Floating on a Sea of Popularity
One attraction has now spread across six continents and seems to bubble up at new locations each season, but it barely existed 25 years ago—the floating water park. These aquatic playgrounds have some unique features that make them appealing to both guests and operators, and there’s no indication their growth will soon sink.
Today’s floating water park, or aqua park, is composed of a collection of interlinked inflatable modules floating on the water’s surface in either a large swimming pool or open body of water, such as a lake or cove. In all locations, they’re anchored for stability and safety.
Robert Cirjak and Romann Rademacher, the founders of Wibit Sports GmbH in Bocholt, Germany, say they invented the floating water park.
“Romann and I created the floating water park industry 22 years ago, and back then, inflatable water trampolines existed along with one or two other floating products,” Cirjak says. “We had a vision of expanding this, so we took land-based playground products and put a bunch of them in the water. We called this ‘amphibization.’”
Their company has now installed more than 600 floating water parks in 90 countries, with half of the installations floating on commercial swimming pools and half anchored in open waters.
Cirjak says that 22 years ago in the United States, the water trampoline was mainly for private use, involving families and friends jumping on trampolines that were often docked off a lake house. But in Europe, their aqua park was experiencing 20,000 users per summer in commercial settings on outdoor waters like the Aegean Sea in the Greek Islands. He says a consumer home market didn’t exist and has really never developed.
Then in 2008, they dreamed up an idea that changed the floating water park market.
“We came up with a ‘modular connection system’ that allowed us to attach products together,” Cirjak explains. “This created ‘windows’ on the water surrounded by our floating products. Today over 95% of all floating water parks on the planet use this modular window system.”
Splash BC/ON began operating its first floating water park in 2014 on open water in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada, and now operates four parks in British Columbia and two in Ontario. The family-owned business is operated by Rylie and Brittany Gallagher, who saw an opportunity to enter the attractions landscape.
“Our family has been involved with water sports for over 10 years, with our father owning and operating multiple boat rental businesses throughout the Okanagan Valley,” says Brittany Gallagher. “Being involved within the industry, we realized the pattern of water recreation had remained traditional and saw potential for growth.
The Gallaghers’ research showed floating water parks were the ideal solution because they take a unique approach to the conventional water park, with the inflatable attractions providing flexibility. “The equipment allows us to change park configurations each year, becoming interestingly different from the norm, which has allowed us to stand out from competitors,” says Rylie Gallagher. “Our water parks are essentially floating playgrounds, boasting climbing walls, monkey bars, slides, trampolines, and more. The vast variety of features allows us to uniquely configure each location, enabling us to tailor each location around demographics and demand.”
Splash BC/ON charges the same ticket price at all of its parks. All-day passes cost CA$25, an evening pass is CA$15, and a five-day pass is CA$99.
Floating water parks provide a variety of benefits to open-water attractions, including attracting new guests.
“I was working alongside the Minamiizu Tourism Office, and we were looking for a water-based business that would stimulate visitation to their pristine Yumigahama Beach,” recalls Anthony Kelly, the founder and CEO of Splash Waterpark, a floating water park at Yumigahama Beach, Iwami District, Tottori Prefecture, Japan. “I had carried out lots of research on products in the market and found that the inflatable water parks would be perfect for our beach conditions and would provide a fun and challenging activity for our adventurous tourists.”
Splash Waterpark now operates another floating water park at Tsuruga, MC Resort, Japan, as well as one in Nelson Bay, Australia. The nature of the floating water park allows Splash Waterpark to sell tickets to guests for hour-long rotations in the water parks. Kelly points out that this allows them to work through larger guest capacities and also prevents customers from waiting for hours for just a few minutes of attraction time.
Cirjak confirms that the design and flexibility of floating water parks allow for serving high guest capacities relative to the modest size.
“People are realizing just how much money can be made with them,” he says. “The average revenue per day is just over $3,000.”
Cirjak notes the popularity of floating water parks has led to some design, installation, and operations revisions.
“All of our products are German TUV approved and certified. This is the main reason prices can be so different.”
Romann Rademacher is the vice chairman for the safety of inflatables in the European Union. Cirjak says Rademacher “basically wrote the book on safety for these kinds of products.” Rademacher is currently working on a United States ASTM standard, along with guidelines for the United Kingdom Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) group.
Finding Success Operating a Floating Water Park
Cirjak provides these considerations for those wishing to purchase and operate a floating water park.
- Choose the right location with an adequate water depth. It’s imperative operators meet certain criteria before deciding where to anchor a business: environmental conditions, minimum water depth, and a high-traffic area are all important topics to research first.
- Choose the right size and style of water park. The ideal water park should fit a location like a glove: water depth, water quality, anticipated summer weather (Do storms produce large waves that could damage floatation devices?), and dimensions for the anticipated crowd.
- Choose professional installation. It’s imperative owners hire professionals to install floating equipment. There is an art to creating strong anchors that will hold equipment without compromise.
- Hire trained lifeguards. After securing a location, focus on safety before opening by hiring certified, trained lifeguards. Once open, operate a professional business where safety of guests and employees is first and foremost.
- Formulate effective pricing, passes, and packages. Setting an optimal admission price and exploring the right pricing models will lead to a more profitable operation.
- Determine the time necessary for return on investment (ROI). Factors that lengthen time to profitability include not selecting the correct size for a park, poor promotion and marketing, and establishing an admission price the market will not support.