Monday, April 20, 2009

More from April's FUNWORLD: A deeper look at the waterpark industry

For our waterpark industry report in April’s FUNWORLD, I interviewed George Rohman, operations manager at Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterparks in Wildwood, New Jersey; Andy Maurek, assistant manager of safety operations at Hyland Hills Water World in Denver, Colorado; and Scott Carothers, general manager of Wild Island Family Adventure Park in Sparks, Nevada. Here’s their extended comments on the 2009 outlook of the waterpark industry and topics ranging from finances to hot new food items.

FUNWORLD: With the current economy, how are you cutting costs while not compromising the customer experience?
Rohman: We have adjusted and somewhat reduced our capital and operational spending plans for 2009. Taking a conservative spending approach would be prudent and is good business sense. We hope to grow our weekday admissions specials, which offer a unique discount admission special on each weekday. This program was successful in 2007 and 2008, and growing mid-week business is an important component in our growth strategy.
Maurek: We’re definitely tightening our preseason spending by holding back on a few annual purchases—computers and small infrastructure items—and we’re holding prices, which we were originally raising. To draw guests, we’re looking into viral marketing but may wait a year depending on computer purchases.
Carothers (right): We have delayed our five-year growth strategy. We had planned the relocation of an existing ride, a new ride and tower, and the development of more deck space. All of that is now on hold until 2010. Here are a few cost-saving ideas we are thinking about or doing:
  1. Reducing the number of hours we operate Monday through Thursday (keeping Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the same)
  2. Staging the opening of rides and/or food outlets daily
  3. Maximizing cost savings by installing LED lights throughout the facility
  4. Working with vendors to lock in pricing on big-volume items for the summer season
  5. Looking closely at all associated costs within our operation
We believe 2009 will be the season of value. Consumers will be driven even more by real value obtained with their purchases. We are continuing to add to our season pass Island Advantage program. Some of its advantages include: park entry 15 minutes early; real dollar discounts at our miniature golf, go-kart, and bowling FEC (before, after, and during our waterpark season); birthday and private cabana priority booking and discounts; VIP bounce back entries into the waterpark for their guests; and possible programming ideas such as swim lessons and day camps. We will also continue to drive our daily special promotions that package food and entry into affordable pricing for families.

FW: Do you see advancement in the waterpark resort industry in the near future?
Rohman (left):
Absolutely—we think this concept will only grow in the future. Families are always looking for unique and immersive experiences to enjoy while taking a vacation. Recently, it appears families are taking several shorter vacations as opposed to one long vacation, and waterpark resorts fit this need very well.
Maurek: But we are losing some of the waterpark resorts as fast as they open so it will be interesting to see if the pipeline of resorts stays full.
Carothers: Not being directly involved in resort business I can only guess where advancements might come. Within our regional area, there have been numerous developments using the large resort/waterpark business model. Unfortunately they have all died in either the design stage and or the financing stage. With that said, there might be a shift from the large-scale indoor resorts to smaller, more niche-orientated ones. These smaller resorts could attempt to diversify their revenue stream from tourists to the local market with programming (swim lessons, day camps), birthday parties, and season passes. I believe you will also see year-round resorts and seasonal resorts being built or converted with solar and high efficiency standards.

FW: What seasonal staffing challenges have you run into in the past year, and do you have any new ideas to motivate and retain staffers?
Rohman: We do feel the current world economic environment may impact our international recruiting efforts this year, so we are monitoring them closely.
Maurek (right): We are looking at a good recruiting year as the high unemployment rate usually drives older people into jobs traditionally filled by 16- to 22-year-olds. When older employees can’t find their traditional positions, they come to us.
Carothers: 2009 will definitely be an employer's market. We feel the difficulty will be to find the right blend of young inexperienced employees we can mold for the future, and experienced older employees who can add to our employee depth. As far as motivation and retention, we have numerous programs based on what employees have told us they want (i.e. opportunities to grow or move up; added challenges and responsibility; money or gifts; and professional and social experience).

FW: What new trends do you see in ride design?
Maurek: We take into account factors of capacity, thrill, and target market; then we try to find the best ride to fit whichever category we’re trying to service.
Rohman: Recently, it seems attractions offering an interactive experience for an entire family are growing in popularity. Multilevel play structures fit this mold very well since they can handle high-capacity crowds while offering an interactive play experience. In addition, multiperson tube or raft attractions (bowls, tornadoes, mammoth rivers, etc.) are popular as a complete family attraction experience.
Carothers: I fully agree with George and Andy here. We are also spending money on the general appearance of our slides—sealing leaking seams and joints, repairing the fiberglass, and changing the color of one of our older rides. With our “added value” theme this year, we believe our new rides or attractions need to provide a true family experience. So from upgrading our private cabana area to selecting a new capital project we are constantly asking ourselves “Will a family remember, enjoy, and see the value of this ride, attraction, or service?”

FW: What about food and beverage trends?
Carothers: We are opening a new food outlet that will specialize in a healthy menu. All items will be a la carte and include: kid-sized chicken and rice bowls; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; ham and turkey sandwiches; granola bars and light snacks like Cliff bars, Powerbars, and Luna bars; all types of fruit, including frozen grapes; water and other non-sugar specialty drinks, and no-calorie sodas.
Maurek: With the exception of Dippin’ Dots and a few of the standards, food trends seem to be regionally accepted. We added sopapillas last season and they were a huge hit. We also put in kids meals like chicken tenders, smiley fries, and a kid’s bag with a temporary tattoo—a big hit which may work well for everyone.

FW: What advice do you have for operators cutting costs, and is there anything you're looking forward to about the 2009 summer season?
Rohman: Attraction selection and facility designs, which take staffing into consideration, will always have an economic advantage for a waterpark operator. Attractions designed with staffing considerations can only help with managing expenses and help operators with the end result.
Maurek: Plan your park so you can use the least amount of staff—it is your largest ongoing expense. Try to become as energy efficient as you can—it is your next biggest expense. Talk with your energy company before you buy motors, lights, heaters—anything that uses energy. They can give you the best advice on saving money and possibly give you energy rebates.
Carothers: I would also look at your media budget and see if you are getting “value added” items in your buys. Consider using a media buyer who can place you into their pool of buyers—this will help in negotiations and a reduction of costs. As Andy says: stay in tune with the industry; constantly think and search for ways to be creative. Be able to talk about any part of your operation and/or park at any time—you never know who might give you an idea to try.

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