16 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Leisure Management - Ubiquitous Waterparks

Analysis and Trends

Ubiquitous Waterparks

The waterpark industry is growing fast and we’re seeing both new projects and the expansion of existing facilities, says Aleatha Ezra of the World Waterpark Association

Aleatha Ezra, World Waterpark Association
Growth in waterparks is significant in North America and Asia, attracting families and young adults
Yas Waterworld is a prime example of an innovative new waterpark
Yas Waterworld is a prime example of an innovative new waterpark

Waterparks have permeated our culture in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago. They’ve popped up in all the expected places where tourists like to travel - Dubai, Sydney, the Caribbean, Bangkok, Singapore, Barcelona, Las Vegas - and also in places where tourists happily uncover these hidden recreational gems - Egypt, South Africa, Kuwait, Scotland, Afghanistan and Turkey, among many others.

And they’re not just places for tourists, these days waterparks provide the backdrop for movies, television commercials and even TV reality shows.

The World Waterpark Association (WWA) is aware of over 2,000 water parks located throughout the world, with hundreds more in the works and planned openings in 2014 and beyond.

Solid Growth
The waterpark industry as a whole is experiencing a solid growth period, both in the opening of new facilities and in the addition of major new attractions to existing parks located throughout North America and Asia. Thanks to this growth, more and more people are visiting watermarks.

Consider the following observation made within the recent Global Attractions Attendance Report published by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and AECOM: “Asian attendance totals have for the first time surpassed those of North America. The Asian waterparks market showed 7.4 per cent growth with total attendance at 16 million”.

While this global attractions report focuses only on the top 20 facilities in both North America and Asia, these numbers support the notion that the industry is making significant strides in entering more markets and attracting more visitors.

Current Trends
The waterpark development trend is being driven by several things, some relate to financial data and some to geography. Firstly, many economies have recovered to the point where investment companies and leisure entertainment corporations are pursuing investment in new venues.

Merlin Entertainments, Europe’s leading and the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator with 99 attractions in 22 countries across four continents, stated in its 2013 annual report that: “Globally, leisure spending is expected to grow by approximately five per cent per annum from 2011-2016, driven by rising incomes and increasing leisure time”.

Clearly, forecasters are optimistic about what’s happening within global economies and where consumer sentiments lie in terms of how they make decisions for their discretionary monies. This has led companies like Merlin Entertainments to branch out into areas and regions where there has been an increase in the middle class.

Their annual report says: “A key focus for Merlin has been on developing its footprint in emerging markets, where a growing middle class, enjoying improving wealth and living standards, expands the market opportunity. Not only can Merlin reap this benefit in these local economies, but increasing wealth is driving international tourism, particularly in key ‘gateway’ cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong.”

Emerging Market – China
This is especially true in areas throughout China, which relates back to the observation made by TEA and AECOM referenced earlier.

There has been an explosion of new waterpark development in China, including the development of new properties and major waterpark expansions at existing attractions in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan and Tianjin, among numerous others.

According to AECOM’s Chris Yoshii, senior vice president, Economics Asia-Pacific: “As a driver of global tourism, the mainland Chinese tourist is fast becoming the most sought-after visitor in the world, and will continue to be so for years to come. This vast market sector is still at the very early stages of growth.”

China, and Asia in general, has become a hotbed of waterpark development, which is certainly a new, if not unexpected, trend in the leisure industry. One reason for this is that waterparks have mass appeal but cost less than their dry counterparts.

“Waterparks require less investment than theme parks, attracting the interest of developers. The popular indoor/outdoor facilities extend the season and provide more control over the environment,” says Yoshii.

Family Facilities – North America
In addition to their lower costs, waterparks lend themselves to a multitude of development styles and themes. Waterpark development in North America has focused on appealing to families.

New facilities opening in North America within the last few years have included more emphasis on thematic design and elements, interactive ride attractions that are appropriate for many age levels, as well as private rental spaces for gathering as a family such as cabanas. Designers have focused on creating relevant play areas for toddlers, tweens, teens, parents and grandparents with rides that appeal to the youngest visitor and his or her parent.

Young Adults – Asia
In contrast, waterparks being developed in Asia have leaned towards a less family-style approach. “In Asia, the typical waterpark visitors are young adults, often on a group outing: it’s a day out with work colleagues, fellow students or friends. There’s something of a crossover with the culture of spas and hot springs. The settings tend to be more tranquil, with premium elements available ? food service, massages, concerts, entertainment: things that extend the average length of stay and raise per caps,” says Yoshii.

Alongside strong growth in Asia and North America, attendance figures remain steady at facilities in Europe, South America, Australia and the Middle East.

Barriers and Progress
Although waterparks have entered a period of stability, a few issues remain that should be of concern to developers and operators ? mainly changing weather patterns and water conservation. If the industry is to continue growing in size and attendance, designers and builders must continue to develop with green practices in mind and operators must continue to be good stewards of the environment.

Fortunately, advancements in water
filtration, heating and cooling equipment, solar technologies and recirculation systems have allowed waterparks to use less while reclaiming more water and decreasing their impact on the natural environment.
Overall, the waterpark industry is enjoying a period of innovation and expansion that doesn’t appear to be tapering off anytime soon, while visitors continue to seek out social recreational experiences.

Brands that represent some of the best and most innovative new waterpark facilities
- Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi, UAE

- Cowabunga Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

- Splash E Spa Tamaro, Rivera Monteceneri, Switzerland

- Legoland® Malaysia, Johor, Malaysia

- Wet’n’Wild Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

- Cartoon Network Amazone Water Park, Chonburi, Thailand

- Splashworld, D’avignon, France

- Vana Nava Water Jungle, Hua Hin, Thailand

- Lotte World Water Park, Gimhae, South Korea

- Plopsaaqua Indoor Water Park, De Panne, Belgium

- Schlitterbahn, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

Aleatha Ezra is the director of Park Member Development for the World Waterpark Association: a member-based trade organisation serving the water park industry. Ezra works closely with water park members (outdoor, indoor, aquatic facility, hotel resort and public sector park owners, developers and operators) to provide meaningful member services that target business growth and support safety.

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2014 edition

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