Retaining Passholders in the Season of COVID-19
Issuing refunds, offering new benefits, upgrading membership levels, making up for lost days (and then some): These are some of the ways that parks are responding to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on season passholders.
“We want to make sure that our passholders, who are very loyal to us, stay happy,” says Jordan Carter, director of marketing for Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho. The park formulated a strategy that gives guests options while preserving the value of their passes. “We want to make sure [passholders] feel that they are appreciated,” he adds. “If we treat them right, they are our biggest advocates.”
Let’s review a range of ideas that parks have formulated to retain the loyalty of perhaps their most important constituency, season passholders, in this strangest of seasons.
- Discount 2021 passes
Scheduled to crank up its coasters on May 2, Silverwood is trying to determine when it will, in fact, open for the 2020 season. In the interim, it has assured its current passholders that it will offer them a discounted rate on 2021 passes to compensate for the operating days lost this year. “We want them to come back next year,” Carter says about the park’s forward-thinking offer. But Silverwood also knows that, for a variety of reasons, guests may not want or be able to use their passes during 2020. With a fair amount of visitors from nearby Canada, for example, the country’s residents are worried about a prolonged border closure. Silverwood says that those who do not make it to the park in 2020 will automatically have their passes rolled over into 2021.
- Extend the season
Taking a different tack, a number of parks are informing guests that their 2020 passes will be good for part of the 2021 season. Pennsylvania’s Kennywood and Hersheypark, for example, have extended this year’s passes through the end of June 2021. Current passholders at Dollywood in Tennessee and Silver Dollar City in Missouri will be able to visit the parks through June 1, 2021. “Our Season Pass holders represent our most passionate guests,” says Vikki Hulquist, general manager at Hersheypark. “As we manage through this unprecedented time, we wanted them to know how much we valued them.”
- Toss in the entire 2021 season
Some parks have gone a step further and extended 2020 passes all the way through the 2021 season. These include all of the parks in the Cedar Fair chain, such as Knott’s Berry Farm in California, Cedar Point in Ohio, and Michigan’s Adventure. Passholders at Sweden’s Gröna Lund will also be able to use their passes throughout the 2021 season. “They are our ambassadors. We want them on our side,” says Mattias Banker, owner and head of strategic development, Parks & Resorts Scandinavia. “We thought it was a nice gesture to say, ‘Thank you, we’re giving you the next year in advance.’”
- Upgrade membership levels
For every day that Six Flags parks remain closed in 2020 due to coronavirus, they will add an operating day during the 2021 season that current passholders will be able to use their passes. Like Silverwood, the chain of parks will also offer reduced 2021 renewal rates to this season’s passholders in recognition of the make-up days.
In addition to traditional season passes, Six Flags parks also offer a membership program. Using a model similar to health clubs and streaming services, members pay ongoing monthly fees and are not tied to seasons. Six Flags features four membership levels, Gold Plus, Platinum, Diamond, and Diamond Elite, which pile on additional perks as the costs increase. For every month that the parks remain closed, Six Flags will add an additional month to the end of members’ programs. And for the 2020 season, the chain will upgrade members to the next higher category at no additional cost. The top-level Diamond Elite members will receive extra skip-the-line passes and other benefits. “Our guiding light is to make sure that everyone gets the fair value of what they paid,” says Mark Kupferman, VP insights and interactive marketing. “And then we want to add some things on top because we appreciate their loyalty and that they are sticking with us.”
- Sweeten deals with extra benefits
In addition to upgrading membership levels, Six Flags is also offering bonus free friend days and other add-ons to passholders and members that stay the course. Other parks are also adding incentives to help convince passholders to sit tight during the pandemic disruption. For instance, passholders at Silver Dollar City and Hersheypark will also get a complimentary guest voucher. And Gröna Lund will allow its passholders to visit sister parks Kolmården, Skara Sommarland, and Furuvik at no additional cost.
- Issue partial refunds
Passholders at the Disney resorts in Florida and California have two options. The company will either extend the length of their passes to reflect the number of days the parks are closed, or it will issue prorated refunds. Disney suspended collection of payments for passholders on its monthly payment plan. As an alternative, passholders can choose to have their postponed payments collected after the parks reopen, thereby extending the number of days that the pass will be valid.
“How we handle this year and how we treat our [passholders] throughout this time will have long-lasting impact,” says Six Flags’ Kupferman, explaining the motivation behind the chain’s outreach to its loyal base. “Everyone is frustrated and disappointed–we are, our guests are. To whatever degree we can make up for it we will.