InPark talks to Aleatha Ezra, World Waterpark Association Director of Park Member Development, about the latest industry trends and the annual WWA Show (WWA 2017 is Oct 16-19 in West Palm Beach)
Interview by Martin Palicki
Please bring us up to date on WWA and its activities.
The year 2017 already been a busy one for the World Waterpark Association. In addition to organizing an outstanding WWA Show experience for October, we’ve also been focused on our goals for the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson (WLSL) event, an important water safety awareness program with a global reach.
In 2017, we launched a completely redesigned WLSL.org website with a translation feature to allow host locations to find event materials and register more easily, and to give us a fresh way to promote the event internationally. The new WLSL website has had an extremely positive impact: 41,000+ participants attended live WLSL events this year in 26 countries; both those numbers are increases over 2016. In addition, the event generated more than 300 million media impressions in support of the Swimming Lessons Save Lives message. We are very close to achieving our goal of 1 billion media impressions before our 10th year anniversary event in 2019.
Beyond our own goals for WLSL, we are happy to see that this event and others are making a difference. Research released from WLSL supporting organizations, CPSC’s Pool Safely Campaign and USA Swimming Foundation, which also initiated water safety awareness programs in 2010, indicate a decrease in childhood drownings and an increase in swimming skills. But, we know that more work is needed. In 2014, the American Red Cross, another WLSL supporter, found more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or don’t have the basic necessary swimming skills.
How do you advise WWA members to get the most out of their membership?
One of the big benefits of today’s digitally-connected world is we can now offer our members programs that are accessible on their own schedules. Before our 2015 show, we launched a new Waterparks.org website, which offers our members the opportunity to access popular member-benefit programs, such as the Webinar Wednesday online learning series and the Job Board, at any time.
In addition, membership in WWA is facility-based. The benefit there is that whether a facility has five or 500 employees, everyone on that park’s team can take advantage of member benefit programs. Also, most programs are included in the yearly membership fees, so there are not a lot of additional costs involved.
Of course, we encourage all of our members to keep their rosters up to date so that everyone on their team will receive our e-mails and hear industry news and updates. Members can update their own rosters online anytime by logging in and accessing their My WWA page, or they can call us at +1-913-599-0300 and update it by phone.
What industry trends are you noticing?
New development projects are returning full force – with large-scale, mixed use development taking place all over the world. Within North America, it is exciting to see many new waterpark projects taking shape. From Typhoon Texas in Houston, opened in 2016, to much-anticipated projects in 2017 like H20BX Waterpark in The Outer Banks [North Carolina], Universal’s Volcano Bay in Orlando, and Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags in Oaxtepec, Mexico.
We are also finding many parks are using established intellectual property to create unique and fully integrated theming throughout a facility. Theming, in general, has really become important and readily available to developers. Strong theming allows guests to create memorable interactions within the park, which can lead to stronger brand attachments and repeat visits.
Another trend is the focus on accessibility within park operations and guest services. Waterpark operators are trying to address the needs of more guests, and they are spending more time implementing procedures that accommodate guests with various physical and cognitive disabilities. Also, new attractions are being created that enable higher quality interaction for guests with different abilities.
In what regions do you foresee the most growth in the next 5-10 years?
According to the information in the latest TEA/AECOM Theme Index, we can expect to see slow and steady growth in the waterpark segment in most existing markets around the world, from North America to the Middle East to Europe in the next few years. Specifically, the report states that regions such as Latin America and Asia will continue to see the greatest number of new developments, thanks in part to climate conditions in Latin America and economic factors at play in many areas of Asia, especially China. Several key factors will help reinforce new development. First, waterparks require less space to build a good-sized facility. Second, they can be built more quickly and at a lower cost than theme parks and other types of leisure attractions.
How do you advise your members to deal with perceived safety concerns?
Safety is our industry’s number-one priority and we know that the majority of operators are focusing on guest and employee safety, from opening to closing every day and every season of operation, in order to ensure that each person leaves the park safe and happy.
Like any industry, we cannot make ourselves immune to negative coverage. However, what we remind our members to do is to stay focused on all the big and little things they do to maintain the safest operation possible.
Tell us what we can expect from the 2017 WWA Show in West Palm Beach, Florida.
We are excited to take our show back to West Palm Beach. Not only can we expect beautiful, sunshine-filled weather, but the show location is even more convenient than when we were last there in 2013. A newly built hotel that is connected to the Palm Beach County Convention Center promises to make the attendee experience even more seamless. This year’s attendees will be able to easily access sessions, the trade show floor, shuttles to events, etc., all within a few steps of their rooms. Also, the hotel will be filled with WWA attendees, maximizing the opportunities for additional networking. You’ll run into key contacts everywhere. Plus, CityPlace is literally across the street, which means that folks can find good food choices, evening entertainment and more all within walking distance. More show venue details are available at: https://www.wwashow.org.
WWA is known for some fantastic pool party and networking mixers. What has been planned for this year?
One of the key benefits of being in West Palm Beach is having an amazing waterpark partner nearby to host our Tuesday Reunion party. Rapids Water Park is powered by an outstanding group of industry leaders and we are fortunate that we get to go inside the park, tour behind-the-scenes, and then stick around for plenty of party fun. Plus, it’s outdoors so there will be lots of space to roam around, start new conversations and build industry connections while enjoying tasty food and drink.
Our Wednesday mixer will be in the pool area of the Hilton West Palm Beach. We always love it when we can bring our event to such an accessible location. We are all about convenience this year!
What are some other compelling reasons to be sure to attend WWA 2017?
First reason: to stay competitive. Our industry is constantly evolving. Owners/operators need the chance to hear more about the latest challenges and trends and be ready to grow as the industry grows. If people aren’t focused on keeping their guests safe and excited to come back to the park time and again, then they will not be able to sustain their business in the long term. There’s a lot of competition for people’s leisure entertainment dollars. Waterpark operators must be able to set themselves apart in meaningful ways so that they can continue to grow their brand.
Second reason: to stay connected. The WWA Show is a place for connection. We are fortunate enough to work in an industry that values community and collegiality. When you attend the show and make a new connection, more often than not that person will become a trusted resource. Our members like to share successes and failures with each other. They enjoy learning from one another and passing along what they know to those who are coming up through the ranks.