Holiday World is one of the amusement park industry's best-kept secrets. Tucked away in rural Santa Claus, Ind., the family-owned attraction thrills visitors with its collection of award-winning wooden roller coasters, throwback kid-friendly rides, and seasonally themed charm.
It's the sector's perpetual Golden Ticket winner as the cleanest park in the country. It's also an amazing value. Once inside, items like soft drinks, sunscreen lotion, and water park inner tubes are free for the day.
With all of its retro appeal, few would confuse Holiday World as a cutting-edge proprietor. Then again, when it came time to introduce two new dry rides for the 2008 season, it chose an unlikely stage to make that announcement by going viral through Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube.
YouTube? Isn't that the name of one of its water park rides? It isn't, but thanks for playing along.
The announcement itself isn't industry rattling. The addition of a carousel and a kid ride pale in comparison to the more ambitious water park expansion that Holiday World revealed two months ago.
The medium is the message
This isn't the first time that Holiday World has been a cyberspace trendsetter. The park's website launched a blog two and a half years ago of behind-the-scenes anecdotes. As brilliant as it is endearing, the blog keeps guests close during the off-season and builds anticipation for upcoming events.
It's also contagious. Shortly after Holiday World's blog-trotting ways, Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) launched one for Cedar Point. Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) doesn't flesh out its individual properties that way, although it has run construction diaries in the past. It's not every day that you find public companies taking pages out of the playbook of a family-owned business.
Disney (NYSE: DIS ) plays on another level. It can bankroll more elaborate Web developments like ride-specific games and even a virtual version of the Magic Kingdom itself. You just know that Universal's Islands of Adventure -- a park owned by General Electric (NYSE: GE ) and Blackstone (NYSE: BX ) -- will pull out all the cyberspace stops when the time comes to promote its Harry Potter attraction in two years.
However, regional amusement parks can still score with bunt singles. Whether it's Holiday World offering clues about upcoming additions, or Cedar Fair rolling out coaster-specific templates for News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) MySpace, the seasonal players are making the most of the level playing field that the Internet has become.
We can't be that far removed from park-specific Facebook widgets, photo-sharing sites, and eventually even social networking sites on a small scale. It's mostly locals who attend regional parks run by Six Flags and Cedar Fair. Isn't it time that they found a way to monetize their websites at the local level, especially during the off-season?
Why not? Aren't regional amusement parks the original social networks? When parks were built at the end of trolley lines, they were the ultimate social destinations. That spirit hasn't died. You see it in school trips and corporate picnics. You see it in handshakes and high-fives as patrons spot familiar faces. You see it in the new Star Spangled Carousel that will begin turning in Santa Claus, Ind., next May; proving quite literally that what comes around goes around.
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