After an operationally challenging 2020 summer season filled with reduced capacity and social distancing requirements, the team at Gulf Islands Waterpark in Gulfport, MS set a goal for summer 2021 to be the “best year ever” for online ticketing sales. Since 2018, Gulf Islands has been a Catalate Partner, leveraging Cloud Store and Dynamic Pricing to power online sales of admission tickets, cabanas, birthday parties, and more.
In 2021, we interviewed Mark Moore, General Manager of Gulf Islands Waterpark, to gather his thoughts on business growth in partnership with Catalate. As you’ll see, the results prove the power of our partnership, not only in 2021 but in the seasons that have followed.
By communicating a strong message of “buy online and save” to both new and returning customers, online sales of all products in 2021 (excluding season passes) grew 38% over 2020, and 172% over 2019. Throughout the duration of Catalate’s partnership with Gulf Islands, walk-up admission ticket sales have stayed relatively flat, while sales of admission tickets online have increased 3.5x. General Manager Mark Moore says that “online sales, without a doubt, have driven the growth of our business.”
How does Gulf Islands continue to increase online sales year over year? We asked Moore why he thought 2021 was such a successful year. In addition to customers wanting to get outdoors and enjoy looser state restrictions, he said the online buying experience of Catalate’s Cloud Store played a role in the increase in online sales.
“What Catalate’s Cloud Store gets right is it takes the customer from the decision to purchase straight to buy now. It doesn’t put barriers in the way,” Moore says. “My advice to other operators considering changes to their online strategy is not to overlook the value of a properly designed e-commerce system.”
From Gulf Islands’ first year of partnership with Catalate, where online admission tickets represented 25% of total admission ticket sales, this number has skyrocketed several years later to 55% of total ticket sales online during 2021.
Along with many other businesses around the country, the park was challenged with a staffing shortage. By encouraging customers to buy online in advance and spreading visitation throughout the week, Cloud Store helped eliminate the need for ticketing booth staff and allowed the park to relocate staff to other more helpful locations. It also helped reduce the need for as many staff members, resulting in an approximate $12,000 savings in labor costs this summer alone.
“Having a well designed e-commerce platform, coupled with a pricing strategy to drive advanced sales, is like having 20 more cashiers!” says Moore.
A notable strategy change was moving window rates up, giving the dynamic strategy a higher ceiling. A particularly successful product offered on Cloud Store starting in 2021 was cabanas, which include a private oasis at various locations around the park. Online cabana sales alone reached nearly $125k (59% of total cabana sales for the 2021 season, and $30K more than the prior season), which is greater than the total revenue from Cabana sales in 2018, when all cabanas were sold on-site at the park.
In 2021, Gulf Islands participated in Catalate’s beta test of a rain guarantee product in partnership with Sensible Weather. The product offers a rain guarantee to customers and automatically reimburses their ticket when impending rain will affect their day at the park.
The pilot test with Gulf Islands showed a 49% attach rate of rain guarantees to eligible orders, and a low customer support contact rate of only 2%.
What’s next for Gulf Islands in 2023?
The year ahead is looking bright for Gulf Islands, with gross bookings up 5.46% from May 2022, and the season hasn’t even started! On top of that, average booking windows are topping 77 days; that’s well over 2 months of advance notice to plan operations around guest visitation.
What’s the goal for this coming year, says Moore? Beating last year’s online sales, of course!
Catalate is a global pricing and e-commerce company empowering ski resorts, parks, and attractions to increase online revenue. As the only purpose-built ticketing platform for the industry, Catalate has developed successful strategies for hundreds of Partners across $1 billion in online sales. Get in touch today.