Welcome to the United States of Theme Park Fans

November 3, 2017, 11:27 AM · As we reported earlier, Matt Ouimet is stepping down as the CEO of Cedar Fair, the amusement park chain that owns Cedar Point, Knot's Berry Farm, Kings Island, and other regional theme parks. Cedar Fair executive Richard Zimmerman is replacing him and the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently interviewed the two about the current state and future plans of Cedar Point and the rest of the company.

There's lot of good stuff there for Cedar Point fans, but the line that stood out most to me was this: "For the first time, according to Ouimet, the park will market itself beyond its core base of Ohio and Michigan, trying to pull guests from Chicago and beyond."

Wait a minute — Cedar Point wasn't advertising itself throughout the Midwest? Heck, a park that calls itself "America's Roller Coast" wasn't bragging about its amazing line-up of roller coasters throughout the entire country? Why not? Talk about leaving money on the table.

Sometimes we forget, as a community of theme park fans from around the world, that many parks continue to see themselves as regional businesses, drawing fans primarily from their local market. Heck, even the Disneyland Resort — home to two of the 11 most-visited theme parks in the world — draws the vast majority of its guests from the Southern California market. Tokyo Disney has two of the world's top five parks and its visitors are almost exclusively from Japan. The Walt Disney World Resort, with its global reach and appeal, is the anomaly in this business — not the standard.

But I think that's a missed opportunity for this industry. Forget about me and all the roadtrips I've taken across the country to visit theme parks. This is my job, after all. But many of you have done the same, too. Theme Park Insider readers have driven, flown, or found some other way to visit pretty much every major, mid-market, and even minor theme park around the world — often traveling thousands of miles from their homes. We book hotel rooms, eat at restaurants, and drop money that supports hundreds of theme parks' home communities.

Look, I get it. Advertising campaigns can be expensive. (Less so when advertising online, of course... not that I have an interest in that or anything....) The vast majority of a regional theme park's visitors are always going to come from, well, its region. But there is real demand out there, beyond its local community, for any park that is doing something interesting.

Cedar Point certainly qualifies. So does Holiday World, Dollywood, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Efteling, or any other non-Disney, non-Universal theme park that we advocated here on Theme Park Insider over the years. The more that parks do to make it easier for people outside their core market to visit, the more of those potential visitors they can entice to come.

One major park chain has been running an ad campaign playing off the old saying "go big or go home." So why do so many parks choose to just stay home with their marketing, instead of going big? Even a little reaching out can deliver big returns, for not much cost. Does a park's website list local hotels and transportation options? Are ticket deals available to people outside the local market? Don't fall into the trap of limiting your market targeting to location and demographics. People far outside a park's traditional market can become customers if they share a lifestyle affinity for long-distance travel and going to parks. That information is available to parks and their ad agencies. Why not use it?

In short, here's the message to theme parks around the world: We want you to take our money. No, we don't want to be ripped off, and we're not going to fly or drive out of way to see a park that isn't offering us something fresh. But we like traveling, and we love new experiences, and we will go out of our way to support parks that offer them.

It's become media cliche these days to talk about how divided society has become. My newspaper colleagues complain all the time how it's become impossible to reach a mass audience anymore. We are divided by political party, geography, education level, religion, race, and ethnicity — reading and watching only the news sources that others in our same group do.

But that's not true — and we here at Theme Park Insider are the proof. I am amazed and humbled by the diversity of the readers I see here... and the diversity of fans I have met in parks across the country and around the world. Politics, geography, education, religion, race, and ethnicity do not divide theme park fans. (Okay, maybe screen-based rides and dining plans do, but let's just take the win in front of us for now, okay?) We are not just willing, but thrilled, to travel across borders and social divides to hang out with and enjoy rides, shows, parades, and fireworks with other people who love theme parks.

We are the United States — and the United Nations — of theme park fans. We are not just a marketing opportunity for theme parks that want to make the jump up to the next level... we are the common ground that this world needs. If parks can bring us together, maybe other institutions can, too. They just need to reach out and offer us access to the community that we crave.

And that goes for a lot of people who aren't yet theme park fans, too. Don't give up before you even try. Show us the good stuff, and people you might not even imagined would be interested will find their way to your door.

Replies (17)

November 3, 2017 at 11:54 AM · Here Here...

I'm forwarding this off to Elitch Gardens management, but I'm sure it's going to be lost in their spam filter.

November 3, 2017 at 12:21 PM · Absolutely. I'm convinced that 90% or more of Six Flags passholders have absolutely no idea they can go to any SF park in North America with their pass. Most of the SF parks send out monthly newsletters touting features of their passholders' home parks, but would be smart highlighting unique attractions at other parks in the chain that might inspire guests to take a visit to another SF park while on a business trip or vacation. Heck, even Six Flags' normal Season Dining Plan "travels" (they have introduced a slightly cheaper "lunch only" plan that is only good at your home park for 2018), and can be used seamlessly at parks around the country at no extra cost, a feature that's listed at the very bottom of their pamphlet.

For parks that deliberately charge extra for "park hopping" within their chain, most do little promotion to highlight the benefits of the extra cost. That's especially true for Cedar Fair, which I think identifies it's core audience as thrill seekers. It wouldn't cost much more for a park like Kings Dominion, Carowinds, or Valleyfair to highlight all of the new attractions being installed across the country to try to get a few more people to purchase the Platinum passes. For my Platinum Pass at Kings Dominion, it's more than double the cost of a standard pass, so to the average guest, that much of a price differential needs to be validated, to which Cedar Fair does little marketing to highlight the advantages. This is especially true in areas of the country that are reasonably close to multiple parks. For instance, where I live is 1 hour from Kings Dominion, 6 hours from Cedar Point 7 hours from Kings Island, 8 hours from Carowinds, and 3 hours from Dorney Park. A Platinum Pass is a no-brainer even though it's twice the cost of a Kings Dominion-only pass because of the diversity of attractions across all 5 of those parks.

For all of the non-Disney/Universal chains, they already have loyal customers, and would create even more loyalty if they worked harder to highlight the benefits of visiting parks outside of the region.

November 3, 2017 at 12:34 PM · “Here Here...
I'm forwarding this off to Elitch Gardens management, but I'm sure it's going to be lost in their spam filter.”

What would be the point? The park isn’t worth saving. Let it disappear and be done with it.

November 3, 2017 at 12:46 PM · Merlin do their VIP passes to get into all of their propertiesin the UK, but it only gives you a discount to non UK properties. It would be nice to see that restriction removed.
November 3, 2017 at 12:46 PM · @Jeff - We actually almost visited the downtown Denver park in September, but didn't want to pay full price for a half-day since we wouldn't have made it back to Denver from Ft. Collins until after 2 PM. If the park was part of Cedar Fair, Six Flags, or Sea World, we would a gone in, even if only for an hour or 2. If the park offered a twilight admission or a more heavily discounted off-season admission price, we would have also spent some time there. Instead, we roamed around downtown visiting the Capital, Federal Reserve, and 16th Street before going to a Rockies game.
November 3, 2017 at 1:01 PM · Well, in Chicago, Six Flags Great America is a pretty dominant place in terms of advertising so Cedar Point trying to lure folks in is a bit of a reach. True, their rides are great but most are content with SFGA instead. That said, SFGA themselves don't advertise as much in Indiana or other neighboring states as much as they could and thus miss some folks there. The 'regional thinking" is a great point and some parks can change but there's the fact many are content with their loyal local base than pulling from around the country.
November 3, 2017 at 2:01 PM · The big downside of Disney World being a once in a lifetime international experience is that I see a lot of bored faces on rides which shouldn't have three hour queues.

I'm looking at you Toy Story Mania.

November 3, 2017 at 3:43 PM · I live in San Diego. I see more TV ads for Universal Orlando than I do for any park in California. I have never seen any advertising for Six Flags Magic Mountain. As far as Disney park ads go, I see lots of "Disney Parks" and now "Disney Vacations" ads but always feel like the quality and quantity of ads for Disneyland is far less than it should be seeing as I live 90 minutes from it. I'm just amazed at how little arts and entertainment advertisement San Diego gets being such a close neighbor to Los Angeles. My guess is there are SO many residents in LA, why do they need to reach out to us when there is enough to draw from up there.
November 3, 2017 at 5:41 PM · It's interesting that you mention WDW as the international exception. In Australia we see advertising for DLR but very little for any other international theme parks (i can't remember seeing any universal advertising, but I may have seen something for Singapore).

This probably reflects the fact that LA is the first port of call in the US for most Australian travellers. Most Australians don't know the difference between Disney land and Disney world, or probably that there are even 2 resorts.

November 4, 2017 at 5:23 AM · I’m a Dorney Park season pass holder. It does surprise me a little that they don’t try at all to sell me on the idea of going to a platinum pass and visiting other parks. I’m only a day’s drive from Carowinds, Kings Dominion and Cedar Point. Actually, this year when I went to renew, I asked about upgrading my renewal to a platinum, because I do plan a trip to probably Carowinds and Kings Dominion next year. They couldn’t figure out for me if I could just upgrade and still do it as a renewal or how to do it. You’d think if they were going to get me to move up, they’d do this and save me the $6 difference on a new pass vs. renewal.
November 4, 2017 at 6:24 AM · To follow up with Grant... in the UK we see ads for DLP and WDW. I do remember a few years back seeing Busch Gardens and wondering "What the heck is that?", but the only other ads I see involving theme parks here seems to be by the USA Tourism board which features Universal and Sea World in more or less equal measure.

I'm suprised Dubai hasn't started pushing their parks here given that its probably easier to get there than the US (No ESTA, Direct Flights from all internation airports rather than a change being needed in London...)

November 4, 2017 at 9:42 AM · @ Russell

Seriously you saved yourself pure disappointment. Elitch Gardens is a mess of a park that honestly has no reason for existing at this point. There are so many better and more interesting things to do in Colorado that if you were to spend time at Elitch Gardens you would be truly wasting your time. There’s Red Rocks amphitheater, Vail in the summer, LoDo, and the Denver Broncos. (Who the hell are the Rockies? It’s a long running joke in Colorado)

If you have to get a theme park kick you go to WaterWorld in Thornton. It is very nice and well taken care of water park that features animatronics on 2 of their larger slides. If that doesn’t fancy you, hit up the local food scene. Colorado, and Denver specifically, is a food Mecca. There are so many great and unique places to eat like Vesta Dipping Grill and Chinook Tavern.

But as much as it pains me being a theme park fan Elitch Gardens is better off being turned into another apartment complex. If it still had gardens or flowers... or anything other than cement and a handful of trees it would maybe be worth going to. Being my former home town park it always was embarrassing to call that the best attempt Colorado could offer, considering all the other great things Colorado has to offer.

If I’m not mistaken Robert worked for a newspaper (The Denver Post?) out in Colorado, however I’ve never seen him post about either Lakeside or Elitch Gardens. For being the theme park guru he is, that should be telling.

November 4, 2017 at 10:42 AM · Bite your tongue, Court! I worked for the Rocky Mountain News. (RIP)

I went to Elitch's twice when I lived in Denver. When a park advertises that its best ride is a Vekoma SLC, you know you've come to the wrong place. My wife, who grew up in Denver, flatly refused to go to Elitch's, saying that the park was a disgrace to the memory of the original Elitch's, which actually was a gardens and not a parking lot in between a couple of stadiums.

November 4, 2017 at 11:05 AM · The only park i've never understood why they don't market themselves as a destination is SFMM. With it being in LA and the "thrill capital of the world" you think they would want to tap into LA's 50 million tourists, seems like a missed opportunity. I think much of this thinking came from SF's corporate marketing doing a 1 size fits all approach to all of their parks. By finally deciding to be open every day maybe now they are making that first step into becoming a destination park.
However, SFMM is a dump and I haven't even been there the last three times i've gone to socal for that reason...so to be honest maybe it's better that it's not a tourist destination haha. Hopefully more tourists = more money going into maintaining the park in the future but that may be overly optimistic.

I think CP is smart to start advertising in Chicago. It's a metro area of over 10 million people and being only five hours away they can probably get a lot of middle class people filling up their hotels that can't afford to vacation at WDW. They also now have the sports complex - so they can get the youth sports teams that can't afford to go to Disney as well. Also I think there is a lot of resentment in Chicagoland towards SFGAm because of the general Six Flagsness of it. I used to live in Chicago and pretty much everyone I knew that had been to CP said they would rather go back than go to Six Flags.

November 4, 2017 at 11:40 AM · I would like to stand in defense of Lakeside Amusement Park in the Denver area. It absolutely needs some TLC but it could easily shine again as a pinnacle of traditional amusement parks.
The “new Eliches” is horrible though. The only decent ride is the off the shelf Sally Ghost Blasters dark ride.
November 4, 2017 at 1:24 PM · Cedar fair needs to take better care of words of fun in Kansas city.!! What a great park and so much potential. They could add and do so much more to it and draw from a bigger area than they already do.
November 4, 2017 at 6:46 PM · So having just got back from Six Flags Great America today (open in November that's right) let me tell you what my Dad and I were talking about.

We are starting to make our plans for next year. The only thing we can talk about is Steel Vengeance and how we need to go next year. Six Flags sits only an hour from me, but I'm going to skip a season pass next year for a Cedar Fair pass because not only is Cedar Point only six hours away, but Kings Island is only six hours away as well. To me Cedar Fair has really stepped up their game over the past five years to draw the line in the sand on them being different from Six Flags.

Ten years ago, people in Chicago use to compare and contrast Cedar Point from Great America all the time. Now, not so much. It's easy to tell which one is the most dominate park. Cedar Point has also taken the time to refurbish its park as of late. A lot of older building have been repainted, and there seems to be a lot more money being funneled into landscaping. the reason to get to Kings Island is for their Halloween Haunt. Which might be the most under rated Halloween event (maybe behind Knotts Scary Farm) ever.

My Dad and I put it like this today, while waiting for a ground ride called Triple Play;
Six Flags= Walmart
Cedar Fair and Busch= Target
Universal= Macy's
Disney= Nordstrom

Let Cedar Fair tap the Chicago market all it wants. To me, the Chicago market might be the biggest market left to tap for theme parks. A LOT of people that live within the Chicago market LOVE theme parks. If someone even slightly close to the level of Universal/Disney find a way to tap this market, they would make a huge amount of money.

Side note: I have always thought that an abbreviated version of Magic Kingdom or Universal being built in the Chicagoland area would do real well. Chicago people are hardy as heck. We would go outside in the dead of winter to go on dark rides.

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