With summer 2008 wrapping up, the big question on everyone?s minds is, ?How was business?? Final numbers are still coming in, but early projections look good, thanks to some advanced planning.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans said they had less money to spend on summer vacations this year than last, according to an AOL Travel and Zogby International poll of 6,678 adults in February 2008.
With such reports, operators looked to local markets, hoping in the absence of travel plans, consumers would patronize entertainment closer to home. Cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago launched campaigns aimed at attracting locals and experts, including representatives from the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions, and the heads of Six Flags and Cedar Fair, predict the strategy will work.
?Families want more for less,? said Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro in an interview with Business Week magazine. ?They?re strapped for discretionary income. They?re still going to do something ... but whereas typically they might do three to five things per summer, they?re looking for two or three things to do. ...?
Early indicators support the experts? assessments. Cedar Fair announced that revenue and attendance through June 1 remained unchanged. And Walt Disney, operator of the nation?s No. 1 and No. 2 most-attended waterparks, reported it pulled in more revenue than expected in early 2008. During its third quarter, which includes the month of June, the firm?s theme park segment noted gains of 3 percent. Six Flags, operator of the No. 13 and No. 14 most-popular waterparks in Aquatics International?s Top 20 Waterparks, showed first-quarter revenue increasing 35 percent over the prior year.
?Everyone I?ve heard from has said it?s been a good summer [so far],? said Paul Serff, president/CEO of the Texas Travel Industry Association, though he noted that last summer, significant inclement weather affected many operators. ?The fact that they?re [saying business is up] is a good sign. It wouldn?t surprise me if [part] of the increase is because of a strong local market.?
Jeffery Siebert, Schlitterbahn spokesman, agreed: ?We are having a great season [and], yes, it?s a busy year from our local guests.?
One factor driving ticket revenue and attendance may be that many park operators offered lower ticket prices. Six Flags cut one-day admission at many of its U.S. parks by as much as $10. Another reason may be a predicted uptick in international travel, a result of a weak U.S. dollar. To further entice guests, many waterparks debuted new attractions.
Though early indications appear positive, more foot traffic may not equal more total revenue in the end. Once inside, guest spending on things such as food and souvenirs may be down, and operators are still facing big energy bills.
Ultimately, it may be a completely uncontrollable factor that decides how far in the black or red waterparks end up. The weather can play a critical role in attendance. As of press time, Hurricane Dolly and flooding and cold spells in the upper Midwest had already taken a toll.