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Amusement Park Chain Ends Senior Discounts

October 3, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Roller coasters that go upside down don’t faze 66-year-old Olga Schmitt.

What makes her scream is having to pay more for season passes to Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom now that the owners are eliminating senior discounts at their parks nationwide, bucking an industry trend of increased marketing toward seniors.

Schmitt and her husband have had season passes to the park near Allentown for years. She loved the rides, especially the roller coasters, and they both enjoy cooling off at the water park in the summer. But the couple is on a fixed income and will likely not go when the price increases next season.

``That would be the same as taking away your bread at our age,″ said John Schmitt, 72, adding that the couple’s two season passes would cost almost twice as much next year.

Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair LP said the change will affect all its parks _ Cedar Point, in Sandusky; Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.; Valleyfair, near Minneapolis, Minn.; Worlds of Fun, in Kansas City, Mo.; and Michigan’s Adventure near Muskegon, Mich.

Cedar Fair officials said they eliminated the discounts because seniors were becoming more active and no longer needed an incentive to visit their attractions.

``In the past the policy was because we felt there was less at the park for them to do,″ said Brian Witherow, director of investor relations for Cedar Fair. ``We see more of them doing more than they were doing before.″

The decision was made in the last month, Witherow said. He also said that Cedar Fair has done more than $90 million in improvements since it bought Dorney Park in 1992, including the addition of more slow-paced rides and areas for seniors. He said 50-and-over customers represent about 2 percent to 3 percent of park attendees.

The cut in senior discounts means people over 4 feet tall will have to pay $98 for season passes after the Dorney Park season opens next year, although that rate would be somewhat lower if tickets are bought in advance, spokesman Chris Ozimek said. Other major amusement park chains, however, said they expect to maintain their senior discounts and in some cases increase them.

Beth Robertson, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which represents about 450 parks in the United States, said 4 percent to 5 percent of park attendees nationwide are seniors and that most parks have discounts for them. The number of seniors going to parks increases every year, especially in Florida and on the West Coast, Robertson said.

Gerard Hoeppner, a spokesman for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Florida, said his park is working to intensify marketing toward seniors. The park has discounts for AARP members, as well as certain discounts for anyone who is 50 or older.

``The active older adult of today is not the senior of 1950 and frankly not even 1960,″ Hoeppner said. ``It’s everyone from Mick Jagger to Bill Clinton. That’s the new face of aging in America.″

Oklahoma City-based Six Flags Inc., which owns and operates 39 amusement parks in North America and Europe, also has no plans to halt discounts for senior citizens, spokeswoman Debbie Nauser said.

Cedar Fair’s policy is an aberration as opposed to the rule in an amusement park industry that is increasingly catering to seniors, especially as baby boomers grow older, according to Laura Rossman, vice president of lifestage products and integrated marketing for AARP Services.

And since seniors such as the Scmitts are becoming a more active and mobile crowd, Rossman said, parks that don’t have discounts may feel a difference at the turnstiles.

``I would assume it’s going to have some impact,″ she said.

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