2018 Trends: Accessibility

Legoland Zero Depth entry 1.jpg

In writing this 2018 Trends series, we noticed an overarching theme: water parks are designing, renovating, and building their attractions to reach larger and more diverse audiences. This week we're discussing how both established parks and new parks are also focusing on making parks accessible to accommodate guests of all abilities.

In her interview with inPark magazine,  Aleatha Ezra, WWA Association Director of Park Member Development, says, “Waterpark operators are trying to address the needs of more guests, and they are spending more time implementing procedures that accommodate guests with various physical and cognitive disabilities.” Let's take a look at how parks are integrating accessible spaces and designing attractions with guest needs in mind:

Attractions For Everyone

In the summer of 2017, Morgan’s Inspiration Island opened its doors as the world’s first water park specifically designed for guests with disabilities. The park is fully wheelchair accessible (the park provides air-powered waterproof wheelchairs) and the list of wheelchair-accessible attractions includes a River Boat Adventure ride as well as multiple splash pads. The park's splash pads cater to variety of preferences, needs, and sensitivities: having warm water options for people with neurological or sensory needs, quiet spaces for people to decompress, limited park attendance to ensure a quieter overall experience (with online tickets available so guests aren’t turned away due to audience restriction), and continuously filtered water which is treated and recirculated so guests with immune sensitivities can play safely.

J.T. Grommet Island Park is also specifically designed with diverse guest abilities in mind. The park opened in 2010 and features 15,000 sq.ft. of ramps for easy maneuverability, as well as soft play sculptures, accessible play equipment, and cushioned play surfaces for a well-rounded recreational experience. The park also has special beach wheelchairs for guests who wish to go into the sand. (x)

For a list of parks with accessibility features, 101 Mobility lists the top 6 wheelchair friendly theme parks (including, but not limited to: Sesame Place, all Cedar Fair Entertainment properties, Six Flags, and all Disney properties) and provides downloadable maps that guide guests towards the best experience.

The Curb-Cut Effect

As they say, one good turn deserves another. To explain, let’s return to wheelchairs and the curb-cut effect. 

A quick recap on the history of the term curb-cut effect: In 1968 the Architectural Barriers act was passed, requiring all government buildings to be wheelchair accessible. However, roads were still extremely difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to access because of the curb height. In 1972 there was a rise in curb cuts across the country, but not a full adoption. It only became a fully realized national movement in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. And what we experienced as a nation was easier access for not only wheelchair users, but also parents with strollers, workers with heavy carts, bicyclists on sidewalks, runners, and skateboarders. Essentially, the curb-cut effect has become an argument for better design in that if you design well for disabilities, you design well for everyone else. You design universally. 

A great example of the curb-cut effect in the aquatics industry is the zero depth entry application. Adding low-decline ramps, for example, makes entering pools easier for limited mobility guests, and also keeps families together at facilities by having a single, multi-depth aquatic attraction instead of separate pools and splash pad features. 

We're looking forward to watching the designs and new builds unfold in 2018. And especially keeping an eye out for how aquatic facilities serve guests of all abilities with fun and safety in mind.

2018 Trends: Sensing A Theme

Wilderness Resort - Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wilderness Resort - Wisconsin Dells, WI

Franchising intellectual property is a huge trend across all forms of entertainment: movies are creating interconnected, cinematic universes, major video game franchises have had new or re-released games in the last few years, and TV shows are reviving nostalgic favorites.

Specifically, SeaWorld and Sesame Street are partnering to build a new park by 2021, their second after Sesame Place in Langhorne PA. They’ll also be rolling out Sesame Parades at other SeaWorld locations. At the last D23 Expo, Disney announced 23 new attractions to roll out over the next few years, including the much anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, as well as Toy Story Land. Carnival Cruise Lines is taking Dr. Seuss to Sea to another level with Carnival Horizon’s Seuss-themed water park. Universal has enjoyed success with it’s Harry Potter World.

How’d We Get Here?

Tourist destination theme parks evolved through several phases. The first phase occurred with trolley parks in the 19th and 20th century. These parks were built by trolley companies to entice people to use the railways on the weekend. Trolley parks had carousels and live entertainment for families.

In the 1950’s, Knotts Berry Farm added a Ghost Town to give guests an activity to do while waiting in line for Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. As the attraction grew, Walter Knott had the idea to open a "summer-long country fair."

From there, Walt Disney created the idea for Disneyland, an entirely themed experience, and started developing and funding his Wonderful World of Disney. This is one of the first instances where we see major park theming. For example, when it wasn’t possible to have a boat ride with visitors encountering real animals, WED Enterprises (Now Walt Disney Imagineering) created robotic animals.  Perhaps one of the most ingenious ideas out of this time period were the sponsorships: Disney believed that by equating a product with someone’s magical park experience, the guest would remember the product more fondly. At the time (and now) it was used to sell Coca Cola, Frito-Lay and Kodak. That same methodology is now used to sell the theme park as a whole.

How Big is A Story?

Let’s look at a case study where we see how a well-themed park with a dynamic, recognizable IP, boosts attendance as well as an impactful experience for guests.

Mall of America opened in Minnesota in 1992, managed by Triple Five Group and owned by the Ghermezian family. After their success with West Edmonton Mall in Canada (which is centered around Galaxyland) they wanted to try a massive, multi-entertainment venue mall in the states. They opened with Knott’s Camp Snoopy (or, colloquially, Camp Snoopy). Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul, so the connection made sense. However, the park was never aggressively themed towards Peanuts, but instead featured an outdoors, Northwoods theme with plenty of indoor foliage and huge skylights.

In 2006, negotiations between MOA and Cedar Fair ended the partnership, and while this distressed many guests and locals, the mall’s executive vice president noted in 2011 that she “thought there would be far more backlash than there was,” and “It’s a little bit of a lethargic brand. Like I Love Lucy or Happy Days. It’s a brand that could not be continuously renewed." (x) She added that many kids only knew about Peanuts because of the Mall and not the other way around.

When Nickelodeon Universe moved into the park at MOA, it revamped attractions like Li’ Shaver (now Back At The Barnyard Hayride) and the Timberland Twister (now Fairly Odd Coaster), as well as adding new attractions. The park grew to 8.5 million rides a year (in 2011), about 600,000 more than Camp Snoopy. Part of that correlates directly to the popularity of Nickelodeon Universe as the top cable kids network and the viable, top of mind brand recognition.

Design Is the Attraction

Strong theming allows for a more memorable connection to the park, a greater desire to explore and stay in the park, as well as greater in-park spending. And many parks are addressing this by effectively repeating messages. Having consistent branding throughout a park can reinforce guests’ memories of their experience, while also, as Walt Disney pointed out in the 50’s, allow guests to associate the brand they’re seeing with the activity they’re enjoying.

For many people, the brand and theme they’re seeing is part of the enjoyment. Walt Disney World is still the most visited theme park in the world and that’s not because every ride is cutting edge. It’s because Walt Disney World has invested deeply in creating stories guests want to interact with and thus designing a magical park experience.

Meanwhile, for other parks like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando, the draw centers on the brand of the story and very little with the parks few rides. We know this because the Harry Potter park saw a “respectable increase” (x) in ticket sales for 2017.

Up next in this series is our favorite trend: Accessibility and safety in water/theme parks.

2018 Trends Series: Asian Expansion

Sunshine & Lilypad 3/8" Ripple (Hotel Park Habio, Songpa-Gu Seoul via TripVizor.com)

Sunshine & Lilypad 3/8" Ripple (Hotel Park Habio, Songpa-Gu Seoul via TripVizor.com)

In the US, the Waterpark industry is over 60 years old. Every year tourist destination water parks need to innovate and expand in order to keep brand presence strong, ticket sales high, and guests returning season after season.

This year, there are no exceptions when it comes to cutting-edge attractions: in 2018, water parks will be opening exciting new raft rides (SeaWorld Aquatica has the tallest drop of its kind and Hersheypark is adding their HydroMAGNETIC Coaster), multi-level play structures (such as the one at Alabama Splash Adventure), and, as always, new innovations on the drop slide (such as Busch Garden’s new Vanish Point water slides.)

Industry trends, however, are not just about the attractions on a park map, but about the direction where the industry focuses growth. International Tourism to the US dropped in 2017. Park attendance domestically suffered from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which forced major parks to close, and consumer spending wasn’t as high as hoped, going into June.

To keep this 60-year-old industry strong, leaders are focusing on how to appeal to a global audience, especially by building and expanding water parks in Asia (in 2014 Asian waterpark attendance accounted for 43% of waterpark attendance worldwide). Meanwhile, in North America, waterpark leaders are making parks more accessible to a variety of guests, keeping water parks safe, and attracting guests through Intellectual Property theming.

Expansion Into Asia

It’s not new to 2018, but growth in Asia, especially the Middle East, is heating up for the entire entertainment industry. In 2014, the market experienced significant growth and profitability. As of 2016, Asia has become the world’s largest theme park market in attendance, surpassing North America (though North America still has higher in-park spending.).

China is Leading The Charge
While Asia is our planet's largest continent and home to many different cultures, demographics, and interests, one of the big inciting factors for growth (especially in China where theme parks are the country's fastest-growing market) has been the emergence of an economically viable middle class with money to spend on vacations. This year especially, most of Asia experienced a longer-than-normal summer with temperatures rising throughout the season, which meant water parks were flooded with guests in search of reprieve from the heat.

There are 65 major parks under construction or in planning stages as of 2016. China has a few of the fastest growing water parks in the world, and there’s been steady growth in the UAE, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and across the entire continent.

Adapting to the particular needs of this new market has been a talking point for almost a decade for companies like Disney. And it's paying off. The Walt Disney Company rolled out Shanghai Disney Resort last year and reported it was “nicely profitable.” Disney has long enjoyed international attendance at their Orlando park, Walt Disney World (which is, as of 2017, still the best-attended park in the world). In China, Disney brings decades of experience in educating new guests about water parks, which benefits other local parks as well.

Shanghai Disney is also not the first brand footprint in the area. Disney currently licenses their characters to The OLC Group for Tokyo Disney Resort, which opened in 1983. Chinese consumers have Disney’s media content, but have not had the chance to visit a park, hence the push into Shanghai. Analysts predict that China will replace the US as the largest theme park market by 2020.

By 2020 Universal Studios Beijing is set to open its first park in the country, after the successes of both Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore. Six Flags also projects an opening for Six Flags China by 2020.

Global Support
And it’s not just the water park brands that are expanding their reach. Water park designers, consultants, and manufacturers are diving into the Asian market to design and manage new properties.

Industry leaders are working with new parks to create the best guest experiences. Waterpark suppliers, such as WhiteWater West have been growing with the Asian market’s demand for water parks. They recently won WWA’s Leading Edge Award for their outstanding work and products in the water park industry, including their six-year long partnership with Wanda Group to create new attractions and rides throughout their many parks in China.

How does this affect the US? 
Overall, this is also good news domestically. Asia holds massive potential for current water park titans to expand their profits, and demand for ‘the latest, the fastest, the highest’ will give suppliers the opportunity to push the envelope (such as this Rotating Waterslide set to appear in 2018). Ultimately, this opportunity to expand, invent, and innovate the best possible attractions, optimize massive park attendance, and create systems that can withstand high-volume traffic, means that US water parks will benefit, because the best innovations will be available and utilized by North American parks. 

We’ll take a look at 2018’s trend of expanding water parks into Intellectual Property based themes in our next blog.

Worth The Wait

Custom Texture - Rustic Board

Custom Texture - Rustic Board

Americans spend a cumulative total of 37 billion hours waiting in line per year. 37 billion hours spent in a slog of needing a licenses renewed, checking out groceries, or taking another run at the biggest waterslide at the park. No one likes standing in line at the best of times, but a bad queue line doesn't just bore guests: it leaves them frustrated and ready to leave.

Bigger waterparks have the resources to bake entertainment right into the queues with live performances, pre-attraction storytelling, or interactive kiosks. Some facilities have created entire command centers focused on maximizing guest enjoyment while still working with the flow of the facility.

There's been a few roll-outs of the "Virtual Queue" with the overall idea being that guests can occupy themselves elsewhere while their token moves through the queue. Boom: problem solved! In practice, however, this has been met mixed success, depending on what else is available for guests to do in the interim. A busy park with no one waiting in a queue lines means free-roaming resources will dry up, leaving guests just as frustrated as they would be standing and waiting.

The real trick to maximizing queue efficiency isn't just in reducing wait time, it's in minimizing perceived wait time.

As an example the Houston Airport had travelers complaining about their long wait at the baggage claim. After an in-depth analysis they managed to decrease wait time, but still got complaints. So officials took a different approach and moved the baggage claim farther away from the gate. The time between de-boarding and getting their baggage was increased because travelers spent more time getting there, but low and behold: no more complaints.

Unoccupied time (waiting at a baggage claim) even with a shorter wait, is perceived to be longer than occupied time (walking to a baggage claim). So with virtual queues, the thing becomes making sure that that new freedom of being out of line stays occupied, and not just a new source of frustration.

For physical lines, we commend anyone who wants to make queue lines bearable (There’s an entire program from Savannah College of Art and Design about it! MIT Graduate Professor Richard Larson has dedicated his career to "The Psychology of Queuing and Social Justice!"), not every solution has to be high-tech or high-dollar to make a difference.

Here are a few tips to making any waterpark queue a line worth waiting in:

Layout:  As counterintuitive as it may seem, having one long line is better than two mirroring lines for things such as side-by-side ticket windows, concession stands or elevators. For longer queue lines plan for 45-degree angles instead of right corners in partitions or inlaid into the floor. 45 degree angles better convey direction than direct vertical or horizontal lines. Setting up lines this way also occupies less space and leaves more room for theming elements.

Placement: As with the Houston Airport example, perception matters as much as physical wait time. If guests can see they're steadily moving towards an attraction or goal, they'll be more patient then with a shorter wait and an obscured view. If the visual goal can't be the ride itself, then having some another focal point (the big waterslide plunge, perhaps?) keeps the line engaged.

Design: Themed rides need to balance storytelling with physical experience and limited guest attention. Queuing lines have a captive audience and a built in-structure, so can add to a themed ride's impact. While some story elements are expensive (such as large permanent structures, or mechanical elements) a lot of impact can be made with signs, themed fountains/misters, statues, or landscaping as available. Since the floor accounts for a lot of empty space, facilities can engage younger (and antsier!) guests with die cuts, fun designs, or inlaid scavenger hunts.

Comfort: Perceived wait time is shorter when guests are comfortable.  If guests are outside in hot weather, having shaded cover over the lines and (themed!) misters can help beat the heat. A cushioned and non-abrasive surface, like Life Floor, can reduce standing fatigue and keep feet comfortable and guests safer. 

No one likes to the wait in line, but a well-optimized park can reduce frustration and allow the features and attractions to shine through.  Less frustration encourages guests to stay longer, buy more concessions, and rate their experience more favorably. Which is a win for everyone.