Cashless system coming to Waldameer
Waldameer Park moving to new cashless system
By ED PALATTELLAed.email@example.com
After three straight years of big additions, no new rides are coming to Waldameer Park & Water World this season.
The next new attraction, a giant flying carousel, will arrive in 2011.
But the amusement park is still undergoing a big change.
Waldameer is introducing its own currency: "Wally Points."
As a result, how you pay to ride the Ravine Flyer II, Thunder River, X Scream and other attractions will be different this year.
So will how you buy food and souvenirs and pay for games.
In what its owner said is its most expensive nonride investment to date, Waldameer is installing a $500,000 cashless payment system at the family-owned park that overlooks Lake Erie in Millcreek Township.
The new coin of Waldameer's realm will be Wally Points, redeemed with plastic swipe cards -- Wally Cards, named after the park's mascot, Wally Bear. One Wally Point costs $1.
General admission and parking still will be free at Waldameer, and patrons who buy all-day passes for the rides still will wear wristbands.
But those wristbands will have bar codes to scan at the turnstiles.
And patrons who buy single tickets, which cost $1.50, will no longer present them to ride operators.
Patrons instead will pay for Wally Points and get Wally Cards to swipe at each ride, food booth, gift shop or midway game.
"The main thing is to give a better service to people, and this gives us a tighter control over cash," Waldameer owner Paul Nelson said.
Nelson said the savings from the cashless system will enable Waldameer to keep its free parking and open admission -- hallmarks that allow visitors to stroll the grounds and pay to ride as many attractions as they would like.
"I want to keep the park the way it is so people who don't have a lot of money can still enjoy the park," Nelson said.
He said Waldameer, which employs 18 full-time and 400 part-time workers in the summer, will hire four fewer people with the cashless system.
He said the system will save more money by, among other things, cutting back on the number of patrons who ride for free and reducing the number of employees who handle cash, making the park less susceptible to misplaced or stolen money.
"The fewer people who touch the money, the less chance it has walking out the door," said Nelson, 75, who has been full owner of the park since 1978.
Nelson said Waldameer, which he said drew more than 400,000 paying customers in 2009, is coming off its second most successful season in its 114-year history. Even still, he said, business was down 12 percent compared to 2008 -- the park's most successful year.
Nelson said the poor economy and the wet weather hurt Waldameer's attendance in 2009. He said 2008 was a record-breaking year because Waldameer opened the Ravine Flyer II roller coaster, which gained national attention and helped boost the park's business by 30 percent compared to 2007.
Waldameer continued to expand in 2009. It introduced the Mega Vortex spinning disk, which followed the Ravine Flyer II, the X Scream drop tower in 2007 and the Steel Dragon spinning roller coaster in 2004.
Since 1984, Waldameer has added six mechanical rides, to bring its total to 29, and three roller coasters, to bring the total to four. Water World, which now features 11 water slides, opened in 1986. Waldameer has spent $30 million in improvements over the past 30 years.
Nelson sees the cashless system as another example of his family's commitment. Waldameer has thrived as other area amusement parks have struggled, including the reopened Conneaut Lake Park, which has had problems with unpaid bills, and Geauga Lake Amusement Park, in Ohio, which is now solely a water park.
The cashless system "is simply an upgrade for our employees and customers," Nelson said.
The cashless system should lead to increased revenue and efficiency for Waldameer, said Mary Beth Pinto, Ph.D., a professor of marketing at Penn State Behrend.
She said cashless systems have become the norm in the marketplace, particularly in retail businesses. Studies have consistently shown customers spend more money when they use swipe cards "and don't have to reach for the cash," Pinto said.
"This is an area where they want to get more bang for their buck," she said of Waldameer. "It is a great move."
The system is by Core Cashless Inc., near Kansas City, Kan., which specializes in amusement parks and other entertainment venues. Waldameer's system will allow customers to buy Wally Cards from an employee in a booth or at kiosks.
The cashless system will not eliminate ride operators. To get on a ride starting this season, Nelson said, patrons must scan a wristband or swipe a card at the turnstile and then wait for an operator to let them on.
The cashless system will also allow Waldameer to better track its inventory, Nelson said. He said the park can easily log each purchase made with Wally Cards.
And he said Waldameer will use swipe cards in other areas of the park, such as maintenance. He said workers will swipe security cards each time they inspect a ride so that Waldameer can better ensure scheduled maintenance is occurring.
Either way, Wally Cards and Wally Points will flood Waldameer this summer, drawing to close an era when cash was king at the park. Nelson, who started working at Waldameer in 1945, when he was 11, said he could never have imagined a cashless system.
"It blew my mind," he said.
ED PALATTELLA can be reached at 870-1813 or by e-mail.