World Waterpark Association president Rick Root talks to Park World about the industry represented by his 1,100+ members.
What has been the most exciting new waterpark products to emerge in the last few years?
The waterpark industry has always been about creativity and innovation. When Wet n’ Wild opened in Orlando in 1977 they introduced fibreglass slide towers. In the early 90s the industry saw its first family raft ride, first Flow Rider, Sidewinder and ‘bowl’ attractions. Then came water coasters and interactive play structures. Today’s ride innovations build on that tradition and are the product of three decades of knowledge, experience and technological improvement.
Water slides are arguably one of the easiest pieces of amusement equipment to copy. How can established manufacturers protect their designs against plagiarised product?
Nearly all industries deal with this on some level and protecting intellectual rights is extremely challenging for any industry operating within the global market. Our established manufacturers work hard to differentiate their products through quality of workmanship and quality of service, while continuing to offer new innovations that set them apart from plagiarised products.
What level of new waterpark development has there been internationally in recent years?
We’ve seen and continue to see significant growth in the Middle East, Asia and also in Eastern and Southern Europe. Many of these areas are looking to waterparks as an important part of their tourism development plans. The United Arab Emirates has made a commitment to become one of the top vacation and leisure destinations in the world and waterparks are a key element in that mix.
We see the same approach in Asia. The Watercube in Beijing, site of the 2008 Olympics, is a major tourist attraction, second only to the Great Wall. Happy Magic Watercube opened in August of this year as a key element at the Watercube and has seen incredible visitors numbers in its first season.
These areas will continue to see significant growth and development for years to come. There is pent up demand in markets where the customer base understands what the waterpark experience is about, but does not have easy access to local facilities.
What would be your advice to an established amusement park operator deciding to add a waterpark as a second gate?
Waterparks have proven to be a very successful way to enhance a dry park’s bottom line. Operators can often add a full waterpark complex for little more than the cost of adding one major themed dry ride. And, waterparks offer significant opportunities to increase length of stay and in-park spending, while offering a completely new experience to amusement park guests.
A few theme parks, such as Hersheypark and Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, have clustered their wet rides adjacent to their waterpark elements. Good idea?
It makes great sense for parks to use wet theme park rides as a bridge or transition between their dry rides and waterparks when possible.
Is the indoor waterpark explosion confined mainly to North America?
The free-standing indoor waterpark concept originated in Europe years before it became popular in North America, and well established brands have integrated indoor waterparks into family vacation villages throughout Europe for many years.
Recently, the direct integration of hotels and indoor waterparks has created a whole new category of year-round family vacation destinations known as waterpark resorts. Thanks to rapid development of waterpark resorts in areas like the Wisconsin Dells, widely credited as the “waterpark capital of the world,” the concept has the largest established base in North America, but that is changing rapidly as developers incorporate it around the globe.
Alton Towers’ Splash Landing Hotel and Cariba Creek Waterpark opened in the UK in 2003 and waterpark resorts have recently opened or will open soon in France, Thailand, the UAE, Malaysia, China and the Philippines.
If, as has been suggested, public pools are increasingly adding waterpark elements, how can a traditional waterpark remain competitive?
Public aquatic facilities are definitely adding traditional waterpark elements to better serve their constituents. In many communities, these types of parks and facilities are different in style and scope from their traditional waterpark competitors and actually help build awareness and foster demand for larger waterpark resorts and established destination waterparks.
Do you expect to see more waterpark activity on cruise ships?
Yes, definitely. Royal Caribbean added the first waterpark rides in the mid-2000s and now many ships offer water rides as a key attraction.Many of Carnival ships as well as Norwegian’s new Epic offer aqua parks and Disney’s Dream will launch a new innovative, 4-deck high, waterpark attraction called the Aqua Duck in 2011.
Families on vacation expect that waterparks and water attractions will be a part of their leisure experience wherever they go and cruise lines are working hard to meet that expectation.
What is the biggest challenge confronting your members today?
The waterpark industry faces many of the same challenges other leisure and entertainment businesses are facing in today’s crowded marketplace. Consumers have less available time and, more recently, less available income to spend on leisure, yet there are more entertainment offerings available than ever before. Thankfully, consumers recognise that waterparks provide a high entertainment value for the cost and appeal to all members of the family.
Rick Root began his career almost 30 years ago as an American Red Cross lifeguard and has held positions both in the public sector and with companies such as Six Flags and Herschend Family Entertainment. He also been an active volunteer and instructor for the American Red Cross, ASTM International, Boy Scouts of America, Ellis & Associates, National Recreation and Parks Association, National Swimming Pool Foundation and the YMCA. He and his wife Beth have two sons, aged eight and 10. Under Rick’s leadership (he became president in 2001), the WWA has significantly expanded its educational offer and member services, helping fuel industry growth in the US and abroad. The next WWA Middle East waterpark symposium will take place in March as part of the DEAL trade show in Dubai. www.waterparks.org