Feature Article - September 2008
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Schooled in Aquatics

Waterpark Trends from the College Campus to the Municipal Center

By Dawn Klingensmith

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Deep-pocketed developers of waterpark resorts are the crest of the wave when it comes to attractions, amenities and innovations, but some industry insiders forecast choppy waters ahead as gas prices continue to soar.

"It will be interesting this year to see how gas prices affect travel," Hunsaker said. "Instead of driving 100 or 200 miles, people might be willing to stay closer to home and pay a little more for a season pass for a local facility. We're starting to see very early signs that this is what's happening."

However, according Hotel & Leisure Advisors (H&LA), a hospitality consulting firm based in Cleveland, Ohio, indoor waterpark resorts are continuing to expand at a healthy pace throughout North America, with 107 in the United States and 14 in Canada as of June 2008. (H&LA defines an indoor waterpark resort as "a lodging establishment containing an aquatic facility with a minimum of 10,000 square feet of indoor waterpark space and inclusive of amenities such as slides, tubes and a variety of indoor play features.")

"Resorts with indoor waterparks are certainly concerned about high gas prices; however, many are located in closer destinations, which do not require people to fly," said H&LA president David J. Sangree. "Managers we have interviewed are hoping that the higher gas prices will actually help their resorts as people can drive less to get to them but still have an enjoyable vacation experience. A number of hotels are offering gas cards as well as special discounts to counteract the effect of high gas prices."

As of June 2008, there were 31,865 hotel rooms associated with indoor waterparks, Sangree said. According to Hunsaker, most of the major trends in this segment hinge on filling these rooms.

"The big trends are geared toward increasing occupancy rates," Hunsaker said. "The economic engine for a waterpark resort is full occupancy."

As such, "Many indoor waterpark resorts are trying to go after business travelers and groups, particularly during midweek periods when families are less available to travel," Sangree said.

One successful chain, Coco Key Water Resorts developed by Denver-based Sage Hospitality, has banked on the fact that business travelers generally prefer established hotel brands. Thus, Sage Hospitality partners with hotels such as Sheraton, Holiday Inn and Marriott and adds a Coco Key Water Resort to the property.

"These properties are trying to attract corporate and group demand during midweek with the help of their national hotel franchise, while the waterpark tries to attract leisure business on weekends and when school is out of session," Sangree said.

Beyond this type of partnership, the Kalahari resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., Sandusky, Ohio, and Fredericksburg, Va., set a high standard and perhaps deserve credit for being the first to combine conference centers and waterparks. The Sandusky location has a colossal African-themed conference center with "huts" for brainstorming sessions, three ballrooms, meeting spaces and all the latest audiovisual equipment. Add in such "adult" amenities as a posh spa or a workout facility, and business travelers might invite the spouse and kids to tag along. To maintain a professional atmosphere, the hotel stands between the waterpark and conference center.

"These are very encompassing properties that, once you get in, you're very inclined to stay because there's so much to see and do," Nodorft said.

The waterpark side of such properties tends to be spread out to create a journey where there might be a new activity around the bend. Such a layout interrupts sight lines, though, so more lifeguards are needed.