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Roller coaster to aid the hunt for guests

Tampa Bay Business Journal

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January 14, 2011

Commuters driving by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay may have noticed a new tower rising above the theme park.

“Windcatcher Tower” offers a hint of a new roller coaster scheduled to open in late spring. Three quarters of a mile long, “Cheetah Hunt” will have 4,429 feet of track, a record for the park.

For roller coaster aficionados, the ride may be a rite of passage. Busch Gardens hopes the attraction will woo casual travelers, international visitors, beachgoers, tourists from Orlando and any combination thereof.

“People show up on vacation, and they have one day to see what we do,” said Jim Dean, president of Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. “Hopefully they enjoy it so much they want to come back. That is our one chance.”

Right time for Cheetah Hunt

Given the slow pace of tourism in recent years, the time may be right for a fast new roller coaster.

Busch Gardens and Adventure Island fared relatively well with traffic up in 2010 over 2009, although park officials will not disclose exact numbers. But the hotel industry could use a boost.

About half the visitors to Busch Gardens are from the local area and half from around the country and abroad.

Busch Gardens markets to tourists in Orlando, offering a package deal with SeaWorld and bus service. The theme park also works with local hoteliers to offer promotions and packaging.

In the lobby of the Embassy Suites Tampa – USF/Busch Gardens, a kiosk displays brochures, color photos and a map of Busch Gardens along with a four-foot giraffe. As one of Busch Gardens’ preferred partners, the hotel offers a package option for accommodations and tickets for the park.

A large portion of the hotel’s guests are bound for Busch Gardens, said General Manager Joe Kelly.

The 147-suite hotel has not budgeted for a major increase in demand in 2011, but Kelly said he believes the new ride will drive traffic. Now that construction has started he hears people in the lobby talking about it.

Guests to Busch Gardens often stay further out. Several of the park’s partner hotels are on the beach, including Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.

The park is a popular destination for guests at the “family friendly” hotel, said General Manager Brian Kramer.

The 250-suite hotel offers package deals with Busch Garden tickets and occasionally hosts a stilt walker or other park representative.

“Guests spend a day or two at the beach. Then they get beached-out or sunburned and go to Busch Gardens for a day,” Kramer said.

A new ride will enhance the overall product at Busch Gardens as well as the region, said Steve Hayes, executive vice president of Tampa Bay & Company. “If you are someone who comes to see Busch Gardens once a year and you’re from outside the area, now there is another reason.”

New rides also attract attention from travel publications and trade publications likely to mention the Tampa Bay area along with the new roller coaster.

Cheetah Hunt will play a prominent role in Tampa Bay & Company’s summer messaging, Hayes said.

Broad appeal

Cheetah Hunt combines a ride with an animal habitat, two of Busch Gardens’ strengths.

Dean expects Cheetah Hunt to make a splash based on strong launch of SheiKra in 2005 and of other roller coasters.

“We start with a broad look at what gaps we have in the park in terms of products,” Dean said. “The success of the park is based on the appeal the park has to a wide demographic.”



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