I recently spoke with Sylvain Lauzon, vice-president at Calypso Waterpark and former employee of Rick Hunter’s rival firm ProSlide Technology Inc., which hopes to open Alottawatta Water Park in 2012 on Moodie Drive in Ottawa’s west end.
I wondered: is Ottawa-Gatineau and environs really big enough to support not one, not two, but three water parks? (Mont Cascades, in Cantley, Que. and also owned by Mr. Hunter, is the third and has been in operation for many years.)
Mr. Lauzon projected supreme confidence that he, Calypso owner Guy Drouin and their team have what it takes to dominate this marketplace. Their magic marketing button is that they are not, in fact, a water park. Instead, they’re about a total mind and body experience, he explained.
“It’s the programming and theming that counts,” said Mr. Lauzon. “We bring entertainment to another level. We incorporate theming and programming this way:
1) There’s a sense of arrival at the park,
2) people can stroll our commercial main street,
3) they can experience our boutiques and restaurants,
4) we use a Caribbean theme for design, for our staff and for our mascots, and
5) we give our customers a world-class, Disney-esque feeling, and the warmest atmosphere and best guest experience possible.”
They’re also not standing still, he said. As has been reported in OBJ, the park will construct ten more slides this off-season including two never-before-seen, gravity- defying rides. One of them will feature the tallest tower in North America. Lauzon declined to provide more details, preferring to unveil these new attractions to what he hopes will be a receptive audience next summer.
And what a reception Calypso has received. The community bought tens of thousands of season passes at a price point equal to three individual visits to the park (with the industry norm being around one and a half). Limoges and surrounding communities embraced Calypso as their own.
But the other killer market for Calypso is Montreal, 90 minutes to the east. Forty per cent of all attendance in its first season was from Montreal, and in-house surveys showed that many stayed overnight and visited other attractions, mainly in Ottawa.
The park’s radio and TV campaign in Montreal worked, Mr. Lauzon said, because Montreal consumers are interested in new experiences. They also got a lot of earned media in the Montreal press from pre-opening interviews done in the city.
He said the same strategy didn’t work so well in Ottawa, a slower-moving market. “Ottawa is a skeptical, show-me kind of place,” Lauzon said. “People thought, ‘it’s just another water park’, not realizing the size and quality of the place. We need to educate people in Ottawa that they have a world-class product 25 minutes away.”
When I visited the park before its opening, the thing that impressed me most – after my initial reaction to the fantastical, surreal verticality of the slides themselves – was the parking lot. It’s huge. I walked the whole thing, and it was immediately apparent to me that they were expecting much bigger crowds than anyone outside their management team knew about.
The lot is unmarked so you can’t get an exact number, but it can hold about 4,000 to 4,500 vehicles and, with average occupancy rates over three persons per car, you get a maximum attendance of 14,000 people per day. That’s bigger than Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon at 8,000.
They got all of that in the great-weather summer of 2010, along with line-ups backing onto the major highway accessing the park.
I asked Mr. Lauzon if he had any advice for other entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, and it turned out he’s a big believer in market research – in knowing your market, and what it wants. “Many people, even quite successful people, don’t really know what their customers want,” he says.
As our interview neared its end, he added: “You never know where you’re going to end up in life.”
His passion for skiing led him to work for Intrawest, which introduced him to the entertainment industry, which led him to ProSlide. But he said he’s has had the most fun in his career helping to build Calypso from the ground-up. His training was as a land surveyor, so you can see what a long, strange trip it ‘s been.
Talking to Mr. Lauzon and hearing the excitement in his voice reminded me of the one line from James Cameron’s film, Titanic, that is probably destined to last:
“Make each day count,” spoken by Jack Dawson.
Bruce Firestone is executive-in-residence at the Telfer School of Management, and founder of the Ottawa Senators.