Finding a treasure in your tropical paradise

Finding a treasure in your tropical paradise – water park marketing to groups and businesses

Mark Pritchard

White Water Bay is a water park located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is considered the largest water theme park in the State of Oklahoma. The park has been open for 13 years and has enjoyed a great deal of success even in the past few years’ dwindling economy. In the past, with the ups and downs of the water park industry, White Water Bay looked for something to help stabilize its group sales. In 1993, White Water Bay opened a new area of the park to cater to the needs of groups and businesses.

We developed the new area of the park using market research and our own surveys of past groups and businesses who had either come to White Water Bay or had decided not to come to White Water Bayfor their particular event. As many people who are in the water park industry know, the park is a tough sell for a group to have their company outing. We discovered that most of the businesses surveyed indicated that many of their employees did not want to be seen in a bathing suit and did not have any desire to see their boss in a bathing suit Many of the groups surveyed indicated that their were not enough things to do, if they didn’t swim. If we wanted to sell the water park to groups, we had to get creative and find something that would bring lost friends back and open the door to potential new outings and groups.

White Water Bay is a 24-acre park that was originally very rustic, incorporating mostly wooden structures. In 1990 the park was purchased by Tierco, Inc. from Silver Dollar City. In an effort to restore the facility to the quality that it once possessed and to make an impression upon the market that Tierco was there to stay, the company transformed the park into a tropical paradise. The entire park was subject to the creative genius of Gary Story, Tierco C.E.O. Story took every attraction and structure and gave it a theme along with a name that fit the theme of a tropical adventure land. He covered the park in palm leaves and thatch and imported palm trees, tropical hibiscus and banana trees to support the new theme, “The Getaway from the Everyday.”

Sales Team Challenged

The improvements made an immediate impression on the Oklahoma City market–the 1991 season was one of our best seasons in recent history. The season pass base grew significantly and many doubters became believers in the new owners. With a growing commitment by management to provide the best water attractions in the southwest, the sales team was still challenged to sell the park as a playground in paradise. “Our group sales and outings were stagnant and there was nothing different for us to sell about the park even with the new tropical theme,” says Pete Fingerhut, general sales manager for White Water Bay. “We have always had to deal with the fact that not everyone wants to come to White Water Bay and wear a bathing suit, so company’s opt not to come to the park because they will be embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit.”

Fingerhut points out that the rationale of building a new area for groups and outings comes from the basic idea and thought that, “you don’t have to come to the water park if you don’t want to, but provide an area that will be large enough for large outings and provide enough entertainment for people of all ages. We wanted a way to provide a quality outing for groups without them having to go into the water park.”

With these basic needs and the desire to provide Oklahoma City and surrounding area businesses a place to come with the family, White Water Bay designed and built a group picnic area that is one of the finest facilities in Oklahoma for such events.

The “Paradise Picnic Grove” became a reality in the early weeks of the 1993 operating season. The park spent $80,000 to convert an unused portion of land into a showpiece complete with two large pavilions, a basketball court, sand volleyball, tether ball, shuffleboard, horseshoes, a softball field, restrooms and a child’s playground that would make any kid envious. “We made this facility so good that we created another problem,” states Traci Blanks, vice president of marketing for Tierco. “We now have our guests enjoying the facility so much that they don’t want to go into the water park. The original intent was to provide something that would bring the groups to our park and then have them convert to a water park admission.”

Easy Sell

The new area became an easy sell for the sales staff and gave us the opportunity to hire additional staff. We committed two seasonal sales people to do nothing but sell the picnic area to businesses. We also hired an activities director, much like a cruise director on an ocean liner. The activities director is responsible for coordinating, after the sale, the activities a group would be involved in during their picnic. These activities include basketball, shuffleboard, volleyball, softball, bingo, karaoke, among others. One of our most popular activities is a treasure hunt for kids which includes prizes offered by White Water Bay. There is very little expense involved in the prizes because they are usually retail items that we have written off or scheduled to be donated or thrown away.

White Water Bay soon found out that the area was appealing to all kinds of groups, including teens. We’ve held several church youth group events and have had some of the local community colleges provide outings for staff and summer school students. These types of teen and young adult groups are more inclined to use the entire facility, including the water park and all of its activities. The older the group, the less likely they are to buy a water park admission.

We marketed the Paradise Picnic Grove to groups and businesses with 50 or more people, offering a catered outing in the new facility and a greatly reduced admission price for the water park. The catered meal prices ranged from $6.50 to $9.95 a person. All of the meals are all-you-can-eat, with a variety of desserts and drinks. In most all cases, the catered meal options cost less than a regular gate admission ticket to the water park. Our activities are designed to meet the needs of all ages. The basketball court is a favorite of all the groups and was designed to be used as a street ball style of court, meaning that the court is only 65 feet long and 30 feet wide. Our guests can play at one end or use the entire court for a miniature scaled game. This attraction appeals to all ages but is used more by our teens and young adults. The other very popular attraction for our teens and young adults is the sand volleyball courts. We designed these courts like the pros complete with sponsorship nets and barriers and a scoring system for each court. Our older guests enjoy the regulation size shuffleboard court and horseshoe pits. The horseshoe pits can be installed in a short amount of time; we took it to the extreme and built tournament quality pits and throwing areas, at a cost of $300 for the two pits.

Neighbor Helps Out

One attraction that is always a hit for any age group is the softball field. We had to have a little help from our neighbor for this project because we did not have enough land available for a full-sized field. We approached our neighbor and worked out a lease agreement to use their land for the sole purpose of building a softball field. We spent $600 for a quality backstop, a set of bases and home plate and bats and balls, and kept a supply of striping paint on hand for our striper.

We have seen that children’s areas are becoming more and more popular at water parks. Our park has expanded or added new children’s water elements every year. The children’s playground is made up of three large wooden forts tied together by crawl-through tunnels, suspended bridges and other walkways. The area also includes a small merry-go-round, a tic-tac-toe board, a mechanical back hoe and a variety of sand toys, buckets and shovels. We have paddle ball, croquet, ring toss, Frisbees, playground balls as well, and they are constantly in use.

The sales and marketing staff created an event to kick off the sales effort by inviting several metro area small businesses to a luau sponsored by White Water Bay and the new Paradise Picnic Grove. We sent invitations, rolled pieces of paper in bottles, to personnel directors, company presidents and media representatives of all of the local TV and radio stations. The response was very good and every person that made the trip was rewarded with an authentic Hawaiian meal, complete with leis, Hawaiian music and roasted pig. The sales team had a new and exciting area to promote and it became quite a bit of fun to promote it.

We blitzed the business market with a mailing that included a rolled treasure map to announce the Paradise Picnic Grove. We provided just enough information to entice the businesses to investigate and follow the treasure map to the treasure. Our sales team had regular appointments to show the area to prospective groups and very few could resist the appeal of a beautiful tropical setting for a picnic. We constructed an eight-foot tall stockade fence around the entire area and an 8-foot chain link fence along the area next to the water park, providing a dear view of the area both for the guests in the waterpark and the guests in the picnic facility.

New Area, New Business

The first year of the new area was a success because of our increased catering. We consider all of the groups that visited the new group area as incremental business for White Water Bay.

We feel as though these groups would not have come if it had not been for the new area. With $150,000 in catering revenues, we certainly feel as though the area was well worth the effort; we originally felt that it would be a two-to-three year payoff of the original investment. Even though we consider the area a success, we still consider it to be in its infancy; we are designing new and better programs for our groups, encouraging them to visit the water park where the real fun is.

With an almost unbelievable near 100 percent return rate of company surveys, we have seen that most of the groups who have found our treasure will be returning next year. In the theme park business, you strive to hear those positive comments and commitments to your facility–above all, we know that we have provided a little family fun and fond memories for our guests.

COPYRIGHT 1994 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group