On four different Sundays last summer the tropical South
Pacific-themed Magic Waters celebrated Fiesta Days. Guests at the
Cherry Valley, Ill., waterpark enjoyed free Mexican food from a
local restaurant, Latin music and activities, including
piñata. A local Spanish-language radio station sponsored one
The reason for all the south of the border fun? To attract the
growing Hispanic/Latino population.
“We pay really close attention to the demographics in our
community and as we see the Latino population growing, we want to
make sure we’re reaching out to every sector,” says
Jessica Steinberg, director of Magic
With Fiesta Days, Steinberg and her team focused on attracting a
segment of the community that has not regularly visited Magic
Waters; and in today’s market, for waterpark operations to
survive, that strategy is crucial, experts say.
In the past, building a new ride might have been enough to attract
visitors. Undoubtedly, new attractions are still a draw, but such
an undertaking necessitates significant capital expenditure,
requiring funding for the project as well as any additional staff
members a new ride may require, along with physical space in the
And thanks to increasing competition from other waterparks and
leisure activities — such as video games — operators
can no longer count on the “build it and they will
come” phenomenon to ensure return on investment.
“What we’ve considered our competitive set is no longer
relegated to just our industry, says Steve Shattuck, corporate
director of communications at Great Wolf Resorts, based in Madison, Wis.
“It’s anything that competes for families’
leisure time and precious discretionary incomes.”
What’s more, waterpark audiences are constantly growing older
and developing new interests, so that perfect patron who fits your
target this year, may not be interested in your waterpark next
All told, waterparks trying to grow, and those that just want to
maintain status quo, need comprehensive plans to attract new
customers — now more than ever.
So where do you start when it comes to finding new markets? Experts
suggest there are a number of ways to approach it.
- Geographically speaking. Is there a new
community in the surrounding area that you haven’t targeted
before? Do new highways or public transportation hubs make
accessing your waterpark from an outlying city more
- Demographics. An evaluation of your public
may reveal new or emerging segments that would spend money at your
park. New demographic groups might include those with special
needs, or perhaps there’s a senior community you
haven’t paid attention to in the past that would visit with
- Group think. Group visits are a great
way to introduce people to your waterpark who may not otherwise
visit. It’s also a great opportunity to “roll out the
red carpet” and wow them with top-notch service that will
make them want to come back on their own.
To determine which new markets might be a good fit for your park,
there are several points to keep in mind.
First, take time to really understand what motivates the customers
you already have. Who are they? How often do they come? What do
they do when they visit, and why?
It’s a question of “Where in the pond can I find more
fish like the fish I’m already getting?” notes Jeff Coy
president of JLC
Hospitality Consulting in Cave Creek, Ariz.
You’ll also want to take a hard look at what you offer and
where you fit in the market. Are you a local attraction or a
destination park? Do you have a family-friendly mix of amenities,
or are your attractions more specific? There may be a huge teen
segment that you could be targeting, but if your waterpark is
focused on small children and doesn’t have enough thrills to
excite teens, developing a campaign directed toward that group
would be a waste of time.
Second, once you understand what drives your patrons, determine
when you want more customers to come. If you’re already very
busy on weekends, then targeting a market likely to visit your
waterpark at that time may not be the best plan.
Consider times of the day, and days of the week,” marketing
expert Tom Bergman says. “Figure out when you might have
downtime. You don’t want to bring in more people when
you’re crowded, which could end up resulting in diminishing
returns.” Bergman, the president of Lake Geneva, Wis.-based
Bergman Communications has worked with waterparks for close to 30
Also pay close attention to evening hours, suggests David Sangree,
president of Cleveland-based Hotel & Leisure Advisors. For many
waterparks, that’s when business tends to taper off.
Year-round operations also need to consider business patterns from
an annual perspective.
Finally, make sure your price point is right for the audience you
want to bring in. For example, if you’re trying to entice
seniors, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your senior citizen
Get out there!
“Some waterpark [operators] are out there who may still
believe their audience is anyone who has a swimsuit, but once they
start targeting, they quickly realize the benefits of focusing
their efforts to those customers most likely to purchase,”
says Shawn Bowman, the Dyer, Ind.-based president of IdeaSeat Marketing and
Advertising, LLC | Waterpark-Marketing.com, who has specialized in
waterpark marketing for nearly 15 years.
The fact is, the industry has matured to the point where different
waterparks will attract certain types of audiences depending on the
specific character of the park.
Just as the waterpark market has matured, so has communication
technology. Between traditional media and online opportunities,
there are so many channels to reach people that it’s more
important than ever to pay close attention to where you’re
spending your marketing dollars, especially when it comes to
attracting new customers.
Different markets will likely need different information, Coy says.
So you’ll also want to focus carefully on the messages
you’re putting out there.
For example, if you decide to reach out to fire/rescue agencies to
sell your facility as a place for them to conduct training,
they’ll naturally have different needs than a family with
In developing a campaign focused on reaching new customers, perhaps
the best place to start is online via your Website, social media
and focused advertising.
Your Website is one of the first places that anyone is likely to go
in seeking information on what your waterpark offers, and online
platforms allow for a very targeted messaging strategy, which is
ideal for reaching specific audiences. For instance, highlighting
all of your ADA-compliant features and amenities for those with
special needs is much easier on a Website or Facebook post than it
is in a 30-second commercial.
“Social media as a whole has helped us get our brand out
there,” says Stephanie Hee, marketing specialist at NRH2O Family Water Park
in North Richland Hills, Texas.
Social media, such as Facebook, is unique in that it gives new
guests a chance to ask questions directly to you, and your regular
In today’s economy that’s key, Shattuck says. In the
wake of the recession, many people are likely to be less trusting
of corporations and are turning to friends and other networks for
answers, information and advice, he adds.
Another online tool that can be particularly effective in enticing
budget-conscious newbies to try your waterpark is the group-buying
concept. Every day, sites such as Groupon and Living Social feature
local deals that are sent out via e-mail to their subscriber lists.
Once a number of subscribers purchase the deal, it becomes
“active” and those who purchase the deal redeem it
directly with the business, plus they can promote it to friends and
family via social networking.
A Groupon promotion was successful for The Beach Waterpark in Mason, Ohio.
“We’ve reached out with a season pass offered on
Groupon, says Kate Storch, executive marketing manager.
“People who had never considered a season pass to the
waterpark bought in.”
According to a report from Local Offer Network, a daily deal
aggregator, group buying market gross revenues could grow as much
as 138 percent to $2.7 billion this year. Looking ahead, smartphone
apps and other new technologies will likely enhance and change the
model even further.
“It’s the first marketing tool local businesses can use
to harness the power of the Internet,” says Chad Nason, a
spokesman for Groupon. And
even those who don’t purchase the deal are still exposed to
your message, he adds.
With the explosion of things such as Groupon, and the other free or
low-cost marketing opportunities available via the Internet, it can
be tempting to forgo traditional advertising, but resist the
Waterparks need to advertise in the media outlets that their
potential customers are utilizing, and that still includes print,
radio, TV and billboards, for some groups more so than others,
Recently, Bergman’s clients have gone to more outdoor
advertising, and that has helped them avoid media saturation. One
well-placed billboard has a daily viewership of more than a million
a day, he notes.
Another way to reach new customers may be with carefully placed
marketing “experiences” and partnerships.
For summer 2011, the team at The Beach created an interactive
marketing vehicle, transforming a Chrysler PT Cruiser into a
tricked-out classic Woodie complete with a TV and Nintendo Wii
gaming system. By June it was booked to appear at local events all
Creative partnerships geared toward attracting new guests might
include teaming up with a hotel, Sangree suggests. This is a great
option if a new market you’re considering is farther
Ultimately, a stellar campaign attracting all the first-time
visitors you can handle will fail if they don’t have a good
experience when they show up. With today’s technology, they
can tell everyone they know via text message and Facebook within
minutes. That means once you’ve put your message out there,
it’s more important than ever to wow your guests from the
minute they pull into your parking lot.
First, make sure your actual experience matches what you’re
selling online. For example, if you promise free inner tubes, you
need to have enough available to serve your patrons, even during
Second, find ways to make the experience at your waterpark special
“We’re surprised at how many people want to be treated
special when they get here. They’ll pay for luxury,”
Storch says. “Even small changes go a long way to enticing
people. We’ve added a whole bunch of cabanas with waitress
It may sound counterintuitive in an economy of cutting back, but
for today’s consumers, the best value isn’t always
about the cheapest price. Treating your guests to a little luxury
can go a long way toward enticing them to establish the kind of
connection that leads to long-standing traditions and
When it comes to new patrons, in particular, think carefully about
what might make the experience ideal for them, then figure out ways
to provide it. For example, if you decide to follow the lead of
Magic Waters and begin advertising in a Spanish-language newspaper,
do you have Spanish language signage, or Spanish-speaking staff
members to serve those with limited English skills when they
In some cases, simply providing a new experience may be enough to
attract some new groups of patrons — and that doesn’t
have to mean adding the biggest, tallest, fastest new slide.
“We’ve done a lot of things to attract people who maybe
aren’t comfortable hanging out in a bathing suit,”
Storch says. “We added a putting green in the picnic grove.
We’ve given those corporate groups one more
Programming is another way to offer a new experience. Have you
considered starting an evening water-walking fitness program in
your lazy river? What about early morning swim lessons?
Ultimately, the right strategy for your park will be an individual
one, but there is one universal truth. It all boils down to
“hitting the target” Coy says. “Reaching the
right person, in the right place, at the right time with the right
message, using the right media.”