Operating one of America’s largest waterparks in Colorado has plenty of rewards as well as challenges. Weighing in at the top of that list is our weather. In Denver, it can snow in May and be 90 degrees a few days later. Thunderstorms often form and move over the city, dropping the temperature from the 90s to the 60s in a matter of minutes. But if you wait awhile, beautiful weather is likely to return. Outdoor conditions are one aspect of the guest experience that we cannot control, though our visitors sometimes expect that we can. However, we’ve learned to adapt.

Early on, we decided that no rain checks would be given during inclement weather. Often the park would reopen when the storm passed, and the thought of issuing thousands of free tickets was hard to justify. But with each new storm, there were increasing groups of upset guests ending their visits on a sour note. Additionally, the less favorable a forecast was on any given day, the fewer guests would visit the park because they knew they were out of luck if inclement weather occurred.

Why not reduce the risk of visiting on a day when it might rain? We tested the waters by introducing a rain-check guideline that balanced a “good weather guarantee” with operational concerns. If our attractions were closed for 90 minutes due to inclement weather, guests would receive a ticket to visit again. Nearly everyone left happy. The dread of issuing thousands of complimentary tickets was quickly offset by the fact that less than half of all rain-check tickets are redeemed. And redeemed tickets often are accompanied by additional guests and spending. After a certain time in the afternoon, visitors would receive a half-day return ticket rather than a full-day. These could be used for free admission at half-day or could be upgraded for an additional cost to a full-day ticket. The vast majority of people elect to upgrade the ticket on the return visit, which generates additional revenue.

We continued to listen and monitor our guest trends. We learned that 90 minutes often was too long for many people to wait during rain, so we adjusted the time to 60 minutes. Some guests, especially those with small children, wanted to leave without having to wait. As a result, we introduced a service that allows our guests to sign up on a rain check “waiting list” before leaving the park. If the park does not reopen within 60 minutes, rain checks will automatically be left for them to pick up on their next visit. If the weather clears and the park reopens, no tickets are generated. It doesn’t cost a dime and the groups of upset guests are gone.

The Lessons

1. Don’t assume. Not all guest-friendly programs and guidelines will be expensive or hard to implement. They may, in fact, generate additional revenue and good will.

2. Keep listening. Guest feedback is important. After implementation, additional fine-tuning may be needed to achieve the best balance of operational needs and guest expectations.

3. Minimize operational impact. While we can’t control the weather, getting creative with guest guidelines and programs can greatly minimize the impact of the elements on operations at outdoor facilities.