2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo Recap - Water Parks

Water Park ‘TV Talk Show,’ Social Media, Future Expansions Guide Education Sessions

by James Careless

Complete with guests and a studio audience, the “Afternoon with Aquatic Industry Leaders” session used a TV talk show format to gain insights from water park players. Filling in for Jimmy Fallon was WhiteWater Southeast Asia CEO (and session “host”) Chris Perry, ICAE.

With more than 39 years’ experience in the water park business, Ron Sutula, Schlitterbahn Galveston Island general manager, shared his business strategies with the audience. For Sutula, the keys to water park success include “providing a fun, safe, clean family environment,” treating guests “as family,” and taking care of staff because happy employees “are your lifeblood.”

Scott Deisley, managing director of Safety Skills Training, said having worked in water parks made him far more empathic toward his clients’ needs. Drawing on this experience, he advised park operators to offer “a mixed basket of rides” and to provide enough seating and wide walkways for guests.

1801_EXPO_WATER_PARK_TVResearch is a big part of what IAAPA does on behalf of its members, and the data collected is intriguing. For instance, “European water parks have the highest average per capita [sales],” said panelist Melissa Teates, CAE, IAAPA’s director of industry research and analysis. The reason? “European water parks are making more from food and beverage,” she told Perry, which was a lesson that caught the audience’s attention.

The session “Promoting Your Events on Social Media to Knock Them Out of the Water Park!” highlighted the importance of social media. By the end of 2016, 2.8 billion people had social media accounts, up 15 percent from the year before. Add the fact that 71 percent of consumers who have a good social media experience with a business are likely to recommend it to others, and that 41 percent say businesses need to have strong social media presence. The message is clear: “Social media is here to stay,” said Maggie Warner, public relations manager with Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Parks.

The good news: Social media offers many promotional options for water parks to promote their events and facilities. In the first instance, a park can produce TV commercial-style videos and post them to social media, achieving maximum reach at minimum cost (compared to TV advertising). In the second, social media can be used to interact with guests, said Hannah Paramore, founder of Paramore Digital, stressing the need to stay positive and open with guests as much as reasonably possible.

“The third option to think about is announcements, and fourth is promotions,” said Paramore. The fifth way to use social media is to promote large-scale campaigns, she noted. Social media can deliver results on season-pass sales, for example, at a far lower cost than traditional advertising and call centers.

The topic of controlling costs when investing in new water park attractions must be meaningful and fit within your market, according to Alan Mahony, director of operations with Pinnacle International Enterprise Limited.  

Focusing on China’s Chimelong Water Park, which Pinnacle developed, Mahony explained the investment strategies that made Chimelong one of the world’s most popular water parks. It welcomed 2.5 million visitors in 2016.

“Our business is to entertain people and give them value for money,” Mahony declared. He stressed that water parks must constantly invest in exciting new rides, attractions, and events.

“If you have the exact same entertainment for three years, how do you expect to get return visits?” questioned Mahony.

Splashworld CEO Frederic Bouvard outlined how his company is building successful water parks in Europe, starting with France’s Splashworld Provence. He stressed the importance of realistic, detailed strategic planning when investing in major capital projects, as he walked attendees through the Splashworld investment and planning process. 

“Real goals are specific and measurable,” said Bouvard. “A goal that is too vague remains a dream.”