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Rethinking parking fees


Most of us have accepted death and taxes as facts of life. And theme park operators have long, quietly hoped that we would similarly accept the inevitability of parking fees.

But honestly, what park patron doesn’t utter an under-the-breath expletive, or at least wince a bit, when confronted by a steep fee at a parking lot or garage?

At best, being forced to reach into your pocket for that extra $20 well before going through the park gate is irritating, an inconvenience. At worst, it feels like a flagrant money grab — especially when there are no parking alternatives. Either way, it works against the psychology of fun-seeking.

As they lavish millions of dollars on new attractions inside their parks, operators should stay mindful of the immediate pre-arrival experience of their patrons and ensure that their anticipation builds smoothly until they’re inside the park. Security screening may be a necessary “hitch” in this anticipation; parking fees are not.

Having discussed this casually and off the record with several theme park managers over the years, I know it’s an uncomfortable, bottom line-driven issue. That’s not to say that a few haven’t agreed that parking fees should be reconsidered.

While park patrons are accustomed to annual bumps in admission and food prices, their willingness to shell out more for these things can be weakened by deeper parking fee gouges. It just doesn’t make sense to test the customer’s “rip-off” tolerance, or loyalty.

One idea: Do away with self-parking fees and use “Free Parking!” as a promotional hook (as some smaller parks already do). The lost income largely can be recouped through expected admission and season pass increases and by adding a few more cents to food, beverage and souvenir prices.

Another idea: Issue a pass at the parking entrance that can be validated inside the park in exchange for purchases — offering the opportunity for reduced or free parking. Or, if the money must be collected up front, make the parking pass double as a voucher or “credit card” that can be applied to food and merchandise purchases.

After all, in this business, every dollar exchanged that creates the impression of enhancing fun is worth far more than its face value.

This article appears in the July 2017 issue of Amusement Today.

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