Kennywood taking a beating on social media as ride closures affect experience

Posted Tuesday, September 4, 2018 10:44 AM | Contributed by BrettV

Kennywood officials say this late-summer stretch has been one of the trickiest in the park’s modern history, as the park has tried to manage the collision of huge crowds, mechanical problems, construction and staffing issues.

Read more from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 12:47 PM

As one would expect, the park is being a little generous about their explanations for the various closures.

They claim that Raging Rapids is closed due to Fright Nights setup, but traditionally it has closed after Labor Day weekend for this purpose. In fact, it hasn't operated for a large portion of the summer due to staffing.

They re-filled the lagoon for daily operation and did have the paddle boats going for a time. Again, these closed due to staffing as the lagoon wasn't drained again until daily operation had completed.

Kennywood admits they have a problem, but is trying to divert from just how bad the problem really is. Sure, the park has always had staffing issues in August in September, but the new and worrying issue is that this has been going on all summer long. Kiddieland rides have been closed all summer and Raging Rapids has operated sparingly at best. (This is especially bad since they took out Log Jammer last year leaving them with one regularly operating water ride.) The paddle boats are a normal victim of August staffing, but what's really surprising is that Skycoaster hasn't operated for several weeks -- this speaks to how big of a bind they're in, because that ride is sold out nearly every day and practically prints money for them.

Idlewild has been the canary in the coal mine for a few years -- come to the park on a warm Labor Day weekend and you'll find nearly the entire water park closed due to staffing shortages. Unfortunately, this has now spread to Kennywood and the park or its parent seem ill-prepared to find a lasting solution. A pay raise would help, but with other entry-level jobs such as Walmart offering $11 starting pay, air conditioning, and more normal hours, it seems like more will have to be done. It's clear to me that parks with more resources are relying more and more on foreign labor, as my visit to Cedar Point this past weekend found the park fully staffed but with a ton of foreign employees. Kennywood doesn't have the support staff or housing to hire more than a few, so where they go from here will be extremely interesting.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 2:03 PM

While I agree with your post, I'll point out that CP has been using foreign workers for decades now. It's nothing new.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 2:13 PM

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I'd file understaffing and excessive crowds under "good" or "manageable" problems to have from a park's standpoint. Obviously it sucks for the consumer to have to wait in line and not to be able to ride rides, but as a park owner I'd be a lot more concerned over the park's attendance being too low or having to price tickets low enough to a point where the park couldn't turn a profit. If demand is too high, simply raise ticket prices or use a dynamic pricing model -- one where you charge surgeprices for in demand days, or charge less when the demand is less. Sure, some customers will be pissed off, but from a business perspective, it makes sense to sacrifice some lower margin customers if it will guarantee higher margins from other customers.

Realistically, with higher ticket prices for more in demand days, congestion would be taken care of, and with the extra revenue, you could afford to properly maintain and staff rides.

I think that with Kennywood's situation, maybe a solution would be to recruit college students to pick up the slack in the spring and the summer. Being in Pittsburgh, there are many college campuses, and students would be able to work 15-20 hour weeks around their school schedule. It would be a labor pool that wasn't super expensive, is bright -- but not super educated where they'd want something less menial, doesn't need health insurance, etc. You could even throw in an educational program and call it an "internship" like Disney does. Plus, I think that people tend to consider an environment less depressing when you see 19 year olds working for $11 an hour for extra spending money instead of breadwinners of families who do it.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 2:23 PM

I see increasing numbers of college kids looking to help boost their resume more so than their bank accounts. Looking for jobs/internships/co-ops while in college that will help them get career jobs when they graduate. So increasingly so, they are not looking to work at an amusement park as a sweep, ride op or slinging fast food.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 2:30 PM

College students are more interested in internships and building their resumes than say, working at Kennywood, Mr. Gibas said, and many of them use the summer to take additional classes or study abroad.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 3:00 PM

Plus there’s the fact that they often close the park early due to inclement weather and offer rain checks. That makes one less likely to want to travel to the park if they think it’s going to be closed due to weather. Sure one gets a rain check but one just spent a day off and gas money to get there and one didn’t get a full day of entertainment

In comparison last weekend it poured the rain down at Kings Dominion on Saturday and they kept the park open until the advertised time and opened the rides at the end of the night. Plus they offered rain checks

Last edited by super7*, Tuesday, September 4, 2018 7:13 PM
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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 3:09 PM

GoBucks89 said:

I see increasing numbers of college kids looking to help boost their resume more so than their bank accounts. Looking for jobs/internships/co-ops while in college that will help them get career jobs when they graduate. So increasingly so, they are not looking to work at an amusement park as a sweep, ride op or slinging fast food.

Be that as it may, many college students just need to work to support themselves or for extra spending cash. Some parents would prefer that the kid chipped in for their own spending money or some kids just don't get the support from their parents and have to support themselves. In fact, its not as common as people think it is for 18-23 year olds to have the financial security where they can just focus on their studies full-time and cherry pick their opportunities to fit their future career. Parents think that they get to the finish line when the kid hits 18, they don't necessarily want to support a man/women child until they're 23. On top of all that, its a myth that employers demand that good work experience has to come from something directly related to the field. Anything that shows work ethic and productivity looks better on a resume than just going to class and partying all four years in many employer's eyes.

Anyway, the reason that I thought of college kids I forgot to mention. Pittsburgh may not be Silicon Valley, NYC, or Boston, but its still a major household name American city, and obviously Kennywood is cramped already. They're not going to be paying to dorm foreign workers or summer workers like Cedar Point or Disney can do when they're dealing with Sandusky or Orlando value real estate. The fact that the kids already live in dorms or live in the city cuts out the housing costs. If you think about it, paying a foreign worker's rent in a big city where housing is competitive would erode the cost advantage of foreign labor.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 3:31 PM

Pittsburgh was (and still is) a place where a graduate student stipend easily affords a 1-BR apartment in a decent area of town. Orlando rents are higher.

https://www.apartmentlist.com/rentonomics/national-rent-data/

I may have said this elsewhere, but anecdotally: a cousin spent a long weekend in Pittsburgh with his partner. They enjoy a good amusement park. They were looking forward to visiting Kennywood as part of their visit, but decided not to visit based on the negative reviews they were reading.

Last edited by Brian Noble, Tuesday, September 4, 2018 3:33 PM
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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 4:02 PM

The plural of anecdote isn't data. But my statements about college kids are based on my experience having 2 kids in college, talking with their various friends and a large number of other parents I know across the country sending their kids to a large range of schools (from community colleges, directional state universities, state flagships and super selective and not so selective privates) and in a broad range of majors. Kids I see looking to make some extra money are more likely to be working on/near campus (having transportation off campus is often a challenge) than off campus.

If you go on college visits (and I have done a number of them over the past few years -- having done exactly zero 30+ years ago when I went to college though I did have to walk there uphill both ways in the snow--LOL), co-ops, internships and studying abroad are all the rage. My wife and I joked at one school that had we played a drinking game with "study abroad" as the trigger, we both would have been passed out by the second session of the day. I swear they were paying their staff by the number of times those opportunities were mentioned. May well be more myth than reality in terms of their importance but given a competitive job market for recent college grads, parents and kids I know aren't willing to take the chance that it skews more towards reality. Goal is to avoid having your kids living in your basement when they are 23.

And that it may be better for the park to get college kids to work there doesn't necessarily mean they will get sufficient numbers of college kids to do so.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 5:08 PM

Brian Noble said:

Pittsburgh was (and still is) a place where a graduate student stipend easily affords a 1-BR apartment in a decent area of town. Orlando rents are higher.

https://www.apartmentlist.com/rentonomics/national-rent-data/

I may have said this elsewhere, but anecdotally: a cousin spent a long weekend in Pittsburgh with his partner. They enjoy a good amusement park. They were looking forward to visiting Kennywood as part of their visit, but decided not to visit based on the negative reviews they were reading.

The point isn't that Orlando is cheap, the point is that Disney has endless space to build dorms for international students and interns. So the cost is basically $0 for Disney.It would cost a fortune for a Kennywood to provide free housing in a situation where they'd have to pay rent to a third party instead of providing it in-house. Obviously Kennywood has no space for dorms as it can barely fit rides and parking.

I'm surprised though about Pittsburgh, I honestly thought that it was a city on the upswing. But I'm not going to argue with data.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 5:18 PM

GoBucks89 said:

Kids I see looking to make some extra money are more likely to be working on/near campus (having transportation off campus is often a challenge) than off campus.

I was filing Kennywood under the category of "near campuses." As there really aren't many parks in the country that are as close to major universities as Kennywood is. Most of them are 20-30 miles away from the major cities and not actually in them like Kennywood and Elitch Gardens. They could probably find bus lines to shuttle kids around, or Kennywood and the universities could chip in to charter them.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 7:34 PM

Trackmaster said:
The point isn't that Orlando is cheap, the point is that Disney has endless space to build dorms for international students and interns. So the cost is basically $0 for Disney.

Can you get me some of that zero-cost building? I'd like a second home or place to open a business for free.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 8:39 PM

According to the article, the park says (which is what I would expect) that in the past the park filled its employee needs with high school kids and college students. Currently the park says those sources are not resulting in sufficient numbers of employees. Doesn't seem likely that college kids are the answer when they currently are not the answer.

Last edited by GoBucks89, Tuesday, September 4, 2018 9:11 PM
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Tuesday, September 4, 2018 11:11 PM

There was a time when the park employed a large number of retired steelworkers and railroaders as ride operators. There is sizable number of retirees in the area that could be tapped. The population in the tri state area is still shrinking, although not as much as in the past, it's time to look at all of the options out there.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018 9:24 AM

OK, well it looks like I'm a little late to the game and it looks like the opposite of what I suggested is the better idea. Oh well, this is why you throw out ideas to people en masse. People criticize with them or agree with them and eventually the truth comes out. I'll admit that I had a boner before.

I still think that Kennywood might need to jack ticket prices up, or at least go to a dynamic pricing model that jacks prices up when its more popular.These are the prices now, not very high at all:

https://www.kennywood.com/tickets-and-passes

Coupled with the fact that Kennywood is known for having cheap food, it might be time for them to modernize their prices. I know that not everyone would be happy about this (well no one would be happy about this) but it might help with the congestion and crowds.

I think that dynamic pricing would help at least. And they could post calendars at the park that will say, "Too crowded and too expensive? Come back on these dates where it will be empty and cheap." Basically, if everyone tries to go on weekends or Labor Day weekend, of course it will be crowded. The park needs to fill the park every day of the week, not just weekends.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018 9:37 AM

The problem with that is that if you offer dynamic pricing and then still offer a sub-par experience with the park operating at 60-70% on those peak days, people are not going to necessarily come back.

I took a 4 park trip through PA and Virginia this summer and visited two parks that were new to me (Kings Dominion and Dorney) and two parks I hadn't visited in 15+ years (Kennywood and Hershey). Kennywood had some of the best memories of the late 90s for me, but it was without question the least enjoyable of my four park days on this trip. And it was entirely due to poor park operations that made for a less than stellar experience. Phantom and Thunderbolt are two of my favorite coasters, but when painfully slow one train ops turn a station wait into 30 minutes, the prospect of getting all of the rides I can handle at Dorney is more enjoyable even if I actually prefer the coasters at Kennywood.

As for raising food prices at Kennywood, they already weren't nearly as cheap as I remember them being in the past. And if you raise them to Cedar Fair/Six Flags rates, the yinzers will simply pack their jumbo sandwiches or stop at the Eat N Park breakfast buffet before hitting the park.

(sidenote: I had a blast at Dorney and it was without a doubt the "sleeper hit" of the trip)

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018 10:09 AM

We had a similar experience at KW last year where poor operations and slow moving lines made our minds up to stay away from the park this year. I couldn't even imagine how much worse it was with additional rides closed. To be honest, I don't think next years addition is enough of a reason to bring us back.

I'm sure if you spent the money on the VIP experience that it would make the park more enjoyable. Doesn't that count for raising the prices on admission? Who knows.

It's really a shame, because Kennywood is truly an awesome park. For a while we made it a point to visit once even twice a year because it felt like such a good value and a different pace as compared to our visits to Cedar Point.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018 10:13 AM

BrettV said:
(sidenote: I had a blast at Dorney and it was without a doubt the "sleeper hit" of the trip)

I had the same experience last year. Dorney was so much more fun than I ever expected it to be. We are going back next month.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018 10:19 AM

super7* said:

Plus there’s the fact that they often close the park early due to inclement weather and offer rain checks.

This is suuuuuper frustrating and I am sure it is for their hourly employees as well. At a certain point showing up for work and being sent home two hours later because of an hour of rain in the forecast has to get old.

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