This year promises to be hot, hot, hot for the water leisure industry in Europe and beyond – and what could be more appropriate for waterpark operators? Leisure industry analysts agree that the days of financial crisis and slowed growth are starting to fade away and what’s being left in its place is renewed optimism for consumers and new attraction development for operators.
“The last 12 months have revealed a steady financial recovery throughout the world’s leisure markets. Thanks to this recovery, there has been increasing investment confidence, which has translated into a number of new and previously shelved projects starting to re-emerge and commence with the building and opening process,” says Roger Currie, regional director, Water Technology Inc.
Hence, the water leisure industry is poised for the kinds of new facility and attraction developments that get people talking and coming out to spend their money. Some of the burgeoning trends that are becoming more prevalent in 2015 are: creating memorable family experiences; delivering interactive ride attractions making the most of hybrid ride development; and using phased development to create cost and space efficiency.
Alongside these hot developmental trends, waterpark operators are continuing to focus on facilitating operational trends and advancements that will pay even bigger dividends once new consumers walk through the gates. These trends include things like being good stewards of the environment through water and energy conservation and focusing on accessibility throughout the waterpark environment.
Both the development and operational trends are worth taking a deeper look at in order to get a clearer idea of exactly why this year will be so successful for the water leisure market.
Development Trends - Family time matters
What is it that Ferris Bueller says at the beginning of John Hughes’ film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Today, life is moving about as fast as it can for most families. Mums, dads and kids are balancing work, school and sports commitments with socialising – both virtual and in-person. Because of this, families are taking some time to slow down and enjoy leisure activities together.
According to recent research carried out by PGAV Destinations, a planning and design firm whose recent projects include Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China and PortAventura in Spain, the main priority that families are looking for when they travel is ‘togetherness’. According to PGAV, “Families want to do something as a family, even if they head off to different parts of the destination”. This enables families to experience something that each individual finds compelling, while also stepping away from their usual hectic schedules. It also offers them “a rare chance to create memories they can smile about and tease each other about for the next 50 years”.
So, how are waterpark designers capitalising on this trend? One way is by adding family participation rides that allow for multiple riders at one time. These rides often use theming or interactive elements that create unique ride experiences.
“Family raft slides and mat racing slides have proven very popular in the last few years as families and friends can participate in them together,” says John Child, MD of Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool, UK. “The key here is to give families or a group the chance to enjoy the activity as one entity.” Some recent new additions that showcase the family participation ride trend include: Family Rafting at Istralandia Waterpark, Croatia; Rapid Race at PortAventura, Spain; Cobra at Skara Sommarland, Sweden; and Mekong Rapids at Siam Park Tenerife in Spain.
Two becomes one
A second, and perhaps even more compelling, design trend is the rise of hybrid rides. For a number of years, attraction manufacturers have been leading the way with innovative new designs that feature interactive elements such as colours, sound and lights, as well as high-thrills elements like launch boxes and looping slide paths. Many of these innovations have been perfected on signature slide paths and designs. Attraction designers are finding ways to fuse these individually creative ride elements into a new hybrid design – one that would be completely unique to the park that installs it.
“The success of the fusion ride is a balance between the park and the riders. The riders get the incredible experience of riding not only one, but two world-class slides in a single ride,” says Grant Poje, executive vice president EMEAR, WhiteWater. “Because WhiteWater has so many unique combinations available, it is possible for almost every park to have either a world’s first, or a world’s only designation for the slides in their park.”
So, not only is a waterpark getting an exciting new ride experience, but they are gaining a fresh marketing angle to promote a one-of-a-kind ride to future guests.
“The operator’s challenge is to keep customers coming back again and again and their guests are always after new things,” comments Sohret Pakis, director of marketing and communications at Polin Waterparks. “Thanks to hybrid design slides, we are now able to offer exciting ride paths, multiple routes, sudden G-force changes, and more.”
Some highlights from the hybrid ride trend include: Houla Hoop at AquaParc Le Bouveret, Switzerland; Waikiki Jungle at Aquopolis Villaneuva de Canada, Spain; and Kinnaree at Siam Park Tenerife in Spain.
Along with family participation rides and hybrid attractions, a third important design trend in the European water leisure market is using phased development to control costs and use space more efficiently as new attractions come online.
“We’re working with clients to achieve this in many different ways,” said Lars Lenders, vice president business development, ProSlide Technology. “An advantage many parks are realising in phasing their ride expansions is that it gives more control of costing; they can spread them over the life of the multiple projects. The design, engineering and structure costs are often also incorporated with the phase I development, as phase II attractions can be designed to integrate onto that initial start tower.”
Consequently, this trend is a smashing success from every angle. By planning ahead, waterpark operators are able to consistently refresh their ride offerings, which gives the facility something new to offer guests while also amortising the costs over several years. A true win-win if ever there was one. Some examples of facilities that have taken advantage of this trend in recent years are: Aquamania, Bulgaria; Skara Sommarland, Sweden; and Siam Park Tenerife, Spain.
Beyond the watermark
A fourth design trend that has been going for a bit longer, but is still significant, is the creation of destinations that incorporate waterpark areas with other recreational elements like aquariums, spas, climbing elements, gaming arcades, and animal interaction areas.
Mixed-use attractions were highlighted in the 2013 Global Attractions Attendance Report by TEA/AECOM. When asked what kinds of upgrades or reinvestments are paying off for the leisure market in Europe, Jodie Lock, senior analyst economics Europe, pointed to how leisure brands are looking at how to transition into destination attractions that offer visitors longer or overnight stays. “This trend is further accentuated by the continuation of the staycation trend, which favours short breaks over lengthy holidays. Destination resorts inclusive of a wide range of attractions are positioned to capitalise on this,” comments Lock.
For some recent examples of this trend, consider Lalandia in Denmark and Splash and Spa Tamaro in Switzerland. Both combine expansive indoor waterparks with additional leisure elements and activities that provide broad-based appeal to families of all ages.
Operational Trends - Protecting Mother Earth
The water leisure industry hasn’t only been focused on development trends in the past 12-24 months. Waterpark operators have also taken the opportunity to make the most out of a few key operational trends to both improve their back-of-the-house efficiencies and the guest experience. One example is the continuation of ‘green’ matters and energy and resource conservation. European operators have often been at the forefront of this global initiative.
Waterparks, in particular, have benefitted from advancements in scientific applications relating to areas like regenerative water-saving filters, variable speed controls on pump drives, heat recovery on indoor waterpark HVAC systems and LED lighting.
Renowned brands like Center Parcs are leading the way in setting best-practice standards for conservation efforts. Its energy and environmental conservation focus on several key areas like energy use, waste production and water use. And Center Parcs is not alone. Corporate entities like Parques Reunidos and Aspro Parks are implementing sustainable practices and supporting conservation efforts throughout their waterparks, theme parks and zoos.
Fun for all
Another important operational trend that waterpark operators are currently focusing on relates to creating accessible environments for guests with disabilities. “There is more emphasis on ensuring guests with disabilities are well-catered for, that there is proper information available online and in the park and that other barriers to their visit are removed,” says John Child. “This is something we are passionate about at Sandcastle Waterpark.”
By offering a personalised service (e.g. designating a staff member to serve a special-needs family throughout their visit), designing fully accessible pools with slow-sloping entrances, providing pool-accessible wheelchairs, more accessible toilets and changing areas and stocking specially designed flotation devices, water leisure operators are now going to greater lengths to make sure guests with disabilities can enjoy a day at a watermark.
Sandcastle Waterpark has been an industry leader in this movement and was a Gold Winner of Visit England’s Awards for Excellence Access for All Award in 2013. However, other brands like Merlin Entertainments have also made this trend important to their operations. Through its Merlin’s Magic Wand charitable organisation and Taking the Magic to the Children programme, Merlin has prioritised the needs of thousands of ill, disabled and disadvantaged children who would not have had the chance to enjoy the fun activities for which the brand is known.
With so many positive trends taking place in the water leisure industry, it’s no wonder that this looks to be a solid year for growth – both in new properties and in increased attendance at waterparks and destination resorts throughout Europe.