March 14, 2019
As the general manager of Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii, Jerry Pupillo oversees daily operations and long-term strategy of the waterpark, which is comprised of more than 25 attractions and activities and averages up to 3,000 guests per day during peak season.
“There’s everything from chill to thrill,” said Pupillo. “It’s got a little bit of something for everybody, kids to grandparents.”
Pupillo joined the park (then Hawaiian Waters Adventure) as its first employee in 1998 as director of sales and marketing before being promoted to president/general manager. He left for a few years for a stint at Sea Life Park before returning in 2014.
“I was blessed and fortunate to see this park from dirt all the way on up to where it’s at today,” he said.
Most recently, Pupillo helped bring Chief’s Luau into the park and led a $500,000 refurbishing initiative, which wrapped earlier this month and included repainting slides, revamping rides, and more projects throughout the property.
Pupillo said that one of his primary motivations for returning to Wet ‘n’ Wild was to help foster continued growth among staff. During peak season, the park employs about 150 people, and one of Pupillo’s proudest accomplishments is watching his employees thrive.
“It’s really exciting, actually,” he said.
“For many, it’s their first job and what is so important to us and what we do is we train them. For the lifeguarding, they do some serious training,” he explained. “They go from having zero experience to having something that’s meaningful and knowing that they’ve kept hundreds and thousands of people safe throughout the year.”
What’s your day-to-day like as GM? Fun and excitement.
It’s multifaceted because you got your food service, you got your front gate, you got your aquatic system, and then you have the physical rides. I check off on things, but there are people that do daily ride inspections making sure that everything is in good working order … When I first get in in the morning, we want to make sure that everything is good and ready to go for the guests prior to them arriving when we open at 10:30.
I also get out into the community, which is important. We have promotional partners that we want to make sure we are doing our part with them, and we are always looking for new ones. It takes a village, right? And then I spend time in Waikiki as well with the tour wholesalers and travel agents and making sure we’re doing our part, getting creative with our sales managers to know that we’re putting together the right packages.
What is your biggest challenge, and how do you approach it? When you have a high volume of people and you are dealing with people from all over the place, it’s making sure everyone is having fun and having a good day. That’s not really a challenge — it’s exciting.
With such a large local market, it’s staying fresh. New rides are always important … We will always, always enjoy and have a great local base. We have 40,000-plus annual pass holders, and obviously the bulk of those are kamaaina.
We are working on some really exciting plans for 2020 — we’re looking at some new latest and greatest rides that we’d like to put in. That helps us to stay fresh.
How else do you change with the times? Part of that is that we have to listen to feedback. You’ve got to pay attention to what the guests want, and also know that you can’t be everything to everybody, although you want to try. I always say, we’re busy selling what we have, but what we really need to do is to provide what they want.
While the majority of your business is local, how do you reach out to the visitor market? Knowing our markets and knowing where people are coming from and knowing what other parks they visit and giving them a unique, local experience. We have tried very hard to make this a tropical-feeling facility. We are open year-round; we just added a bunch of cabanas. We want to make them feel like this is a different park, that, yeah, I can ride this slide back home, but I can’t experience some of the things that they have in Hawaii.
Overall, what are you hoping you can offer? Good, clean, wholesome family fun. That is the summary of what we try to do. It’s just making sure that when they leave here, they come back. That is the biggest barometer, if we are still here 20 years later with solid attendance. I know that we are still making people happy and we want to keep doing that.
General manager, Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii
Address: 400 Farrington Highway, Kapolei, HI 96707