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.
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.