Ideas for the Skyride

[This page is under development. Stay tuned for additions, updates, and revisions. Also see:Tulsa Skyride Outline for Solutions. ]

If the skyride needs to make more money to pay its way by covering its costs, there should be ways to fix that. I’ve been told that it could require out-of-the-box thinking. That’s fine. But it could be great. It could lead to making the skyride better than anyone has yet imagined.

Let’s Secure the Skyride’s Future

On this page, let’s look at some ideas to help the skyride financially and brainstorm new ones. The idea is not to step on anyone’s toes. The idea is to help the skyride and secure its future. Every idea presented here is offered as a suggestion. Some may seem impractical. And maybe they are. Others may seem impractical, yet might turn out to be just what’s needed.

I can start by offering suggestions from a guest’s perspective. I’ve been to these major annual fairs:

  • California Mid-State Fair, Paso Robles
  • California State Fair, Sacramento*
  • Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto
  • Minnesota State Fair, Saint Paul*
  • Oklahoma State Fair, Oklahoma City
  • Pacific National Exhibition, Vancouver
  • State Fair of Texas, Dallas*
  • Tulsa State Fair, Tulsa*
  • Washington State Fair, Puyallup
  • Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis

*Indicates the fairs with which I’m most familiar.

Keep in mind that the success of the Tulsa State Fair is key to the success and future of the skyride. So ideas that help the fair help the skyride, too.

Before getting started on the ideas to help the skyride. Let’s take a look at the Tulsa Skyride’s situation in comparison that the situations of the nine other remaining Von Roll gondola skyrides in the USA.

A Tall Order

The Tulsa Skyride has the smallest annual operating window out of the ten remaining Von Roll skyride installations in the United States. The Tulsa Skyride gets eleven days per year to make enough money to pay its way and make a profit. Eleven days mean that each day represents the equivalent of more than one month out of the year.

Out of those eleven days, the weekends are the busiest and most important. Out of the two weekends, the first is the more important. If unfavorable weather causes the skyride to be closed for extended periods on either weekend, the skyride may not even be able to break even for the year.

POP versus pay-per-ride

Six of the remaining Von Roll skyrides in the United States operate on a pay-one-price (POP) basis. All but one of these six are in major theme parks and one is in a major zoo. Park and zoo guests pay a single price for admission. Then rides on the skyride, along with most other rides, are included at no additional charge. These skyrides do not depend on skyride-specific ticket sales. They operate for months each year, some of them year-round.

The pay-per-ride Von Roll skyrides are:

Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair skyride runs throughout the twelve-day fair. It also has a shorter run in the spring for a major car show. Fair attendance is massive, which helps insulate skyride profitability from adverse weather. In a single day, the Minnesota State Fair skyride might transport about as many riders as the Tulsa Skyride does for the entire fair.

Minnesota State Fair Skyride and crowds
Look at the massive crowds at the lower right. This is right in front of one of the Minnesota State Fair’s Von Roll skyride stations. Crowds were this thick throughout the entire fairgrounds. This was taken on a Friday afternoon at 3:09 PM.

SeaWorld San Diego

The SeaWorld San Diego skyride operates year-round. You might expect it to be part of a POP admission plan. But it is an extra-charge attraction. In 2021, the price for a ride on the skyride is $6.00. However, those who have an annual pass may ride the skyride at no additional cost.

The SeaWorld San Diego skyride is only for sightseeing. There is no exit allowed at the opposite end. The skyride operates as a round-trip only. Except for short distances in front of each station, the skyride runs completely over water for a journey across a portion of Mission Bay.

SeaWorld San Diego Von Roll skyride
SeaWorld San Diego’s Von Roll, named the Bayside Skyride, runs entirely above water over a portion of Mission Bay. Click on image to view larger.

Tulsa State Fair

The Tulsa Skyride operates only for the eleven-day run of the Tulsa State Fair. The skyride is pay-per-ride only. However, until several years ago, it was included on the fair’s POP wristband, the Mega Ride Pass.

Washington State Fair

The Washington State Fair had a twenty-day run in 2021. The skyride is pay-per-ride but is also available on a daily POP wristband. Even though the Washington State Fair has a longer run, its attendance numbers are similar to those of the Tulsa State Fair. The Von Roll skyride operates for the entire run of the fair and also has a shorter run for the Spring Fair. The Washington State Fair has already announced that the 2022 Spring Fair will operate for an additional weekend.

Overcoming Underutilization

Limiting the operation of the skyride to eleven days out of the year suggests underutilization, especially when there are annual costs for maintenance that typically would cover many more days of operation.

Running the skyride more days each year, of course, is easier said than done. The conditions to make extra operating days feasible would have to be met. That would include having event(s) that have high-enough attendance numbers, coordinating the skyride’s maintenance schedule, coordinating staff, and more. In addition, access to the skyride would have to be convenient to event attendees.

To reduce staffing requirements and to help tailor use of the skyride to additional events, the skyride could be run as a round-trip only. For example, guests could access the skyride at the eastern station and take a ride on the skyride that returns them back to the eastern station.

The fairgrounds hosts events all year. There must be a way to structure another event each year that could utilize the skyride. Without an amusement park in Tulsa, adding a carnival, perhaps in June, might work. That’s just one idea. There must be others.

There is also the possibility of hosting private rentals of the skyride. This could be a part of corporate events and other similar large gatherings. The San Diego Zoo has even held mid-air weddings on its Von Roll skyride.

Increasing Fair Attendance

Boosting fair attendance is good for the fair and good for the skyride. Not only is it important to get more people to the fair, it’s important to have them stay there longer. Offering a greater variety of attractions and experiences will encourage people to stay longer at the fair. The skyride is an important part of the fair’s mix of attractions.

Weekdays are typically slower days for the fair, especially in the daytime. Even on weekends, the nights are usually the busiest. Getting more people to attend the fair in the daytime on weekends and at any time on weekdays would help out a lot.

What are ways to build attendance? Fair professionals would know all about this. From a guest’s perspective, one thing I’d say is to make it as easy as possible for people to get there. If it’s too much of a hassle to get there and park, people will likely stay away. If they stay away, they won’t be spending any money at the fair. I know that the Minnesota State Fair has a finely-tuned shuttle system that successfully brings the masses to the fair all day long. While that fair has a lot of land dedicated to parking, the on-site parking could never accommodate the amount of parking that would be needed if shuttle riders had to park on the fairgrounds. I preferred to park on-site at the Minnesota State Fair. But I’ve also taken the shuttle. I parked at the Mall of America and rode the shuttle. This shuttle utilized city buses that were quite comfortable.

One of the most reliable ways to attract people to the fair year after year is to offer new rides, entertainment, and other attractions. The Tulsa State Fair does this each year. Another thing, however, is to retain the things that people love most about the fair. Keeping the skyride would qualify for that! People don’t like it when their favorite things at the fair are gone. Then they are less likely to return.

Optimizing Crowd Flow

People typically ride the skyride for transportation, sightseeing, or the ride experience. They may ride for one or any combination of those reasons. When Bell’s Amusement Park still anchored the west end of the fairgrounds and became an extension of the midway during the fair, people often rode the skyride over to Bell’s from the east side of the fairgrounds or rode the skyride over to the east side from Bell’s. In 2007, with Bell’s gone and that land transformed into parking lot, that east-west traffic pattern was altered. The far west side of the fairgrounds doesn’t have compelling attractions to draw people over there in the same way as before. This has affected the ridership on the skyride.

The fairgrounds has taken steps to help address this such as making modifications to the midway layout. But it seems that a process should continue to come up with more ways to attract more people to the west side.

What if some things could be added in the vicinity of the western skyride station that attract large numbers of people? One idea that has occurred to me is Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar from the Minnesota State Fair. Sweet Martha’s is mobbed with huge crowds all day who are there for the fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Sweet Martha now produces three million cookies per day for the twelve days of the Minnesota State Fair. In 2017 it was reported that Sweet Martha had brought in $4 million in sales of the cookies, milk, and coffee during the twelve days of the 2016 fair. Sweet Martha might not be interested in expanding to Tulsa. But whether it’s Sweet Martha or not, adding some attractions near the western skyride station like Sweet Martha’s that have a relatively small footprint and huge crowd-drawing power ought to help out the skyride.

Optimizing crowd flow for the skyride is probably more of a long-term process. However, something small and simple yet huge, like Sweet Martha’s, could be brought in relatively quickly.

Skyride Sponsorship

The Tulsa Skyride has had a small number of sponsored cabins since 2007. Ford and QuikTrip were among the original sponsors with one sponsored cabin each. Ford has sponsored a cabin all the way through 2019. By 2019 Arvest Bank had more than one sponsored cabin. One year a more ambitious sponsorship put the sponsor’s name in the windows of all the cabins.

Maybe the skyride could secure a big-name sponsor for the entire ride. The double Von Roll skyride at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey was sponsored by Delta Airlines for many years. Later, the sponsor became M&Ms chocolate candies. M&Ms has sponsored the Great Adventure skyride for many years and is still a sponsor as of 2021. The Skyfari Von Roll skyride at the San Diego Zoo is sponsored by Alaska Airlines. Maybe an airline could sponsor the Tulsa Skyride???

Skyride Ticket Sales Promotions

The Tulsa State Fair has had a long history of selling advance tickets. Many years ago the advance tickets were promoted as being accepted for other uses in addition to admission. The advance tickets at that time could also be used for the skyride. Bringing that back in some form could be beneficial for the skyride.

A similar approach could be to do something like the California State Fair. For their advance ticket sales, they offer a Fun Pack. The Fun Pack includes four admission tickets, four monorail tickets, and one parking pass. Tulsa might offer something similar, substituting skyride for monorail.

As already mentioned above, the skyride used to be included on the fair’s Mega Ride Pass. Maybe it would benefit the skyride to go back onto the Mega Ride Pass.

How about running cross-promotions specifically for the skyride? For example, run a promotion in partnership with a restaurant chain. Maybe set it up via mobile app for people to make a qualifying purchase at one of the participating restaurant locations and receive a discount applicable to skyride tickets.

Have some special “Skyride Days” at the fair that feature discounted pricing for skyride tickets either all day or during certain hours. “Skyride Days” could be helpful to boost weekday ridership.

Skyride Marketing

The skyride is a historic landmark for the Tulsa State Fair, Tulsa, and Oklahoma. Give it some recognition and promotion as such. Mention the skyride and its significance prominently on the Tulsa State Fair’s website. Play it up as one of the fair’s great attractions. Make sure it’s included in ad campaigns for the fair. Get the Oklahoma Tourism Department on board to leverage every opportunity to promote the skyride along with the fair.

Take advantage of Tulsa’s emphasis on Route 66. If the Golden Driller can be considered a Route 66 attraction, so can the skyride. It’s the only Von Roll gondola skyride along Route 66. There should also be opportunities to tie the skyride in with the Golden Driller. There could be some synergy there.

Putting some real emphasis on marketing the skyride should help both the skyride and the fair.

Additional Sources of Income

The Tulsa Skyride is given only eleven days of operation per year. Significant portions of those eleven days may be subject to down time because of nearby lightning or persistent high winds. Sometimes the weather is great for the skyride during most or even all of the fair. Sometimes the weather may wipe out the skyride’s profitability for the year. Clearly, some buffer against this weather wildcard would be helpful.

Additional sources of income could be developed. Some could produce extra income for the skyride during the fair. Others could produce extra income outside the run of the fair.

Already mentioned above was the suggestion to overcome underutilization of the skyride by creating opportunities for additional operating days. These could be tailored to cater to existing annual events. Or new events could be produced that take advantage of the skyride. Private rentals for private events, large or even small, could also be considered.

Sky Dining

The popular skyride system in Singapore has outfitted some cabins with tables for fine dining in the sky. In this case, the dinner guests ride the Singapore skyride for three long round trips to enjoy their meal. Something similar could be set up for the Tulsa Skyride. The Tulsa Skyride would likely be more suitable for much simpler fare such as fast-casual. The food could possibly be catered by ExpoSERVE using on-site kitchens. Sky dining on the Tulsa Skyride could be offered on special occasions outside the run of the Tulsa State Fair. This could be a really fun and unique experience.

Skyride Guest Souvenir Photos

The SeaWorld San Diego Von Roll skyride has implemented a system to photograph all skyride passengers for souvenir photos. With the SeaWorld skyride being roundtrip only, the photos are taken while the cabins pass through the turnaround at the far station. A photographer captures a picture of the passengers in the cabin in front of a background consisting of a blue sky spotted with clouds. This produces a fun image that makes an appealing souvenir. Guests view their photo on monitors after they exit the skyride. They can purchase the photo in a special, skyride-themed frame. Reportedly, about half of the guests buy their photos at prices that run from about $12.00 to $30.00.

This type of system could be adapted for use at the Tulsa Skyride. It can be run entirely by an outside vendor. Options for optimizing such a souvenir photo system for the Tulsa Skyride might also include using an out-of-service cabin or cabins in front of a background. If an unused cabin were positioned outside the station(s), even non-riders might be inclined to pose for and purchase souvenir photos.

Skyride Merchandise

The sale of skyride merchandise could bring in extra income for the skyride. Skyride merchandise sales need not be limited to the days that the fair is open. An online shop could make the merchandise available year-round. Skyride merchandise could also be sold year-round by local retailers, especially those who focus on selling Tulsa and Route 66 merchandise to tourists.

Would Tulsa Skyride merchandise sell? It would sell if the items are of good quality and the designs are compelling. Tulsa has lots of great artists who could produce superb designs for Tulsa Skyride merchandise.

Cedar Point, San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld San Diego have all sold merchandise featuring their skyrides. Even Disney every once in a while sells limited edition Skyway items that have included reproductions of the classic Skyway attraction poster, Skyway miniatures, Skyway collectible enamel pins, Skyway commemorative coins, Skyway shirts, and more.

Collectible items produced for each year ought to sell well. These could include annual enamel pins, Christmas tree ornaments, poster, and more. The poster design could also be offered on items such as shirts and tote bags. Both the Tulsa International Mayfest and Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa feature annual posters.

Many fairs sell official fair merchandise both on site and online. Two such fairs are the Minnesota State Fair and the State Fair of Texas. Their online stores are: Minnesota State Fair, Fair Wear and Big Tex Store. Current online examples of Cedar Point skyride merchandise include a beautiful skyride ornament and skyride wooden cutout model as well as the San Diego Zoo Skyfari mug.

Creating a Tulsa State Fair Foundation

The two other state fairs that have Von Roll skyrides also have non-profit fair foundations that support those fairs:

These foundations specifically support preservation of fair traditions and history along with a variety of other improvements. They have provided enhancements and benefits to their fairs that simply would not have been possible otherwise.

Minnesota State Fair History and Heritage Center
This beautiful Minnesota State Fair History and Heritage Center was a joint project of the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota State Fair Foundation. This is only one example of the kinds of improvements the foundation has contributed to the Minnesota State Fair. Click on image to view larger.

Why doesn’t the Tulsa State Fair have a foundation supporting it? Right now is a great time to start one. A foundation could bring about improvements that increase the appeal of the Tulsa State Fair to more visitors, improve the guest experience, and increase the likelihood of guests staying longer at the fair on each visit.

A Tulsa State Fair Foundation would open up a wide variety of ways to raise funds for improvements to the fair and its facilities. This should include the preservation of the skyride. The Minnesota State Fair Foundation is set up to allow donors to contribute to specific areas of interest. A fair foundation for Tulsa could raise funds to support the maintenance and ongoing operation of the skyride. It could offer skyride memberships that might provide discounted skyride tickets, an annual behind-the-scenes tour, and other benefits.

Not even the sky is the limit when it comes to ways to help ensure the future of the Tulsa Skyride. It’s a historic, rare, underrated asset. It offers a unique experience found nowhere else in Oklahoma. It’s a beloved tradition that appeals to all.

Let’s keep it going.

[Still more to come.]