When it comes to public outdoor waterparks, the Midwest is king, while the West is the place for private waterparks. That’s just two of the key findings from a new report by Cleveland-based Hotel & Leisure Advisors exclusively for Aquatics International.

The report defines a waterpark as a property that contains three or more large water slides, plus other waterfeatures — and it shows 330 operations nationwide.

The majority — 69 percent (227) — are privately owned, but 31 percent (103) are municipally owned. These parks usually “offer a large swimming pool with fewer water slides,” noted David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors. He wrote the report with associate Nuresh Maredia.

In analyzing the differences between the two types of ownership models overall, Sangree and Maredia have confirmed what many in the industry likely have believed anecdotally for some time. They found that because the goal of private operators is to earn a rate of return for the investors, generally “admissions are priced higher than municipal waterparks as they provide better-quality rides and attractions.”

Another difference is that private waterparks appear to expand more frequently and usually have higher marketing budgets. And “unlike municipal facilities, private waterparks also make money from retail shops and concession stands within the waterpark,” Sangree said.

He added that this is one area where public operators could see room for improvement. Sangree said most public waterparks are focused on local markets, but by expanding their target audiences to out-of-towners, they could increase attendance. These operators “just have to be willing to commit the marketing dollars,” Sangree said.

What do these findings mean in terms of further market development? For one thing, with one outdoor waterpark for every 950,000 people, the industry has plenty of room to expand. Southern states offer the greatest number of people per waterpark, indicating they have the greatest amount of potential development opportunities.

Competition between public and private, while not fierce, does exist. Currently, it is greatest in the Midwest. However, the largest outdoor waterparks by attendance and size are in the Orlando area.

All told, Sangree predicts continued development of private and municipal waterparks based on increased disposable income; reduced interest in spending leisure time in natural bodies of water; and continued enthusiasm for thrill rides.