Despite new competition, Splash in the Boro held its own this summer, with a 4 percent drop in attendance from 2014 attributed to weather, but more visitors than in 2013 or 2012.
Publicly owned Splash, operated by Statesboro Bulloch Parks & Recreation, so far has a pricing advantage over the new, privately owned Surf Lagoon in Pooler. While the new waterpark aims to attract Savannah area residents and tourists, Splash seeks to create and keep repeat customers within about a two-hour radius of Statesboro, said Steve Brown, manager of Parks & Recreation's aquatics division.
"Going into the season and knowing that we had competition, we felt like we had a pretty good product, and my comment was always, we need to take care of our own back yard, so to speak, and make sure we offer a great product for an affordable price," Brown said.
Asked for a report after Labor Day brought Splash's 90-day summer to a close, Brown first talked about the impact of the weather. His numbers show that rain was a more than sufficient reason for 2015 attendance to be lower than 2014's.
Rain hurts waterparks
Hot weather increases attendance at water parks. But even a threat of rain can keep them away, and thunderstorms force the park to close for safety.
"You know, we had good attendance because it was so hot," Brown said. "We had a lot of hot weather days, but then we'd get those pop-up afternoon thunderstorms that would hurt us a bit."
When forced to close before 4 p.m., Splash issues rainchecks for later admission to any patrons who are there at the time. This summer, the waterpark closed before 4 p.m. 28 times, compared to just six days last year. So, 5,711 rainchecks were issued this year, compared to 2,136 last year.
Including closings after 4 p.m., the park sent guests away before the regular closing time 37 days this summer, compared to 14 days in summer 2014.
Additionally, a better than 50 percent chance was forecast for 23 of Splash in the Boro's 90 operating days this summer, compared to 17 such days last year, Brown reported.
"Considering all that, you know, with the weather and the number of rainchecks we gave out and everything, attendance was not bad," he said.
This summer, the Splash staff recorded 136,080 guest visits, compared to 142,230 in summer 2014. But this year's count was up from 120,358 guests during the 2013 season and 131,029 in 2012.
‘A little competition'
"So then we come to the question that everybody asks, which is, ‘How did the park in Pooler affect you?'" Brown said.
His answer is that Splash has continued to "take care of its own back yard" and offer great family fun at affordable prices.
"I believe that a little competition can make you better, so it's allowed us to maybe look at our operation a little bit and look at ways to improve even more so," Brown said.
The impact has not been as great as he and others thought it could be. This summer, Splash entertained several large groups from the Savannah area and heard comments about how affordable the park here is, Brown said.
"Our group prices were around $8 a ticket for 20 or more people," he said, "and honestly, I'm not sure what theirs were, but I think they probably were almost doubled what ours were."
Splash in the Boro's individual admission rate is $12 for people 48 inches tall or taller who live outside Bulloch County and are not Georgia Southern University, Ogeechee Technical College or East Georgia State College students or members of the military. The discounted rate for Bulloch County residents, GSU, OTC and EGSC students and military personnel is $10.
For individuals under 48 inches tall, the cost is $10 for those from outside Bulloch County and $8 for Bulloch residents. These rates remained unchanged from last year.
For comparison, Surf Lagoon's general admission prices, as published on its website, are $19.99 for individuals 48 inches tall or taller, $14.99 for individuals under 48 inches tall. The park offers discounts for military and people over age 55, and with children up to 2 years old admitted free. For groups of 20 or more, the prices are $12.99 per person under 48 inches tall; $16.99 for those at least four feet tall.
Splash in the Boro's sales of season passes, presumably not as easily affected by weather, were also down a little, from 2,145 last year to 2,056 this season. A discount on season passes will be offered in December for holiday giving, Brown noted.
He is candid about the major factor giving Splash a pricing advantage.
"We're fortunate to be part of the county and be able to keep our costs down with county resources, which a private organization would not be able to do that," Brown said.
Wave pool in future
But this also means that the financing of any major new investment in the park must win approval from the county commissioners. An expansion can cost several million dollars, which is hard to justify every few years, Brown said.
But Splash's management has been talking to designers and engineers about adding a wave pool, and Brown said he hopes to see it done within a couple of years.
He does not foresee an increase in admission prices until an expansion. With costs of inputs from water treatment chemicals to electricity increasing, Splash also has little room to cut prices, either.
Brown had no financial figures available from the season yet, but said the park did better than break even.
"We were able to exceed our expenditures," he said. "In our 12-year history there may have been one year that we were not able to exceed our expenditures, and we've been able to build up a reserve fund which allows us to invest in Splash in the Boro and not have to burden taxpayers."
The reserve is a little over $1 million.
During the summer, Splash created about 220 temporary jobs for youth, working as lifeguards, running concessions, keeping the grounds clean, and in other roles.
Now a reduced staff continues to operate the competition and therapy pools. These are used to provide swim lessons, lap swims, swim team programs and water aerobics virtually year-round. They will close for the week of Oct. 5 for the winter dome to be installed, then again the last week in April for the dome's removal.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.