SANDUSKY, Ohio Amusement parks and water parks aren't likely to see a drop-off in visitors this summer, despite surging gas prices and the struggling economy, the head of North America's third-largest park operator says.
Families and teens still will come to ride roller coasters and gobble up funnel cakes and corn dogs, but they'll probably spend less on games and souvenirs, said Richard Kinzel, chief executive of Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.
"It's always been sort of recession-resistant," Kinzel said in an interview. "That's what we're hoping for and that's what usually has happened in the past."
Cedar Fair operates 11 U.S. amusement parks, including Cedar Point in Sandusky and Kings Island near Cincinnati, and six outdoor water parks, as well as Canada's Wonderland amusement park near Toronto. It also operates Michigan's Adventure in Muskegon, Mich.
Cedar Fair is spending $88 million this year on new rides and attractions, including 18 live shows and five roller coasters. The biggest and most expensive is the $21 million Behemoth at Canada's Wonderland, now Canada's fastest and tallest coaster.
Not all of the spending will focus on thrills. Cedar Point is opening Planet Snoopy, with seven kiddie rides and a family lounge where parents can rest and feed their children.
Nearly two years ago, Cedar Fair paid $1.24 billion to buy five parks from Paramount Parks Inc. The deal made Cedar Fair the third-largest company of its type in terms of attendance.
Kinzel got his start in 1972 at Cedar Point supervising food stands along the midway. Three years later, he became the park's director of operations.
Kinzel said that although gas prices will keep families closer to home, that could benefit Cedar Fair. In addition to parks in Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, it owns parks in California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota and North Carolina.
He told The Associated Press that there are some encouraging signs already. Season pass and group sales are up over last year, although hotel reservations are down. Some families may be planning shorter stays this year, Kinzel said.
The Walt Disney Co. said earlier in May that attendance at its parks in California and Florida were up 5 percent in the first three months of this year. It credited a weak U.S. dollar with keeping Americans closer to home and attracting tourists from abroad.
Online promotions have allowed company executives to make quicker pricing changes on tickets if they see a drop in attendance or guest spending inside the parks, Kinzel said.
"You can throw a discount out there very quickly if you need it to energize attendance," he said.
Founded in 1870, Cedar Point is one of the oldest operating amusement parks in America."People are always looking for an escape," Kinzel said. "It's always been a great form of entertainment."
If you go . . .
CEDAR FAIR ENTERTAINMENT: Company operates 11 U.S. amusement parks, six outdoor water parks and Canada's Wonderland park near Toronto, www.cedarfair.com. Here is a list of the parks and some of the new attractions this year:
• Carowinds, Charlotte, N.C. New: Bondi Beach, a wave pool.
• Cedar Point & Soak City, Sandusky, Ohio. New: Planet Snoopy, children's area with seven rides.
• Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif. New: Pony Express, a launched roller coaster.
• Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, Allentown, Pa. New: VooDoo, an inverted roller coaster.
• Valleyfair, Shakopee, Minn.
• Worlds of Fun & Oceans of Fun, Kansas City, Mo.
• Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom, Aurora, Ohio (near Cleveland).
• Michigan's Adventure, Muskegon, Mich. New: Thunderhawk, a 105-foot tall inverted roller coaster.
• Great America, Santa Clara, Calif. New: FireFall, a thrill ride that flips and turns riders.
• Kings Island, Kings Island, Ohio (near Cincinnati). New: Five shows, including ice skating.
• Canada's Wonderland, Vaughan, Canada (near Toronto). New: Behemoth, a 230-foot-tall roller coaster.
• Kings Dominion, Doswell, Va. (near Richmond). New: Dominator, a roller coaster with five inversions.
• Knott's Soak City-Orange County, Buena Park, Calif.
• Knott's Soak City-San Diego, Chula Vista, Calif.
• Knott's Soak City-Palm Springs, Palm Springs, Calif.