I think that we need to really advocate adult supervision of small children at all water facilities. Too many children are left to fend for themselves at parks and pools because parents think that the lifeguards will take care of their kids. If we can improve safety at our facilities, we are all better for it.
Lori Gogel: I would like operators to continue to look to each other for advice and support and not as competition.
Tim Morrow: I think in our industry the sharing of best practices like many of us are doing right now at the World Waterpark Association Symposium is making the industry stronger and safer. The waterpark industry is very open when it comes to sharing newer and better ways of doing things. Leaders from different parks and different companies from all over the world learn from each other and develop relationships that prove to be invaluable. Learning from each other in aspects of safety, operations, revenue and more, and the spirit of openness is what keeps our industry strong and moving forward on all fronts.
Jim Basala: I believe the most important concept is, as it has been, the sharing of ideas and knowledge between operators. Whether through online forums or at the annual WWA show our businesses stay robust by working together to build a strong water attractions industry. We may compete locally but together we continue to build a very strong and vigorous industry.
Kristie Moses: For the Waterpark Resorts specifically, the more cross training that can be done between the theme park/waterpark operations leaders and the hotel leaders will make us all stronger. For growth in our leadership in this particular sector more of our park operations people need to become educated about the hotel business and vice versa. Coming from an amusement background afforded me the opportunity to have a very solid foundation in safety, guest service, and general logistics and operations, but as I transition into leadership positions on the hotel side I am needing to learn more about the sales and marketing areas, revenue management and overall direction of the business end of the hotel in order to best support our financial success on both sides.
How do you feel about queue management technology at waterparks?
Mike Fijas: We don’t offer this at my park but I know it has been very successful and well received at other facilities.
Tim Morrow: Queue management is something visitors to theme parks are coming to expect as the norm, not something special. Waterparks offer a unique challenge in this aspect in comparison with dry rides since in most cases we don’t have built in accessible entrances at an exit like a traditional coaster or other ride. Several parks have come up with unique ways and several companies are offering this service. I think we are at the very infant stages of this product and new and innovative ways to manage this service will continue to come about.
Jim Basala: We have no experience with queue management and have only marginally investigated it. Though it looks very promising and would aid operations I cannot speak to the programs with any authority.
Kristie Moses: Queue management isn’t really necessary in my park’s environment due to our lower capacity and demand.
What role does theming have at your park and is it important for success?
Lori Gogel: We have been very conservative with the use of theming. I think theming adds to the experience but it also adds a significant increase to capital dollars.
Tim Morrow: For us theming is a huge part or our success. We feel that integrating animals, a resort like experience, tropical landscape, world-class rides and a true “theme” of South Seas is something our guests really embrace. We offer a get-away from the everyday with the fun colors, to the whimsical characters and even South Seas accented announcements and ride spiels. The park is truly immersive and sets us apart from a traditional steel and concrete park. I think you are seeing more and more creative theming in waterparks as the industry grows. With so much competition you really have to set yourself apart.
Mike Fijas: I am a big fan of theming and believe the more the better. At a park, we are trying to transport our guests and take them on a journey away from their everyday lives. Theming can really make that happen and change a guests’ perception of your park. I think you can have a nice park without theming but when you theme it, it can become great. I am always trying to add theming to our park.
Jim Basala: We are not a heavily themed facility. Our theme is based upon a general Victorian style of architecture that reflects parts of our community. Our children’s play structure is themed to match our county courthouse with the appropriate towers and roof lines. Besides those basic themes we strive to keep our look clean with a lot of landscaping. We are a facility of the Lake County Parks Department and try to hold true to some of our basic concepts of open space and landscaping.
Kristie Moses: Theming is important, but I don’t think that it impacts our success as much as other issues. We have a standard Caribbean theme and it seems to work well for our environment.
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