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One of the Regulars - March 2017

Season passes help motivate consumer behavior and spending

by Mike Bederka

At DelGrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton, Pennsylvania, one customer visited the facility a whopping 46 times in a 115-day operating schedule with his season pass. Over at Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay, the Louisville amusement park has had several guests use their season passes an incredible 100 out of 108 days.

While certainly these frequent fliers should be considered the exception, it shows the power the season pass has in motivating consumer behavior, as well as delivering key information to a facility.

“Season-pass holders make up some of our most energetic supporters and really take ownership of the park,” says Adam Birkner, Kentucky Kingdom media and communications manager. “They also help to boost park attendance by bringing their friends and family. We know the average number of times pass holders visit, as well as the average in-park spending attributed to them, which makes it easier to forecast attendance and make sure our attractions and facilities meet overall demand.”

Here managers break down how to make the most of this revenue driver, marketing program, and research tool all wrapped into one.

Start the Push Early

Sales for DelGrosso’s season pass begin Nov. 1, with $10 off the regular $89.95 price if guests purchase it before Dec. 31. About 60 percent of holders take advantage of the deal, often giving the pass as a holiday gift, says Director of Marketing Amy Mearkle. Not only do guests benefit from buying early, but the park can bank this money for improvement projects before the regular season starts.

A Pass with Perks

Quite often, a season pass doesn’t just include gate admission. The program frequently offers a series of additional benefits that might sweeten the pot for guests mulling it over. At Kentucky Kingdom, a season pass comes with free parking and 20 percent discounts on food and merchandise. DelGrosso’s popular perks include “bring a buddy” for free once a week (Monday-Friday) and free admission to its well-attended “Harvestfest.”

Most of Palace Entertainment’s facilities implement a tiered system with their season passes. At Wet ’n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park in Greensboro, North Carolina, for instance, guests can buy the “super saver” with no additional freebies beyond admission for $59.99; the “any day” plan, which includes one bring-a-friend-for-free ticket and 10 percent in-park discounts for $79.99; and the “priority” deal that comes with two bring-a-friend tickets and 20 percent in-park discounts for $99.99. “It all depends on the needs of the guest,” says Bill Lentz, vice president of water parks and family entertainment centers for Palace Entertainment, headquartered in Newport Beach, California.

These additional discounts help drive spending on food and beverage and merchandise, as these guests don’t typically reach for their wallets as much as non-pass holders, he says: “If it’s their one time out, they’re not as inclined to watch their budget.”

Stress the Value

Give customers every opportunity to say “yes” to a season pass, Birkner says: “If a guest has to stop and think, ‘Will I really go the number of times I need to in order to get my money’s worth?’ that’s potentially a missed opportunity.” With early-bird pricing for a season pass at $59.95, Kentucky Kingdom stresses its value right on the park’s website home page. A video describes how a pass can pay for itself in just one visit when all the perks get factored in.

Be Clear

DelGrosso’s, which started its program in 2005, details all the season-pass rules on its website. However, staff also physically hand out a one-sheet rack card upon purchase. It spells out everything and helps to create fewer questions and potentially awkward situations at the gate, Mearkle says. For example, with the bring-a-buddy perk, the friend must enter the same time as the pass holder. He can’t show up a couple hours later and expect free admission.

Analyze Pricing and Deals

Don’t just stick with the same benefits and pricing structure every season, Mearkle advises. For years, its bring-a-friend deal only applied to Tuesdays, but after seeing some overcrowding on that day coupled with guest feedback about the restrictive schedule, they extended the promo to Monday-Friday.

Palace scrapped some packages that offered a strong value to guests but might have run a bit too expensive, Lentz says: “You may price yourself out of your own market. You want to careful of that.”

On the flip side, be mindful not to undersell, says Mearkle, noting her typical season-pass guest visits four times a year: “You don’t want to give away the farm. Make sure you’re pricing yourself properly.”

Convert the Crowd

With a steady email push, Palace markets heavily to its season- pass holders, encouraging them to visit often, and importantly, to invite others for the trip out, Lentz says. “We want to drive the incremental business, and hopefully, they will bring someone who we can convert to a season-pass holder.”

Offering the VIP Treatment

Outside of season passes, one other effective way to motivate consumer spending comes from giving guests a taste of the VIP treatment. “Customers are not afraid to pay for that extra level of service,” notes Bill Lentz of Palace Entertainment. “We’ve been increasing the number of higher-end cabanas to meet those requests.”

This could mean anything from more space, to additional staff available, to better amenities.

“This is clearly a trend,” he says, “and I don’t know where the top is going to be.”

Why Does a Guest Become a Member?

The following originally appeared in PGAV Destinations’ “The Value of Membership” issue of Destinology.

We know we love season passes, whether we’re thumbing through our own in our purse or selling them at the entry gate. However, sometimes we forget the considerations we went through before our first membership purchase.

During our study, respondents reported that their average single-day admission ticket to any given destination was $66, and their memberships, on average, cost $148. Therefore, most attraction visitors need to visit a destination 2.25 times before they see an acceptable return on investment. Fortunately, nearly everyone in our study stated that they intended to go back to their favorite 2015 destination at least 2.25 times in 2016, so they should be reaching that threshold this year! However, that number is merely an average; Baby Boomers are more price sensitive, needing to visit a destination three times before they agree with the payoff; Generation X only needs to visit twice; and Millennials agree with the average number of visits for their ROI to be met.

Eighty-five percent of our respondents said the most important benefit of a season pass or membership was a reasonable price. In fact, nine out of 10 first-time season-pass purchases are made because guests realize the benefit of unlimited visits for a single price. In addition, eight out of 10 first-time purchases were done because of the additional perks and benefits that come along with a membership.

Once guests become members and they’re deciding which destination to go to this weekend, 81 percent say “friendly staff” and “a variety of things to see and do” are the two most important deciding factors, followed by “seeing a new experience that wasn’t there last time” (77 percent). In fact, 25 percent of respondents who said they don’t have a season pass or membership said it was because their local destinations don’t have anything new to offer. Therefore, our study reveals that continually revitalizing and refreshing your destination is one of the most important factors in guest-to-member conversion.

Both SPHs and single-admission guests value the feature of your destination roughly the same; however, while members appreciate nearly everything just a bit more, they put greater value on special “members only” entrances, extended hours for members, and merchandise discounts for members.

Lastly, we wanted to see if respondents’ “talk” mirrored their “walk”; that is, we used correlation analysis to compare their key “purchase motivators” for memberships to their actual intent to purchase a membership in the next 12 months. What surfaced to the top? Insider newsletters, special members-only entrances, and “a more personalized experience.”

Season Passes Are Possible (and Profitable) at FECs

With no traditional gate at many family entertainment centers (FECs), it might seem like a tricky proposition to implement a season-pass program. Apex Parks Group, though, has figured out a successful workaround.

At Boomers in Boca Raton, Florida, for instance, guests can purchase a season pass that gives them four hours a day of free rides and attractions. The price shifts throughout the year, running from $40 to $65 depending on demand. (Not included: batting cages and video and redemption games.)

And unlike some places where in-park spending might be lower for season-ticket holders (see main story), the opposite is true at Boomers, says GM Marc Pollack. If guests bought the pass months prior, they have less concern about plunking down a few bucks more for food and beverage during the time of visit.

To amplify the additional spend, Boomers recently introduced a promotion where customers who purchase a one-day four-hour pass can upgrade to a season pass for free, he says. Sunday business improved as a secondary effect from the new deal.

Apex Parks, headquartered in Aliso Viejo, California, will continue to explore different wrinkles to its program, with one idea to open earlier in the day for season-pass holders, Pollack says.

“Don’t be afraid to make changes,” he urges other facilities. “Make it work for you. I wouldn’t expect you to launch it and be successful overnight. It’s a long-term project. As long as you watch the data, it will be successful.”