Feature Article - September 2009
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Sink or Swim

How Waterparks Are Surfing the Economic Waves

By Dawn Klingensmith

Endless Adventures

Providing a mix of "dry" elements and activities in the waterpark environment is another way to gain interest and earn repeat business. According to Hotel & Leisure Advisors (H&LA), a hospitality consulting firm based in Cleveland, Ohio, two to six hours is the span of time waterpark goers actually spend in the water, so waterparks increasingly rely on "dry" attractions to engage families for an entire day. Larger resorts seeking to capture families for overnight stays are merging indoor waterparks with adventure sports opportunities such as go-karts, paintball, laser tag and even indoor skiing. Adjacent golf courses and sophisticated, on-site spas keep dads and moms happily occupied.

In addition to its full-service spas for adults, the Great Wolf Lodge chain of waterparks recently debuted Scooops, a spa catering to girls. Designed to look like an ice cream parlor, each spa offers fun, youthful takes on traditional services like manicures and pedicures, and sells products with ice-cream themes, such as sherbet shower scrub.

Great Wolf Lodge also offers MagiQuest, an interactive role-playing game carried out in the hotel part of each property. Guests purchase computerized wands that interact with objects stationed throughout the hotel to enable users to complete adventures, such as slaying a dragon or freeing a princess. Each adventure takes four to eight hours to complete. Like a non-stationary, imagination-driven video game that requires a lot of walking and stair-climbing (the wand rewards taking the stairs as opposed to the elevators), MagiQuest is "so popular that some kids spend more time playing it than they spend in the waterpark," said Steve Shattuck, director of communications, Great Wolf Resorts Inc., Madison, Wis.

Last year, Creative Kingdoms, the parent company of MagiQuest, announced plans for a spin-off company called AquaKingdoms that will bring these types of interactive quests right into the waterpark. Instead of wands, guests will use "aqua gloves" designed for use in wet environments.

Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark resorts also offer teen "tech stations" with Internet access, video games, karaoke, iPod docking stations and music videos.

With the right mix of "dry" options appealing to various ages, families "stay longer and enjoy themselves more because there are so many other things to do," Shattuck said. "You can only spend so much time in the water. By adding these other amenities, it becomes a true destination resort."

Longer stays and fuller engagement amount to increased revenues through concession and retail sales. For example, for a more immersive MagiQuest experience, guests can purchase costumes and wand ornaments.

"Especially with larger properties, the goal is, as people walk through, they're constantly going, 'Oh, look at that!'" said David Sangree, president, H&LA. "The goal is to be like Disney, to keep people on the property."