When it comes to pricing your adventure experiences, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. This is arguably the most impactful decision you can make for your bottom line, and it can be the most challenging to perfect. The good news is there are several ways to do it. We’ll look at some of those ways here, based on examples from adventure park owners, operators, and managers who share plenty of practical, effective ideas for setting prices and increasing the average ticket price.
Pricing goes well beyond the initial step of “setting the price” (though that step is important, too). Repeatedly filling your customer’s shopping cart and raising the average purchase with packages and upsells will increase your average sale per visitor and have a significant effect on your bottom line as well.
Setting your base price
There are many studied pricing mechanisms for establishing base ticket prices. Most companies lean toward traditional mark-up pricing, which is the combination of marking up production costs and calibrating against competitors’ prices. However, there are other approaches to experiment with to ensure your business continues to thrive.
Demand-driven pricing, or dynamic pricing, lets fluctuations in aggregate demand drive changes in price. There can be many variations on this pricing strategy. Airlines and hotels, for example, take this concept to extremes. Both have consistently high demand, and use technical tools to obsessively track and control prices at finite levels. They use price to direct demand and to fill less-popular times, dates, and seats.
There are less extreme, but equally effective, approaches to dynamic pricing, particularly for our industry. For example, John Hines, partner in Outdoor Ventures and owner of The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School, noticed a pattern in customer visitation: most came to the park between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Hines recognized that there are two main culprits for this pattern, both related to the park’s three-hour ticket duration.
First, the “dinner dilemma”—families need to consider dinnertime in their schedules after 4 p.m. And second, start times need to close three hours before the park closes, because that’s the amount of time it takes to complete the most challenging courses, hence the three-hour ticket.
So, Hines implemented a dynamic pricing strategy by introducing the Twilight Ticket—a modified two-hour ticket beginning in the window three hours before close, priced at a 20 percent discount. With the park’s official closing hour of 7 p.m., for example, the last start time would normally have to be 4:00pm. By adding start times after 4:00 p.m. (4:20, 4:40, 5) with the modified twilight ticket, the goal is to both motivate customers to come in the evening and also to optimize the end of the day, within the three-hour window that the park is emptying.
“By adding two to four new start times in the several hours prior to closing, we can now fit in up to 60 additional climbers,” says Hines. “But, the position of this twilight ticket type with my visitors was paramount. Rather than cannibalizing our peak visitors with the discount, we’ve been able to reach a new customer type, one who is not interested in the most difficult courses, and that happens to appeal to families as well.”
Value-based pricing is the idea of setting prices according to the offering’s worth. It involves two key ideas: value creation and value capture.
Value creation is the idea of delivering more and more innovation around the experience at your park or business. In other words, add more value for your customer than the other guy.
Value capture is then capturing the value of the additional innovation you now deliver. How? By charging for it.
Edge Adventure Parks Indianapolis at Koteewi is popular with Boy Scout troops. Nick Holt, partner at Edge Adventure Parks, says troop leaders often ask if there are Merit Badge opportunities onsite.
That prompted Holt to create more value. “We added a new, inexpensive, low-overhead tree/rock climbing feature to the park,” Holt says. “This feature, when accomplished by Scouts, will qualify them for the climbing and belaying badge. In terms of value capture, we’ve just upped the ante for Scout groups to plan events at the park, and they will walk away with a better experience because of it.”
High Gravity Adventures has also shifted to value-based pricing over the last few years, says Ruthie Nathan, director of sales and marketing. “Here in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, there are several locations offering zip tours,” says Nathan. “Since 2015, we have continually added new features, including a giant swing and ninja ground course. We have been able to offer a more robust experience, and we can charge a premium for delivering more value to our visitors.”
Increase Each Sale: Upsells and Bundling
By using strategies that provide more value, give the customer more benefits, and create a better overall experience, your sales can actually make customers happier and feel more connected to your company and brand, not to mention increase revenue. There are a few ways to do this effectively.
Upsells: They say the most profitable question of all time is, “Would you like fries with that?” The upsell strategy McDonald’s popularized is based on the idea that when people get to the stage where they’re ready to buy from you, you can ask them to buy more things, and there’s much less friction.
High Gravity Adventures experimented with this strategy on its giant swing experience—
with great success. As a stand-alone item, a ticket to ride the swing costs $19. If a guest adds the giant swing onto another experience, such as a zip tour, it costs just $10. The staff is trained to always ask customers checking-in, “Would you like to add on a giant swing for $10?” The upsell option is also offered online after an item has been added to a customer’s shopping cart.
The strategy is working. According to Nathan, 16 percent of people visiting the park for another activity, such as the zip tour or aerial park, have added the giant swing option. “We believe this is revenue we wouldn’t have otherwise recognized,” Nathan says.
Bundling: In bundling, or packaging, a set of products or services are sold together for a lower price than they would cost a la carte. A package deal helps the customer focus on the total experiential value, and they’ll try activities they might have skipped otherwise.
High Gravity has used bundling strategies to not only provide great value, but also to simplify the park’s menu of options. As innovation (new features) increased at the park, the potential for customer confusion (and staff sales training requirements) also increased. Simple questions— “What should I do?” and “How much does this cost?”—had complicated answers. With 11 activities onsite, priced separately, it was practically an interview between the staff and visitor before they could decide what was best.
Enter: the Ultimate Adventure bundle. This single product includes a zip line tour, climbing on two of the aerial courses, the giant swing, and a run through the ninja course—all for one price that is about 35 percent less than what it would cost a la carte. The fair and approachable price has resulted in greater sales, and it has simplified communication with guests.
The staff’s new answer to the question of what to do is now simple: “Our most popular ticket is the Ultimate Adventure.” This premium option is also atop the product list online.
“There is no question that this bundle is the right approach for us,” says Nathan. “Twenty-seven percent are choosing a package vs. a la carte, which has increased revenues and average ticket prices significantly, and we are providing a better experience for our visitors.”
Birthday parties can be another great form of bundling. Molly Kerr, owner of TreeTop Adventures in Canton, Mass., believes a birthday bundle was a critical component to Treetop’s increased revenue in 2017 vs. 2016. The bundle is just $45 per person for a minimum of 10 climbers (kids and adults), and includes 2.5 hours of climbing in the park, plus reserved picnic tables, goodie bags and a TreeTop Adventures t-shirt for the guest of honor. Even with the discount, the increase in total number of tickets sold along with other pricing tactics helped the average ticket price increase by 13 percent over 2016.
“In 2017, we started offering these birthday party packages online,” says Kerr. “Not only were we able to increase our total birthday party sales from 80 tickets to over 1,200, but 75 percent of these packages were booked online with no staff involvement, saving us 275 phone calls.”
Hines approaches birthday party packages in a different way from a pricing perspective, but with equal success. He prices these bundles more aggressively, essentially looking at the parties as a loss leader. The driving philosophy is that birthday parties are ripe for new, repeat customers.
“The average birthday party has 10 kids, about half of whom have never climbed at our park before,” explains Hines. “This is representing a reach of five new families. If we show them a fantastic time and great experience, I’m confident they will come back. And our data says they do.”
It’s possible to capture revenue when you normally wouldn’t: the off-season. Season passes, advanced ticket sales, vouch
ers, and gift certificates are all products being successfully marketed and sold when the register isn’t otherwise ringing. Leverage major consumer buying patterns (i.e. the holidays, dads and grads, back to school) for optimal success.
Edge Adventure Park’s 2018 season pass pre-sale is a good example. “We ran a campaign that garnered $50,000 in season pass pre-sales between the months of October and December,” says Holt. “This is remarkably outside of our peak season, and is absolutely revenue we wouldn’t have otherwise recognized.”
To accomplish this, Edge used a few smart marketing tactics.
First tip: Start pre-sale of next season’s passes while still in the current season. The rationale is to target your customer base while you are still relevant in their “summer mindset.” While Edge’s campaign ran through the holidays, the vast majority of sales happened in the month of October 2017.
Second tip: Set a deadline for customers to buy at the best price. Edge set multiple deadlines, in fact. But the lowest price was only available until the end of October, and 70 percent of sales came within two days of the deadline expiring.
Third tip: Leverage email. While Edge executed some digital advertising campaigns, email proved to be the most successful tactic in reaching its customer base. It sent a total of 13,000 emails for three locations in the month of October, and 80 percent of the sales resulted from those emails.
Quite possibly the best news is that Holt is convinced this effort didn’t cannibalize next year’s ticket sales. In reviewing the existing customer base, 97 percent did not participate in the pre-sale.
Nathan agrees with Holt’s approach. “Nearly 10 percent of our annual revenue comes from season passes and ticket vouchers during our pre-season sale,” she says.
High Gravity Adventures’ strategy is to sell season passes at an approachable price, which equals the cost of just 2.5 regular-priced tickets at the park. Pass marketing begins Thanksgiving week via email campaigns, Google Ads, Facebook ads, and other methods of remarketing. Throughout the season, post departure “thank you” emails invite guests to put the cost of their recent purchase toward a season pass upgrade.
Experiment and Grow
There is an underlying theme across all pricing conversations with park managers: experimentation. Every market has different scenarios stemming from competition, culture and environment. Those successfully raising average ticket prices year over year, and in turn maintaining a thriving park that their communities can continue to enjoy, are constantly trying new things, learning, tweaking, and trying again.