22 May 2018 Attractions Management Handbook
 

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Attractions Management Handbook - Ruling the waves

Feature

Ruling the waves


Celebrating his 30th anniversary in the waterpark industry, Alan Mahony reflects on the changing tides – and how some operators have sailed ahead while others remain in the doldrums

Chimelong has monopolised the top waterpark slot on the TEA & AECOM Theme Park Index since 2013 © chimelong waterpark
Wet ‘n’ Wild Waterpark was Australia’s first ever official full-scale waterpark
The Tornado at Chimelong was China’s first Tornado ride and is the waterpark’s number 1 attraction
Jungle Fury is one of 12 rides in the Nickelodeon zone at Sunway Lagoon
La Viva in China is an excellent example of a “new age” indoor waterpark
Siam Park in Tenerife is often the world’s first to install the latest cutting-edge rides

Australia’s first official full-scale waterpark was built on the expertise of the more fully developed US waterpark sector. Back in 1986, waterslides for Queensland’s Wet ‘n’ Wild waterpark were produced using local manufacturers, but a great deal of the technology and equipment had to be imported from North America, even down to the lounge chairs.

During the 1990s, the appeal of waterparks widened ever further to reach the shores of Asia, South America and Europe. This global expansion marked an exciting time for the sector, with each region experiencing its own challenges and implementing its own strategies in operations and future development.

Although local manufacturers could provide developers with waterslide products in some countries, like Australia, other countries had to source them from existing waterpark markets around the world. Sourcing specialised operating equipment could prove challenging, with some countries only being able to source locally after their developers had researched the requirements of existing waterparks abroad – and then learned how to reproduce them.

Some of these pioneering waterparks are still around, while others have made great headway to become today’s leading worldwide watermarks.

After a decade spent in the early days of the Australian waterpark industry, working with the Village Roadshow Theme Park group for its first three properties, I entered the Chinese waterpark market during the booming 1990s to develop and operate the country’s first official full-scale waterpark: Big Hippo Waterworld.

Being the first waterpark in China, all the slides and equipment had to be imported. This joint venture agreement soon encountered problems, between the local construction and management teams and the local and foreign owners. By the late 1990s, lots more waterparks had entered the Asian market and faced the same predicament of sourcing supplies from abroad. However, despite using international standard products, the inexperience of local construction and project management companies, compounded by poor operations management, meant that many projects failed to reach their full potential.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s the waterpark industry also underwent a difficult period due to the global financial climate. Asia was hit especially hard with the 1997 financial crisis, exacerbated by the SARS crisis, terror attacks and the tsunami. These events not only affected developers and operators, but also suppliers. International suppliers were particularly hard hit with companies buying cheaper domestic products to reduce development costs.

GAME CHANGER
In 2007 a real game changer entered the Chinese waterpark industry. In Guangdong, a developer who already owned and operated a zoo, theme park, circus and hotels, embarked on a waterpark development – Chimelong Waterpark opened with an initial year one attendance of 1.3 million visitors, torpedoing it straight to the number three slot on that year’s TEA & AECOM Theme Park Index for waterparks worldwide; a significant achievement. The fact that this success was attained during a 4.5-month trading period averaging more than 10,000 people a day with a maximum peak day attendance of 35,000 was an absolute triumph. Since this initial boom, Chimelong has continued to grow annually and has monopolised the number one slot on the TEA & AECOM Theme Park Index for waterparks since 2013. The latest Index reported 2.4 million annual visitors.

What made Chimelong Waterpark such a game changer? Firstly, it entered a developing market within the world’s most populace country – a country that had gradually established its own waterpark industry with its own waterpark suppliers since the opening of its first waterpark in 1996. Secondly, rather than following China’s development trend of sourcing locally, Chimelong used the world’s leading suppliers from abroad and brought in established international operations management. They then priced themselves more than 300 per cent higher than the country’s existing waterpark operators.

Chimelong not only put in place a well-planned development strategy, but an experienced operations plan and a sound strategy for continued development.

Instead of resting on its laurels and seeing a waterpark as a one-off investment, since the very beginning Chimelong has defined and improved its operations. Ongoing observations of every aspect of the visitor experience are considered and improved upon on a regular basis. Plus, the development never stops. Ongoing development spans from adding new attractions, features and entertainment through to enhancing the overall guest experience. Chimelong has firmly grasped this concept of continually improving implementations and operations with constant commitment to ongoing capital investment, as well as support for these strategies.

Siam Park in Tenerife is another excellent example of a waterpark that has entered the sector over the past decade and excelled. By understanding the industry, expanding and working closely with the correct suppliers to introduce the most exciting new water rides on the market, Siam Park is often the world’s first to install the latest cutting-edge rides. A strategy that makes them a world leading waterpark.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
Many developers and operators tend to develop and operate within a box. Looking at the waterpark business as waterslides, pools, food & beverage, and retail. The modern day experience of waterparks is so much more than these disparate elements. Guests want to feel fully immersed for a richer experience.

The La Viva project currently under construction in China is an excellent example of a “new age” indoor waterpark offering a huge number of the latest and most innovative daring rides which all start and finish from the same 20-metre (66-foot) tower. La Viva’s indoor section will feature a wide range of family and children’s activities and high-tech entertainment systems to offer guests a complete year-round waterpark experience and help offset operations costs.

When a new developer enters the waterpark market, first off they need to understand that market. Today, there is a tendency for new developers to learn about the industry from the trade show floor. Although convenient, this can be a recipe for disaster – a trend we are increasing seeing in the waterpark. Global growth in the industry has allowed many new suppliers to enter the business and although many may have the basics for manufacturing purposes, they have little or no experience – especially the type of background knowledge that a new developer requires.

A new developer needs to understand the operations of a waterpark and how they relate to the development of their particular facility within their selected market. Without this know-how a new developer will find it extremely difficult to achieve long-term success.

The world’s leading waterparks all share similarities despite being located in different countries and markets. They all study their relative market, and then design and develop with the aim of becoming a market leader. They engage experienced operators from the initial stages of development through to construction and on to operations. They work with leading industry suppliers and carry out intensive research on the rides and attractions they are purchasing. They understand that they must continually improve the waterpark’s operations and add the newest and latest waterpark innovations and attractions regularly to constantly enhance the guest experience.

The leading waterpark in each continent follows these same guidelines and this is why some of the original waterparks developed back in the 1980s/90s are still industry leaders today. If you were to take snap shots of these waterparks since their fanfare opening day and compare them with their offering today, you would see very different pictures. They are always actively thinking about the visitor experience and how to improve it. This is incredibly important in this industry in order to move with the tides.

It’s been a real privilege to be part of this dynamic industry and to have been involved in the development, redevelopment, expansion and constantly improving operations of waterparks like Wet ‘n’ Wild Australia, Sunway Lagoon Malaysia and Chimelong Waterpark. These established waterparks have continued to lead the industry within their region, using very similar principals. We’ve seen waterparks change their strategies over the decades to meet the demands of the industry and maintain market leadership.

Unfortunately, new developers have failed due to incorrect decision-making during development and/or lack of management know-how and expertise, hampered by an unwillingness to continually update their offering.

The next decade is sure to see many new developments in the waterpark industry, with the leading waterparks progressing with them – and hopefully some exciting new leaders entering the global waterpark sector.


About the author:
Alan Mahony has extensive experience in the waterpark industry and has provided expert advice over the past 30 years

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2016 issue 1

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