Cedar Fair Entertainment and the Benefits of Playing Local

Mike Lawson • Travel/Festivals • June 14, 2016

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There’s no doubt that band travel is a big recruitment tool for band directors. Cedar Fair Entertainment Company owns and operates 11 parks throughout North America.

They also feature eight Festival of Music programs in the parks. Their locations are regional park favorites of band directors across the country for their local area accessibility, their performance and festival offerings, and especially for their affordability. These benefits allow band programs to make annual trips to their parks where an annual trip to a major destination park may never be within their district’s budget, rules, or simply ability to support. Cedar Fair’s parks offer instrumental and choir at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, MO, Carowinds in Charlotte, NC, Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, ON, Kings Dominion in Richmond, VA, and Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. In addition, they offer a choir-only festival at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA, California’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA, and Kings Island in Cincinnati, OH.

In this issue, SBO interviews Laura Kreutzer, Corporate Director of Youth Sales for Cedar Fair Entertainment, to find out more about their park programs, pricing, performance and festival opportunities, and overall benefits of playing locally.

How long has Cedar Fair been doing music programs?

We have hosted a Festival of Music program up to 43 years. It kind of spans. Kings Dominion has been hosting their music festival for over 25 years. Canada’s Wonderland has been in business over 30 years with their fesitival. Carowinds, this year is their 40th anniversary. And Worlds of Fun in Kansas City is celebrating their 43rd anniversary this year.

How have they evolved over time?

We’ve grown this program in the last four years. With having the core for festival music programs that I had mentioned with longevity and with tenure, we’ve added the additional four for Knott’s Berry Farm, Great America, Kings Island, and Cedar Point just in the last four years because we saw a need, regionally, to expand these programs because people didn’t want to travel or their travel budgets were limited. We were able to expand this and to be able to have additional options for the local community.

Cedar Fair bought Paramount Parks in 2006, and they have invested a lot of capital dollars into these festival and music programs. So we’ve purchased a lot of brand-new Yamaha equipment, backline percussion equipment for the festivals. We have been able to increase what we’re paying our adjudicators to get top name, nationally-known adjudicators. We have new venues. We built a brand-new warm-up facility at Carowinds last year to coincide with the theater, so it’s a seamless experience. We have received a large amount of capital to put specifically towards our Festival of Music program, and a lot of that capital has gone to Wenger equipment, as well as new Yamaha equipment for a number of our parks.

Outside of festivals, are there performance opportunities within the park itself? Do they march in parades or play in locations in the parks?

We have a program called Performance in the Park, which a school can come in to and at all of our 11 locations, they can bring their band. They can bring their choir. They can bring dance groups. They can bring pretty much any type of performance group in and perform in front of thousands of our park guests daily. We do have a marching band program at all of our parks. They can march throughout the park as well.

Are there any particular genres that are best suited for performing inside the parks, jazz band versus concert band, that kind of thing?

We really see a little bit of everything. Here at Kings Dominion this week, we’ve seen everything from a middle school orchestra perform on our Performance in the Park stage, to a marching band tomorrow

How far does a typical school travel to get to one of your company’s many parks around the country?

The majority of our business, I would say, comes from a radius of about 150 miles within the park.

Do band directors typically choose a park based on location or festival offering?

We have a festival coordinator at each park who kind of manages the operations and does the booking individually for that specific park. And typically, a music director or the music educator would pick based on geography.

Other than Knott’s Berry Farm, your parks are seasonal. When do your parks open that allow you to work within the seasonal schedule?

Our parks’ open dates are, really, on Easter and on spring break dates. So they vary a bit year over year. But some of our parks open in late March. Some of the earlier parks, California’s Great America, Kings Dominion, and Carowinds, all open relatively early spring. And then the rest, Cedar Point, Worlds of Fun, Canada’s Wonderland, they open up mid-May, and we host through the rest of spring.

Many festivals elsewhere are done at the end of April, first of May. I was actually very surprised to hear that you had one going on through Memorial Day Weekend.

Yeah, and actually Kings Dominion goes through Saturday the weekend following Memorial Day, and we’re full. I think it gives a great opportunity for the schools who maybe can’t make March because of testing, or because of maybe where spring break falls. We can capture that business in the later time of spring, and really capture that business in April or May, and we’re seeing great results from it.

Do you have partner hotels, or do you own hotels as part of the parks? How does that operate when you’re putting a plan together for a school? 

The two properties that we actually own and operate our own hotels, Cedar Fair owns and operates our own hotels, is Knott’s Berry Farm, we have a Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel. And then Cedar Point, we own a variety of different hotels as well on property and we can package with the hotel if we do have a school that’s traveling. Or we typically just sell a ticket on its own a la carte to give the school the option. But we certainly get requests to put together packages.

What’s the best way for a band director to plan their trip?

Typically, what we find is they will either call the generic number on the website, or they will visit the website and go into the festival’s music page. Each festival actually has their own websites with the available times, the list of adjudicators, the director’s guide, all the specifics needed to educate them on the event itself. And then there’s either a form that they fill out online or they can call us directly, and they would get to the festival coordinator to schedule their time and their dates that they wanted to perform.

You say you’ve had some festivals going on as many as 40 years. Do you find that you keep many of the same adjudicators for a long period of time?

In regards to the festival coordinator itself and the head festival coordinator, we work with Dr. Bill Malambri from Winthrop University in Charlotte at Carowinds. He has been with us 40 years. In fact, we dedicated the warm-up facility to him just this year as a thank you. So he has really been with us since the start. And Dr. Coleman from the University of Missouri has been with us for the entire 43 years at Worlds of Fun as well.

So it says a lot that they believe in the program to stick with us for that long. We have Tricia Austin here who is our festival coordinator at Kings Dominion. And again, she’s been around for most of the 25 years, whether at the performance…she was a performer here at Kings Dominion, then she took over the festival. So we’re really privileged to have long-tenured people, which helps us look at the programs, and grow them, and head them in the right direction.

Tell our readers about what Festivals of Music does with your parks.

They’re great supporters of our parks, and we have a great partnership with them at, really, all 11 of our parks. So we work very closely with them.

They have been working with our parks for many, many years because we partnered with them for their awards ceremony. So we actually work with Music in the Parks and Festivals of Music for their onsite awards ceremony at all 11 parks. And then additionally, now they manage four of our parks’ Festival of Music programs.

How do you see your parks differing from the “national” theme park destinations?

I think that is a big difference that we get as a region versus a national park, a destination park, is we have a lot of season pass visitors coming into our park with schools wanting to perform. So the surcharge for that season pass, it depends on the park. But it’s low — a season pass holder can come in as low as $10 and perform with their group, and have the same experience as a regular-paying guest.

Our price points are definitely affordable, and I think that’s what we’re seeing the difference as well. As destination parks do have an increase in pricing year over year, we try to stay as low as possible to capture that regional business, and I think we’re definitely doing that and having success. Our primary demographic for most of our parks is middle school and high school. And for our festivals, we have a lot of middle school groups come and we have a lot of high school as well. Some of our parks here at Kings Dominion, for example, we do see some elementary schools, too. But for a festival and the adjudication process with the educational component, it’s definitely focused more on middle school and high school.

A one-day ticket including the performance, the festival participation, and visiting the park is as low as $43 per student, correct?

Yes. This is why you should stay local and play local. And we do have a lot of local school groups come, so if they even have season passes, there’s just a $10 fee for them to perform. And if you’re just coming to observe, the season pass will get you in as well. So that cuts down on a lot of the costs, especially for some of our local schools.

Since a lot of your business is one-day or single overnight trips, do you find many directors working with tour planners, or planning on their own?

I find the majority are coming directly, and there are a percentage working with tour operators. Most of the time, if a school is working through a tour operator, I find that they’re coming for an overnight stay because it’s much easier for the tour operator to coordinate the entire package. And we will absolutely refer. I’m a board member for the SYTA organization, which is the Student Youth Travel Association. I’ve been on the board now for three years. I’ve been involved for over 10 years with it. And it’s essentially a tour operator association that focuses on the student travel business. So we’re very involved with the SYTA organization and very well-connected with tour operators, that we can connect the tour operator with the educator if need be.

What percentage do you think are one day versus overnight or multiple day stays?

I would say the majority are one day. It depends also where they’re coming from. Cedar Point is more of a bit of a destination park because we own and operate so many hotels. So we see groups from Michigan. We see groups from Indiana. We see groups from southern Ohio, even Pennsylvania, coming to Cedar Point. I think to your point about the budget, think there’s two key elements that our festivals offer. One is a low, affordable price point that we can offer, and the second is really that educational component. The unmatched value that we have is certainly there. We have knowledgeable team members that manage our festivals that are band students or in the industry, and then, obviously, our internationally known composers and conductors all kind of play into a part of the quality and the experience that they get.

Pricing is important, the cost of meals while they’re there, everything else. I see you can even just get an all-day drink wristband for $8.

Yeah, depending on the park. We have great, affordable meal options at all of our parks. It could be an add-on for our festival and music program. We have everything from a meal voucher, where they can choose the variety of different locations throughout the park. Most of our parks offer a youth meal or a group picnic, festival picnic, where they can actually buy into and eat at the picnic pavilion as well. And those are very affordable prices as well.

It’s really refreshing to work for a regional park where you’re giving educators and tour operators the regional opportunity to travel, and the regional experience that you could get at other parks, but you don’t have to spend as much money. It’s pretty exciting for me in having that opportunity.

Learn more about Cedar Fair Entertainment’s parks and various youth programs, festivals and performance opportunities at cedarfairyouthsales.com


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