By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM It's no secret the United States is facing an economic recession, if it's not in one already. The rising cost of living, despite the economic stimulus checks, has still cut those traditional family vacations out of the average American's budget this year.
So if a family vacation to Disney World or a couple's relaxing getaway to the Caribbean is out of the picture, how are Americans supposed to kick up the fun this summer and get away from their financial worries? And does this mean that entertainment hot spots, such as amusement parks, will feel the pinch of the recession, seeing a decreasing number of patrons passing through their turnstyles?
On the contrary, Sarah Gmyr, manager of media relations for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), said in an interview with Reminder Publications. She explained that historically, regional theme parks, as opposed to destination parks, experience a boost in attendance because the attraction is usually accessible by using only one tank of gas.
As an added incentive during these tough fiscal times, some amusement parks, museums and other entertainment destinations are offering discounted admission.
On Tuesday, Larry Litton, park president of Six Flags New England, a member of IAAPA, announced that the park is rolling back their gate admission price by $10 to $39.99 the lowest price since 2004 for the entire 2008 season.
"We're just trying to react to what we realize is a really tough time [for people] economically," Litton said. "We also felt that we're the best value out there. Money is tight. Gas is expensive and people are reevaluating where to spend their entertainment dollars."
Other parks and attractions across the country are also rolling back ticket prices in light of the softening economy. The Space Center Houston, Texas, the official visitors center of NASA's Johnson Space Center, is offering half price admission when purchasing tickets online by May 31. Sea World Orlando, Fla., offers a $10 discount when purchasing tickets at least seven days prior to visiting the park.
"Every park and attraction really creates their own [pricing] programs based on their market and their guests," David Mandt, vice president of communications for IAAPA, explained.
Other Six Flags parks throughout the country are also offering the discounted admission this season, including their locations in Georgia, New Jersey, California and Texas, Melissa Pinkerton, manager of public relations for Six Flags New England, said.
Litton noted that the price reduction is not for fear that Six Flags will have fewer patrons this year. "Just the opposite is true," he said, adding that the majority of park goers live within 50 miles of Six Flags New England. He said he believes that radius will become wider this year, however.
Litton explained that the company's campaign to lower ticket prices is not because they are panicked about decreasing attendance, which would increase their debt currently over $2 billion. "Our pockets are not fat," he said.
He added that since the purchase of Six Flags New England, the company has spent approximately $500 million in restorations and new attractions. "We actually feel that the parks are in a much better place than they were three years ago," Litton said, adding that he believes the renewed quality attractions and overall clean, family friendly appearance are what draws patrons to return.
"If you go to the park at a cost of $29.99 and you go for 10 hours, that's $2.90 an hour," Mandt said. "That's a tremendous value for the experiences and entertainment for all ages."