Friday, April 16, 2010
KATIE ORR (KPBS Reporter): In this struggling economy, buying expensive tickets to a larger amusement park may not be practical for a lot of families. Coming to a place like Belmont Park that charges by the ride may be a good alternative. In fact, some smaller parks are doing well in the recession. They're succeeding in part because of families like the Turners. Susanne Turner brought her parents and her three sons down to the historic amusement park at Mission Beach for a day of sun, carnival games and rides.
SUSANNE TURNER (San Diego Resident): It's the boys first day of spring break and we decided we couldn't go out of town this year, obviously with the economy being as it is. But we wanted to do something fun and different and we actually live pretty close to here but we'd never been here before. So we decided to come down.
ORR: The Turners are part of the 65 percent of Belmont park visitors who live in the San Diego region. Wendy Crain is general manager of the San Diego Coaster Company, which operates the rides and games at the park. She says revenues have risen nearly 7 percent in each of the past two years. In fact she says this is the park's best year on record.
WENDY CRAIN (San Diego Coaster Company): We think a lot of it has to do with the right pricing structure. Free beach, free parking, free admission to the park. You don't have to pay the large price for a gated attraction. The stay time is a lot shorter. You're not committed for a full day.
ORR: Crain says about 900,000 people come to the park each year. Visitors can buy individual tickets or buy wrist bands that let them ride all day. She says by far the most popular ride is the famous Giant Dipper Coaster, which turns 85 this year. Theme park consultant Dennis Speigel says the trend of smaller parks thriving in the recession applies to other parts of the country as well.
DENNIS SPEIGEL (Theme Park Consultant): The boardwalk parks over on the east coast have done very well the last two years for two reasons. They're capturing some of the tourism that's still coming into those areas. But they're also becoming the local stay-cation visitation spot. And, certainly, having that free gate during this recession in 2009 has helped them a lot.
ORR: Speigel says people usually spend between $20 and $50 when they visit an amusement park. He says Belmont is probably on the low end of the range based on its size. Belmont's experience in the recession is similar to other beach boardwalk amusement parks in California. Parks in Santa Monica and Santa Cruz are also reporting large crowds and strong revenues which they credit to free admission and offering guests a choice on how much money they want to spend. Affordability was definitely a draw for Claremont dad Jim Malwitz. He says finances are his first consideration when deciding where to take his two kids for fun.
JIM MALWITZ (San Diego Resident): Bottom line was money. We looked at the price of Sea World, the Wild Animal Park, the zoo, which we've all been to before. We've also been here too. But for bang for your buck, you've got a couple of kids, a couple hundred of dollars goes a lot longer down here than it does at the zoo or the Wild Animal Park or Sea World.
ORR: That's the attitude small park operators are hoping consumers will keep well into the future. Trading the chaos of daily life for a little chaos at a beach amusement park instead.