What’s the best activity mix for my park? We all ask ourselves this question at one time or another. The answer, quite simply, is that it’s different for every operation. The list of influences that ultimately lead to the best mix are many, and vary for each operation. But asking the following questions should point you in the right direction.
WHAT’S MY BUDGET?
Whether you are starting from scratch or adding to an existing operation, this is certainly one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle. With a budget in place you’ll be able to create a realistic business plan. The goal is to determine what attractions will provide the necessary ROI while staying within your budgetary constraints.
Many parks start with anchor attractions such as aerial adventure parks, zip lines, or canopy tours. Combining those with a few complementary—and less costly—activities and facilities, such as UTV tours, climbing towers, archery tag, mazes, or summer tubing can create the critical mass of activities needed to properly market your park.
Creative thinking can oftentimes overcome financial obstacles and enable parks to develop revenue streams where none existed in the past. Consider attractions such as Segway and bicycle tours and watercraft rentals, if applicable, where revenue sharing opportunities are available with suppliers or local retailers. These can create instant income streams without requiring capital outlays.
Attractions such as mountain coasters, alpine slides, and zip-rail coasters can deliver a throughput that make their ROI very attractive—but they also come with substantial price tags. A capital investment of this scale, though, can build attractions guaranteed to be guest favorites, and can serve as another anchor to build your park around.
WHO IS MY GUEST?
Knowing your guest demographics is essential to choosing appropriate attractions. What is your local/destination visitor mix? Are there any particular groups or schools frequenting the area? Be aware of key demographics and what could motivate them to visit your park. This is a significant factor when creating the right mix of attractions.
Families, particularly those with a mix of younger children and teens, are an important demographic for the industry. They seek activities that are both exciting and completeable by parents and children alike. Most parks recognize the need to offer more activities for younger children, particularly those who may be unable to join their older siblings on aerial parks and canopy tours.
Options include explorer parks (aerial or ground-based) catering to children ages four to six and/or six to nine, as well as climbing walls, bungee trampolines, summer tubing, gem mining, mazes, and spider climbs. These allow parks to create packages that entertain younger guests for the same amount of time as their big brothers or sisters. Pair these attractions with mountain coasters, where children can ride as a passenger with adults, and with netted courses, aerial treks, and ninja courses.
WHAT FITS MY SITE?
Many operators undervalue master planning, and simply build attractions as they’re able, without thoroughly considering what will fit and what will enhance other offerings. But parks as a whole can be greater than the sum of their parts. It takes a well-conceived master plan to provide an overall view and develop a grand vision.
For example, a park with varied terrain and elevation changes has a lot of options, including coasters, slides, and summer tubing. Having a zip line race above a mountain coaster or another attraction draws added awareness to both attractions and encourages additional guest participation.
Many attractions, such as climbing walls, gem mining, bungee trampolines, archery tag, and a host of others, are best operated on flat terrain. Still others, such as scenic bicycle rides and Segway tours, work best on level to slightly rolling terrain.
Bodies of water open the door to a wide array of opportunities. Watercraft rentals, from canoes and kayaks to paddleboards and row boats, can be a significant source of revenue. These offerings will most certainly attract increased participation during hotter times of the year. Once again, revenue sharing opportunities abound through partnerships with suppliers and retailers, enabling no-cost entry into these markets.
WHAT ACTIVITIES AM I ABLE TO STAFF?
Staffing has moved to the forefront of many operational concerns, and unfortunately the outlook moving forward is not all that sunny.
In some instances, parks have had to make the impactful decision to only operate some attractions on expected high visitation days. Operators must assess the local workforce availability when making decisions about expanding park activities. Staffing requirements can make some attractions more favorable than others. These include mountain coasters, climbing walls, and freefall towers, as well as summer tubing or disc golf, to name a few.
WHAT WILL MY OPERATING HOURS BE?
One of the most overlooked avenues of revenue in our industry is night operations. Too often, park owners/managers think only in terms of daytime offerings.
Adding illumination and a sound system to an aerial park can extend operating hours by 20 to 30 percent. Those additions do require a capital investment, but parks that run night operations often find that these become their most popular run times, and thus generate a significant return.
That said, it’s possible to make night operations happen at a fraction of the cost for immediate returns. The Adventure Park at Camelback Resort in Pennsylvania began night operations for its 1,000-foot dual zip lines using halogen lighting at both the start and landing towers, and tiki torches under the lines for added effect. It also operated its mountain coaster with nothing more than ambient lighting on the track, with flashing LED lights affixed to the rear of all carts for visibility. Both are very popular, and these operations created substantial revenue with nominal expenses.
Night operations require a sound operating plan, and a high degree of attention to detail regarding safety. Once in place, though, after-dark operations offer a very lucrative extension to normal business hours.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD MY PARK INCLUDE?
Ancillary revenue from food and beverage, souvenirs, t-shirts, and photographs—to name a few—is incredibly valuable for any operation. These offerings, if done correctly, add significant income potential.
The key words, of course, are “if done correctly.” Well thought out and well-run ancillary offerings take time to properly stock and sell, but the rewards can be well worth the investment, adding 20 percent or more to revenues. On the other hand, unorganized or sloppily run food or retail outlets at your park can reflect badly on the park as a whole, leaving guests with a poor final impression after a great time participating in your adventures.
One option for those who may not have adequate time or experience to properly operate these areas is to lease them out, perhaps partnering with a local business more versed in what you’d like to offer. Their knowledge of necessary permits, appropriate vendors, and proper execution can make them a very good partner.
Remember that good partners need a reasonable return, so bring a realistic approach to the process of structuring a partnership agreement. Starting with a single-year agreement, so both parties can gain an understanding of potential revenue and expenses, is often a pragmatic approach.
WHO CAN HELP ME MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS?
This is a lot to digest and understand, but resources abound. After all, the greatest thing about being a member of the outdoor recreation industry is the people.
Park owners, managers, and staff are oftentimes willing to share their experiences. Attending industry trade shows gives everyone the opportunity to meet industry experts, share best practices, and gain invaluable knowledge. Industry advisers and consultants also have a wealth of knowledge and can provide valuable advice and perspective, whether you’re building a new park or considering an expansion to an existing park. You can also tap builders and vendors.
All of these resources can assist you in determining the right mix of attractions for your park. They can ensure you meet the necessary standards and have the necessary training to operate safely and profitably.