Monday, July 22, 2024

Revisit, revitalize, reinvest

by Glenn A. O’Connor, OALA, CSLA ASLA

Water parks have an operational life cycle.

Take a critical look at your water park facilities to determine whether they are reaching a critical stage in their operational life cycle. Is the guest experience still exciting and appropriate? Is attendance all it could be?

Declining attendance and guest experience are influenced by many interrelated factors. Rather than asking “What things can I add to the park?” it is better to approach the problem in a more systematic way, following a few simple steps. The owner and operator can maximize Return on Investment (ROI) by revisiting, revitalizing and reinvesting in an objective, appropriate and creative way. There is more to it than water and fiberglass. It starts by putting yourself in the shoes (or perhaps flip-flops) of the guest.


With the passage of time, not only do park facilities mature, but guest demographics may change.  With a shift in demographics may come a shift in guest needs and recreation habits, necessitating a shift in the guest experience provided. By imagining ourselves as guests, we are in a better position to consider what things we might be looking for: family needs (especially those of small children), food and beverage service, merchandise, washrooms and of course an appropriate level of entertainment.

Ideally, the guest experience you provide will keep guests coming back for repeat visits, enjoying longer stays and even tempted to spend more freely. Here’s a summary of how a professional analysis is conducted and implemented to revisit, revitalize and reinvest meaningfully in a water park. In order to make prudent business decisions and prioritize the revitalization of assets, program decisions must be objective, based on professional experience and solid data.


In order to increase attendance and overall park revenue, take a close, objective look. What is the mix of rides/attractions? What are the existing ride capacities? What about program, circulation, creative theming and all related facilities? What is the current attendance – annually, monthly and daily peak in park – and what should the targeted attendance be? In addition, we need to understand what rides and attractions are most popular and performing well at capacity, which are at an acceptable capacity and which are below capacity. Understand what you have today, in order to build for tomorrow.

Part of the process, when planning for park revitalization, is to gauge regional and local market demographics. Only by examining current and future capacities, carefully and objectively, can we begin to make informed decisions about which rides and attractions require refurbishing, removal or replacement and which new rides and attractions we might consider adding. This same in-depth examination needs to be applied to all existing infrastructure – anything and everything that contributes toward enhancing the overall guest experience.


Once the analysis and evaluation of the existing water park have been completed, the planning and creative design work begin: addressing the issues that have been identified, understanding the opportunities and constraints, and formulating solutions that will enhance the park’s performance and guest experience. In particular, the mix of rides and attractions needs to be precisely balanced in order to meet the current and desired demographic profiles.

Other issues may have been identified within the existing infrastructure, operations or general guest experience, and must also be addressed. Based on ride capacity analysis data, decisions about ride renewal, removal and replacement can be made. Creative theming, layout refinement, reorganization and design solutions can now be organized into a plan that establishes strong relationships between elements and areas, including rides, attractions, food and beverage and back-of-house.

The integration of the program and site elements into a cohesive sequence of guest experiences throughout the park will be calculated to bring the desired result: a memorable place that guests will want to visit often and spend more time per visit.


The basic goal is to increase attendance over a sustained period of time by revitalizing current facilities. Setting priorities for renewal or replacement of infrastructure, rides and attractions, or other park assets, will help create a phased renewal program that will systematically enhance the waterpark.

The planning and design phase will also help to identify areas where park expansion can occur, if applicable, and what the sequence should be. Operational costs also need to be considered and strategies for water conservation, energy use, placement of rides and lifeguard staffing. The potential synergy of renewed and expanded facilities can be now identified and subsequent decisions prioritized. Planning and design work will also allow capital budget forecasting for coming years and assist an owner to evaluate the potential ROI. Using both the existing and projected data will also allow capital budget forecasting and assist the owner or operator in evaluating the potential ROI. Using both existing and projected data, owners and operators are also able to track overall attendance changes and changes in guest distribution within the park, as implementation is sequentially rolled out. In this regard, any impact from renewed or new facilities can be compared to projected ride and attraction capacities, and used objectively to evaluate the success of a program change within the water park.

Simply stated, good planning and good design, combined with a depth of experience, can create places that make everyone happy: guests, owners and operators. • • •

Glenn A. O’Connor OALA, CSLA ASLA is a Principal and Senior Director, Water Parks at FORREC. He can be reached at [email protected]

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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