Our friends over at Inside Wake sat down to chat with Daniel Watkins, the owner of Gold Coast Wake and Aquapark, a world class wake park destination on the Gold Coast of Australia. Below, Daniel discusses how operating an aquapark at his wakeboard cable park has impacted his business model, marketing his park, and advice for those looking to invest in an aquapark.
Hi Daniel, when did Gold Coast Wake Park kick off and when did you first open an aquapark?
We were meant to open in 2016 but had a horrific flood which made us postpone by a year. When we finally opened in 2017 we had one full-size cable and one linear cable. A year later we added the second full-size cable. In 2018 I won a council tender and opened Gold Cost Aqua Park at different location in Southport Broadwater. That is one of the most iconic locations of Australia! The success of this aquapark really inspired the idea to also bring an aquapark to the wakepark as well, which we did in 2019.
What mutual benefits and synergies are there to operating both a wakepark and an aquapark as one business?
A lot! We use the aquapark to get people in the door. An aquapark has no skill level—you can just go and there and splash, play and just have fun. It’s not about having to keep your knees bent and your arms straight like with wakeboarding. On the cable there’s a certain amount of strength and skill involved. Sometimes it’s painful when you get whipped around the corner. Being able to wakeboard involves a certain athletic ability, even if it’s reasonably low. This can be a barrier to entry.
Sounds plausible. What else do you like about the concept of running both?
While customers are at the aquapark, they look over and see the kneeboarding or wakeboarding. Then we try to transfer them over. We say, “You bought your aquapark pass and it’s only $25 more to go on the kneeboard today.” The kids love the thrill of going down the slides, but it’s an activity they do maybe two or three times a year. It won’t make people come back again and again. Whereas once somebody gets hooked on wakeboarding, then they come back three times a week! They get memberships, they buy new boards every six months and they eat in the café every day.
How well does this transfer work – getting customers from the aquapark to the wakepark?
Often this doesn’t happen immediately. Generally, people are exhausted once they get off the aquapark. But we are able to get their information and keep marketing to them, and the idea of them coming back within a month to try the kneeboarding is very tempting. The aquapark is really the gateway to the sport that we love.
What was your aquapark investment relative to the park infrastructure and cable system?
Financially, the aquapark is about 20% the cost of building a cable, and there’s about 80% more revenue (laughs). So as a business, the aquapark is way better. For us it’s the real money-maker.
You fit more people on it, it’s easier to run and a lot less maintenance. For us the financial difference between the two is like night and day.
However, here’s the big catch: On a personal level, if I had to go to an aquapark and look at kids playing all day, then my motivation to go to work wouldn’t be very high. Being a wakeboarder, watching the kids progress on the cable and getting new people into the sport is a passion to me, rather than a money-making pursuit.
Making a living out of wakeboarding is difficult at any level. I have a pro shop and a cable park, I was a professional rider, I had a boat dealership, and all these things are about passion to me. There’s not much money in any of it, because we’re not playing NFL or basketball.
Coming back to synergies: Once a wakepark has staff, facilities, wetsuits, life jackets etc., should it be a no-brainer to have an aquapark?
You have to know that the turnover on our aquapark is a lot higher compared to the wakepark. We have way more people going to our aquapark. In slow times, you can bulk staff together and you can use the person in the café to sell your tickets, but when we get into summer, we need a separate ticketing area. On both our aquaparks we can fit 250 people per session—that amounts to 1100 people a day in the summer! With wakeboarding you just can’t have those numbers. On the two full-size cables we fit 50 in total per session, plus members.
What’s your typical customer at the aquapark like?
At an aquapark, the majority are a group of five to ten people, usually young kids. All of them are excited, completely buzzing and running around. It’s a lot less serious than wakeboarding. People coming to the cable are a lot more attentive and nervous. There’s a lot happening, there’s a machine and they ask, “How do I do this?” That’s because they are learning something new. The kids on the aquapark are just running around and pushing each other into the water.
How is the interaction with customers different?
The aquapark customers are handled a lot more quickly. It’s about getting in, getting your 50-minute session, and getting out. At the wakepark, on the other hand, it’s about arriving, taking a lesson, figuring it out, staying for lunch, having another go after lunch. With wakeboarding there’s always something new to learn. One of them is a sport, the other is purely play.
What are the aqua parties that you so heavily advertise?
For the aqua park parties we have a minimum of 10 people. Usually one person–often the birthday boy–has been to the park before and loves it. His family loves it too, and maybe he has a friend or two who have been to the park before. But more than half the people at this kid’s birthday party have never seen Gold Coast Wake Park before. They never even knew it was there. They get here and their reaction is, “Oh, this is fantastic,” and they come back.
You said you re-target your aquapark audience. How do you do it? Is it all email marketing?
We have a team working with us in the Philippines and they do everything: TikTok ads, Instagram ads, Facebook ads, retargeting through Google and email marketing. We really work hard in this field, and birthday parties are our biggest focus in marketing the aquapark. We use a CRM called Pipedrive. For a birthday party, for example, we send the customers an email and give them a call 30 days prior to the birthday. If they’re intrigued, we move them to “interested” in our funnel. Then we send them a magalog, our 15-page brochure, schedule another phone call with the party host, send them a catch-up text message and so on. In total there are eight touchpoints before a party.
When you first started looking into building an aqua park, what was important to you in choosing a manufacturer?
First off, aquaparks in Australia have to withstand the most horrific conditions. We have storms, floods and very high UV radiation. So you need to choose something that can stand up to these conditions. I don’t think Aquaglide’s stuff could be any more tough for this environment. In the last four years, both our parks have been Aquaglide only. They have EN certification, which is really important, and all their pieces look good. I chose them because I honestly felt they were the best. They also have the largest product offering which means I can increase the size of my parks without duplicating pieces.
What else convinced you?
Throughout our six weeks of summer vacation, we have 1100 people on our aquapark daily and they get an absolute beating. I can’t say that we’ve never had an issue, but what Aquaglide has done really well is stand behind their product. If something goes wrong, they will make sure that we are always happy, that we stay in business and keep moving. We have developed a trustfull relationship over the years, which is very important to me with every business partner.
How are you continuing to develop your aquapark?
I’m currently working on making use of the area in the middle of the cable park lake. We have so much space to build an aquapark there, so I’m looking for a solution to get people to the middle of the lake. The idea is to use the 10 minutes between the wakeboard sessions to ferry people out. I haven’t come up with a solid solution yet, but that’s my focus. Other wakeparks with an aquapark in the middle currently use either the cable or the aquapark. For me, that doesn’t really work. We need to find a solution where we can use both at the same time.
What advice would you give a cable park owner about adding an aquapark to their operation?
If they have space in their lake, it’s an absolute no-brainer. Just don’t be naïve about it.
It’s not easy when storms come, for example, and can be a lot of work at times. If you are considering putting one in, make sure you have strong staff, because those play structures are heavy!
What do you say to a wakepark owner who has concerns about an aquapark?
They can just give me a call if they want (laughs). Obviously, nothing is for nothing. Don’t go into it thinking that it’s free money. It is a lot of work, but the reward is there—financially, and in getting new customers to your park. If you want to try out how an aqua park could look like at your wakepark, check out Aquaglide’s 3D park builder. Right this way!