The return of Bonfante

Children soak in fun as they play in the Splash and Squirt area

GILROY
– They predicted a strong opening and that’s exactly what
Paramount Parks got at both their amusement parks Easter
weekend.
Although Paramount officials will not release attendance
figures, they said turnout at both Bonfante Gardens and Great
America amusement parks

exceeded expectations

Friday and

met expectations

Saturday and Sunday. The steady flow of people at Bonfante
Gardens is the first clear sign that Paramount’s piggyback
marketing strategy could turn the horticultural theme park’s
financial predicament around.
GILROY – They predicted a strong opening and that’s exactly what Paramount Parks got at both their amusement parks Easter weekend.

Although Paramount officials will not release attendance figures, they said turnout at both Bonfante Gardens and Great America amusement parks “exceeded expectations” Friday and “met expectations” Saturday and Sunday. The steady flow of people at Bonfante Gardens is the first clear sign that Paramount’s piggyback marketing strategy could turn the horticultural theme park’s financial predicament around.

Since March, Paramount has offered dual admission privileges to Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy when a VIP pass is purchased for Great America in Santa Clara.

“Across the board we were happy with the way things went this weekend,” Paramount spokesperson Nicole Koebrich said. “We feel confident we’re getting the word out about (Bonfante Gardens).”

In addition to offering the two-for-one deal, Paramount has increased the marketing radius for Bonfante Gardens from 50 miles around Gilroy to 200 miles around San Jose. Ads are being run on television and radio.

“Our research showed that a lot of people north of San Jose didn’t even realize this was a theme park. They though Bonfante Gardens was a place to buy flowers and plant soil,” Koebrich said.

In February, Bonfante Gardens enlisted Paramount Parks – one of the nation’s leading theme park operators – in a five-year day-to-day operations management deal aimed at making the park more profitable. Bonfante Gardens directors struck the deal after enduring two years of undesirable attendance levels. The weak revenue stream led to scale backs in hours of operation, full-time and part-time jobs and special holiday celebrations.

Opening weekend for Bonfante Gardens did not go completely hitch-free. On Friday the park’s monorail and at least two rides – the Timber Twister roller coaster and the Banana Split swing – were shut down for a time.

“It could have been anything that made the rides shut down. The rides are operated with computers and something as minor as a bird flying in front of a sensor can keep a ride from starting up,” Koebrich said. “We didn’t hear about any problems at headquarters, so I can assume it was something minor like that.”

For Bruce and Beth Lynn of Clearlake (north of Napa County), an article they saw in Automobile Association of America’s magazine more than a year ago convinced them to visit Bonfante Gardens last season. Their love of flora, in general, and their interest in the park’s famed circus trees, in particular, brought them back to the park Saturday and three times last year.

“We bought season passes at Christmas, so we’re happy the park is reopened and hopefully it will stay open,” Bruce Lynn said.

The Lynns’ daughter Brenda and her 2-year-old son Blaze accompanied the couple on their five-hour Easter weekend drive to the park.

Brenda may be Bonfante Gardens ideal advertiser. In a college communications class last year, her assignment was to give a speech that would persuade people to believe something or do something they might not normally do.

“I got a few people to actually make the drive and go last year,” Brenda Lynn said. “But I think it was my slides (of Bonfante Gardens) that convinced them.”

Paramount has acknowledged that in order for the park to succeed, positive word of mouth – in addition to increased advertising – is essential.

Chelsea Brown, 12, Emily Brown, 15, Marissa Coughlin, 13, and Scott Coughlin, 11, say they’d recommend Bonfante Gardens to their friends back in Stockton and Livermore.

“We like the rides, and the park is pretty and really clean,” Emily Brown said.

Gilroy couple Kevin and Mylene Mei saw television news coverage on Bonfante Gardens last week and heard the new radio ads for several weeks, but had never visited the park until Saturday. They bought VIP passes and invited their San Jose friends Tom and Lilian Tai for a day in the park. The Meis said they will be getting passes for their parents, too.

But it wasn’t advertising that brought the Meis and their family and friends to the Bonfante Gardens, it was timing.

“Our baby is now 1 year old, so we need to do things like this. Last year, we were in a different situation,” Kevin Mei said.

And at least for now, so is the park.

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