Riding the Waves in Pennsylvania

Years ago Shawnee Mountain, a ski resort, in East Stroudsburg, Pa., had an outdoor waterpark and found it to be a worthwhile investment, as well as a popular amenity with guests. However, Shawnee’s park, built in 1981, was outdoors, limiting its seasonal availability, and fell into disrepair. The resort had to make a tough decision: invest millions into building a new park, refurbishing an old one, or tear it down and make room for more profitable forays. Shawnee chose the latter and the waterpark closed.

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Nevertheless, just a few hours away in the Pennsylvania Poconos, Blue Mountain is currently planning a new 19-acre outdoor waterpark that it anticipates will boost summer revenue. Despite a relatively short season of about four months, Barbara Green, president of Blue, remains optimistic that the park will thrive.

“We have an urban market. We draw upon visitors from New York and Philadelphia,” says Green, noting that this alleviates her concerns about building a $10 to $15 million-dollar water park when economic times are tough. And she is pairing the park with new slopeside lodging, which she sees as a symbiotic investment: an influx of water park visitors will increase bookings in her new lodging area, which in turn will support the lodging, so it is a sustainable investment for the winter season.

Profit margins are tightening for some areas that rely solely on ticket sales for year-round income, which may help explain the newfound popularity of auxiliary revenue-producing activities. Zip lines, adventure parks, and concert events are popping up at almost every ski hill.  Blue Mountain’s strategic plan could be considered bold, given the fact that the outdoor waterpark will only be open for use a third of the year. However, the new, elaborate version of the ski-and-slide model seems promising.  Areas investing in quality, expansive parks, not just a slide or two under the chairlifts, are showing returns that may be the key to survival in a competitive market.

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