‘Every week the numbers have gone up’: Guests are returning to local attractions

July 2, 2020

When reopening their doors, entertainment attractions around Sioux Falls have had to balance controlling crowd sizes with efforts to recoup lost revenue.

Representatives from Wild Water West, the Great Plains Zoo, the Washington Pavilion and the Butterfly House & Aquarium all reported steadily increasing crowds with the arrival of summer and as people get more comfortable patronizing businesses and organizations again. 

Wild Water West’s summer opening was pushed just a few weeks later than normal, as staff had to prepare the park to accommodate guests amid the pandemic. The waterpark has seen fairly typical attendance over its first month of operation because of seasonally warm weather, director of operations Brian Rehnke said.

‘When it’s a hot day, attendance has been pretty regular and steady,” he said. 

While the Pavilion, zoo and Butterfly House all report smaller crowds than in years past, representatives have been pleasantly surprised with the attendance numbers.

Attendance at the Butterfly House & Aquarium has exceeded CEO Audrey Otto-Willad’s conservative projections, with multiple days of turning people away to keep capacity below 50 percent, she said.

“The ramp-up has been much higher than we initially expected,” Otto-Willard said. “It’s great to see people are comfortable with coming back.”

The Great Plains Zoo has been steadily reopening different attractions within the zoo, including inside viewing areas and animal feeding stations.

Interim CEO Suzie O’Meara Hernes said attendance numbers were on the rise in June but were still down from normal levels. Hernes attributes the lower attendance to a lack of events bringing tourists to Sioux Falls. 

“We’ve been a great resource for the Sioux Falls community, but the lack of tourism into the city has really had an impact on us,” Hernes said. 

All of these organizations have been operating under CDC guidelines with mask requirements for employees, physical distancing markers on the ground and increased cleaning of shared surfaces. These guidelines have been met with overwhelming positivity and patience from attraction guests, they said.

“They have been very appreciative of what we are doing,” Rehnke said. “The customers are keeping their distance from each other and following what we have in place. For the most part, they understand that if things go bad, we’ll have to shut down.”

With much of summer left to go, these venue leaders said they’re hoping attendance will continue to increase as life hopefully starts getting back to normal.

“Our first week was slow, but every week the numbers have gone up,” said Jason Folkerts, director of museums at the Washington Pavilion.

“We’re not where we were a year ago, but we’re creeping up more and more. When people have a good experience, they come back often and tell their friends. If this continues to progress, by the end of summer or early fall, we’ll be back to where we were.”

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‘Every week the numbers have gone up’: Guests are returning to local attractions

Weeks after reopening, we checked in with major visitor attractions to see if guests are coming back.

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