Season Passes: A Win-Win
Season passes are popular offerings at amusement and theme parks and water parks. They give guests a convenient, rewarding, and cost-effective way to visit a park, says Jeffrey Eisenberg, director of marketing for Dutch Wonderland and the Cartoon Network Hotel in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Parks also profit from the sales of these season-long tickets.
“They guarantee revenue, often in the offseason when it’s needed the most,” explains Ken Handler, president of Global Management Amusement Professionals, a consultancy.
Passes can be sold year-round, before a park opens for the summer, or with a certain purchase deadline.
“This motivates people to purchase prior to the start of the season to get the best value for their dollar,” says Mark Moore, general manager of Gulf Islands Waterpark and Zip’N Fun Adventure Park in Gulfport, Mississippi.
That’s why the water park’s 2022 Premium Season Pass sold out, and it is the preferred product among guests, according to Moore. It’s only sold until one week prior to the park’s opening.
How can parks make these passes an even better deal?
The main focus of a season pass is unlimited admission to an attraction. But there are myriad other extras that can also be included, such as early entry; exclusive events; bring a friend; discounts on cabana rentals and lockers; discounts on food, beverage, and retail purchases; and free parking.
Dutch Wonderland hosts surprise bring-a-friend dates each season that Eisenberg says delight his passholders.
“Guests love our bring-a-friend benefits,” says Eisenberg. “Often, the addition of one or even two bring-a-friend tickets (depending on the pass tier) is the deciding factor in purchasing a pass or deciding which pass tier is best for them.”
Many attractions sell several types of season passes, with each tier offering more than the one beneath it and at a progressively higher price. They can be named after Olympic medals—gold, silver, and bronze—or use a terminology determined by the attractions’ staff.
Bring-a-friend tickets are also popular at Gulf Islands Waterpark. Moore says coupons from Gulf Islands and area partners, as well as 10% discounts off food and beverage, are second in popularity. In third place, guests appreciate the early entry on Saturdays.
Handler notes that special events, early park access, insider information, free parking, and discounts on food and merchandise are all valued by parkgoers.
Because of the pandemic many parks have taken advantage of technology, says Handler. Guests can buy their season passes from one of their devices.
“The pandemic has forced parks to do all the processing online rather than in the park now,” Handler says. “People have gone to contactless payments, and they can also preorder meals from home.”
After 2020, Dutch Wonderland completely revamped the structure of its season pass to keep the park within reach financially.
“We expanded from two pass tiers to four, offering our guests more options and flexibility to fit with their budgets and their needs,” explains Eisenberg. “We also expanded our payment plan options with the goal of offering affordable and convenient options to become season passholders.”
The platinum-tier pass offers admission to all U.S. Palace Entertainment parks including Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania; Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut; Splish Splash on Long Island, New York; and many more within driving distance from Dutch Wonderland.
Attracting New Season Pass Buyers
To drive first-time season pass purchases, Dutch Wonderland restructured its pass tiers so guests with varying budget needs have a variety of options.
“We’ve also brought back our characters for the first time since the onset of COVID, introduced an all-new edition of our dive show (one of our guests’ favorite experiences every year), and expanded our food and beverage menus,” says Eisenberg. “It’s important to us to offer an extraordinary experience to our guests, and infusing additional value into the park experience is the best way for us to retain our existing season passholders and to attract new ones.”
Inflation has been hitting everyone hard with the skyrocketing cost of gas and rising food prices, adding more considerations for attractions as they set their fees.
Dutch Wonderland introduced a dynamic pricing ticketing calendar that offers savings on certain days, while the season pass tiers offer options for a variety of budgets.
“So while we aren’t immune to the inflation affecting individuals and businesses around the country, we’ve found a variety of ways for families to keep a single day or a season’s worth of visits within reach,” explains Eisenberg.
Season passes should be the strongest discount an attraction offers, says Moore, so it encourages people to visit multiples times. Like all types of discounts, certain scenarios require it be limited.