Move over, pandas and giraffes. Some new animals are heading to the zoo, and they?re looking to cool off in their own pond.
Polar bears? No. It?s human beings homo sapiens specifically, the zoo visitors themselves. Today, as part of their admission tickets, more and more visitors to the zoo can get their own water-play areas, complete with water slides, spray features and wave pools.
?Waterparks will attract families and young teens, and the whole array who would not normally come to the property,? said Kevin Asher, supervisor of special projects at the Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation department. Miami-Dade is one of several zoo operators that is considering putting in a waterpark.
Like ski resorts, zoos have high and low seasons. But unlike waterparks, zoos host student groups and tourists during the school year, and tend to slow down during the hot summer months unless giant pandas arrive from China or a rare species gives birth.
?It?s just so hot,? Asher said. ?If you have the zoo principally used in the winter and spring and some parts of summer, the waterpark can be used in the spring and summer. We?re looking for other complementary attractions for family and family-related visitors that could take advantage of underused or underdeveloped land [such as a waterpark].?
Judith Leblein Josephs agrees. ?It makes more sense because of combination ticketing,? said the operations analyst at Water Technology Inc. in Beaver Dam, Wis. ?Zoo visitation has its [seasons], but adding a waterpark and having a wet-and-dry ticket, utilizing parking and doubling staffers who understand food and beverage ? would be complementary.?
Adding a waterpark to the zoo is more than just making use of the trained staff, wide parking lots and concessions throughout the year. In addition, the attraction can draw in a wider audience.
?Who goes to zoos? Families with young kids or older adults,? said Alison Osinski, Ph.D., president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego. ?You don?t get the entertainment dollar from pre-teens or teenagers. [Having a waterpark] is an attempt to get ? the pre-teen and teenage group.?
The waterparks also aim to develop repeat visitors. ?If you live in the same town for a while, how often do you go to the zoo?? Osinski asked. ?If you want them once a month, you need a reason to bring them in.?
Some zoos have already caught onto the idea, installing everything from sprayparks to full-fledged waterparks. In Toronto, a pressing need to create a children?s activity area came in the form of Splash Island, a 2-acre water-play area with water slides and spray features. The area doubles as a classroom that teaches about Canadian wildlife, with polar bears spouting water in the ?Arctic? and a Canadian beaver in the ?river? section.
The Granby Zoo in Granby, Quebec, Canada, has a 12-acre ?Amazoo Yoplait Water Park,? with a giant wave pool measuring nearly 30,000 square feet, a 1,400-foot-long lazy river (mimicking the Amazon River, hence the park?s name), a multilevel play feature, toddlers? lagoon area and lounge chairs.
Over in Ohio, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium purchased Six Flags? Wyandot Lake waterpark in 2006 with the intent of renovating and reopening the waterpark in 2008. The zoo hopes to increase its attendance with the new ?tourism destination,? offering season and single-day passes to both areas. Besides new rides, the zoo is adding a polar bear exhibit and an African savanna attraction.
But zoo operators needn?t fear that the waterparks will cannibalize their business. ?People will still stop and see the camels and the polar bears,? Osinski said. ?Then they?ll go swim.?