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    Spoiling the fun at Busch Gardens

    A late rush to renew the popular Busch Gardens Fun Pass is causing headaches for the theme park phone operators.

    By LINDA GIBSON

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    TAMPA -- Renewing a Busch Gardens Fun Pass has been anything but fun for the thousands of people who waited until the last minute.

    People seeking renewals have deluged the theme park with calls this week, trying to beat a Saturday deadline. With calls to the park reaching 6,000 a day, customers have had to wait for up to 12 minutes on hold, said Busch marketing vice president Joe Couceiro. The theme park's Internet site has crashed a couple of times.

    It's precisely what the park's marketing folks hoped to avoid.

    "We've had the renewal offer out since the beginning of October," Couceiro said Wednesday. "We encouraged them to sign up quickly, not wait until the last minute."

    The Fun Pass allows unlimited admission for one year for $46, usually the price of a single day's admission. Introduced in March, its popularity quickly caused headaches.

    Holders of the annual Passport, who paid $95 for a year's admission, resented the long lines and crowded parking lots caused by the newcomers.

    The higher price they paid entitled them to discounts on merchandise and free parking, but Busch's 8,000-space parking lots had to be closed twice last spring because of the crowds brought in by the Fun Pass.

    Single-day and monthly attendance records were set at the park in March and April.

    In 1999, attendance had dropped 9 percent.

    In October, Busch began notifying Fun Pass holders they could renew their passes for the same price.

    Calls to the park normally average about 1,000 a day, so it would have been relatively easy back then to get through.

    "We wanted to give them enough time so we wouldn't have to accommodate them all at the same time," Couceiro said.

    The park now has 28 operators on duty. If necessary, Couceiro hinted, the park might extend the deadline.

    "We're not going to turn anybody down," he said.

    - Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or gibson@sptimes.com.

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