Carving Out a Niche

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Having millions of people within close proximity to your park is an important ingredient in the recipe for success, but how do different parks in different environments attract these people? Whether based in a concrete jungle or lush backcountry, these parks share a number of similarities. But the challenges—and advantages—they face in gaining mindshare differ.

WildPlay Element Parks operates six facilities, all in Canada, of both the urban and woodsy natures. Its newest attraction, set to open this summer, features a mix of each. Located at iconic Niagara Falls, WildPlay will debut a new zip line attraction that will plunge guests down into the well of the falls (imagine?), and also open an aerial adventure course that will help people both experience the falls and get educated about it.

Since guests will drive up the highway in town to the start of the zip line, it will begin with a most urban feel. The quad zip line then will tear over a 150-foot cliff, drop down into Niagara Gorge and past the falls below the rim.

“It has the juxtaposition of an incredible natural setting, but it is completely encapsulated in urban,” says Tom Benson, CEO of Wildplay. “It will be like ‘Jurassic Park.’ You’ll be transported into a different world, with the rumble of the falls and the green and lush surroundings.” Riders will disembark in the midst of the mist, and then ride an electric train from the base of the falls back to dry civilization.

TAKING HIGH VISIBILITY HIGHER

WildPlay’s Niagara location will not require a lot of sophisticated marketing to bring visitors to the area—the falls attract millions of tourists each year. Benson sees this traffic as a natural ingredient for success at Niagara. “This is already a high profile tourist destination,” he says. “So the people are already here.” It won’t take much to promote visibility for the tour, either. The zip lines will be visible to all when they are viewing the falls.

“It’s going to be right in front of [the guests],” he says. “They’ll be able to see it all the time. You know, it is kind of like bungee jumping—if someone sees someone doing it, they take notice and think, ‘I can do that.’ At any time if we don’t have people [on the zip lines], we will get staff members to do it. Guests will see it and sign on.”

But that’s not the end of the park’s marketing plan. Benson says a big part of the park’s marketing will be directed at traditional travel writers. “Through that, people will become aware of us before they even leave their homes,” he says.

In Gatlinburg, Tenn., a new park debuting in a year also combines the two settings in one. The experience at Anakeesta will begin in a downtown environment, where guests load onto/into a Chondola (part chairlift, part gondola) for a ride that takes them up to a richly treed mountaintop where an aerial adventure course awaits. “What we are doing is taking them on a 10-minute ride that will move them from an urban environment to deep in nature,” says project development director Karen Bentz. “Eleven million people walk the streets of Gatlinburg each year. Now we are going to take and zip them away.”

Their plan for success, she says, will rely not just on people noticing it’s there, but also on smart marketing. Like WildPlay’s Niagara Falls location, being noticed is not going be a huge challenge for Anakeesta, thanks in large part to the aquarium right across the street that draws 1.5 million visitors a year.

“People say, ‘If you build it they will come,’ but I don’t want to just sit back and hope they come,” says Bentz. “So you know what we are doing? We are putting a large amount into marketing our first year.” They’ll do that in a variety of ways, including social media, partnering with other attractions, and a big presence in traditional media.

REACHING A WIDER AUDIENCE

In the Northeast, New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain Resort has to reach a more dispersed audience. Summer adventure has been offered since the ski resort was founded in 1966. In the beginning, scenic summer chair rides were a popular novelty, and have remained part of the mix—so much so that a gondola was later installed, with summer rides in mind. In 2012, the resort stepped up big time, adding a full adventure park and other attractions for folks to take on during the warm months.

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About Author

Moira McCarthy is a longtime journalist who serves as the winter sports editor (and columnist) at the Boston Herald. She has written for Snow Country, Ski, and Yankee Magazines as well as Disney Interactive, and for trade journal Ski Area Management. She is also a nationally known speaker on diabetes advocacy and life with diabetes, having written "Everything Parent's Guide to Juvenile Diabetes," as well as "Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Parent Survival Guide" and four other books. She has been involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for 17 years and was JDRF International Volunteer of the Year in 2007.

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