H&LA conducted an interview series in the spring of 2021 in anticipation of the upcoming start of the waterpark season. Through interviews with owners and operators of several U.S. outdoor waterparks, we learned how individual parks geared up for the 2021 season amid the fallout from the pandemic and what challenges were expected.
In our third interview, David Sangree had an online video chat with Mike Bengtson, General Manager of Splish Splash Waterpark in Long Island, New York. Mike discusses how the 96-acre park was forced to forego its entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how the park plans to reopen in May.
Many thanks to Mike from Splish Splash Waterpark for sharing such important insights about his park and the larger waterpark industry in the wake of the pandemic. We wish Splish Splash the best of luck for the 2021 season!
View the interview in its entirety here.
Below are some excerpts of their conversation:
David: I understand that the park went back and forth regarding opening in 2020. Can you describe how that all played out?
Mike: Being in the New York area, we were pretty hard hit and there was so much uncertainty. We normally begin preparation around April 1, so that was disrupted and we went down to a skeleton crew. As we were waiting for guidance from the state, we worked closely with the New York State Tourism & Hospitality Association to get as much information as we could. In mid-June, as nearby states were starting to open, we took the chance and prepared for an early July opening. But then we sat and sat and waited. When we didn’t get any guidance by the beginning of August, we decided to pull the plug. We went back into a furlough situation and worked on what we could do to get ready for 2021.
David: Can you describe your location and amenities?
Mike: Splish Splash is located about 75 miles from New York City. The park opened in 1991 on 32 acres. We now own and operate on 96 acres, making us one of the larger waterparks in the U.S. We are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Most of our guests are from Long Island, but we serve the five boroughs of New York City as well. One of our largest consignment accounts is with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). People can purchase a rail ticket from just about anywhere in the city and buy a ticket to the park at the same time. We offer a shuttle from the Ronkonkoma station.
David: What are your 2021 rates, and what are your expectations for attendance and revenue?
Mike: Currently, our lowest season pass is priced at $69.99 and our gate admission is $51.99. Of course, there are discounts online and in the market. For guests who had purchased 2020 season passes, we made those passes good for 2021, and we upgraded all of those passes to the next level for free. As for attendance this year, we are conservatively looking at being 50-60% down from 2019 levels. In New York, we fall under the category of outdoor amusement parks, which are currently restricted to 33% capacity. Obviously, we would like it to be higher, but we are comfortable with that for now.
David: What are your thoughts on minimum wage increases, which are already happening in the State of New York?
Mike: Our minimum wage has been going up $1 a year since 2016, and we are now at $14 an hour. Next year we will be at $15 an hour. It’s been challenging, especially for a seasonal business. We’ve had to watch our expenses and you are going to feel it in some of our ticket prices. It really comes down to technology. One of the biggest platforms we are rolling out this year is a new scheduling software because as labor dollars go up, you really have to manage those hours.
David: How do you think the pandemic will affect waterparks – not just your property but on a nationwide basis?
Mike: Our industry has always been about safety, and these new processes are really just new safety measures. It may take more effort to create clean teams and spend time communicating those things, but I think it will bode well for our industry.