Feature Article - September 2009
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Sink or Swim

How Waterparks Are Surfing the Economic Waves

By Dawn Klingensmith

Committed to Conservation

The "Go Ape" campaign generates positive publicity for the waterpark and reflects a growing industry-wide commitment to eco-friendliness—though most initiatives emphasize water conservation. Much of the public perceives waterparks as gluttonous water consumers, and the idea that waterparks might be concerned about water conservation strikes many as oxymoronic.

"It's an understandable misconception," said Shattuck of Great Wolf Resorts. "But we use the latest and greatest water filtration systems to recirculate almost every drop of water in the park every day. The hotel portions of the resorts actually use twice as much water as the waterpark."

The water system at a waterpark operates like a giant swimming pool. The pool is filled once, and then the water is filtered and reused over and over. Water loss comes from splash-out, evaporation, washing down the decks and backwash, which occurs when filters are cleaned. Improved filters that require less water are in use at many resorts.

Generally, a waterpark reuses 97 percent to 98 percent of its water system. Only the 2 percent to 3 percent used for topping off and maintenance is consumed, reported Eric Hansen, director of development services, H&LA.

The challenge is getting the word out to the public. Great Wolf Resorts learned from guest surveys that sustainability ranks as a high priority. "People from all walks of life care," Shattuck said.

To educate guests about the chain's commitment to water conservation and other eco-friendly initiatives, a closed-circuit TV channel in hotel guestrooms shows what the resorts are doing and what families can do at home.

Valley of the Springs Resort in French Lick, Ind., home of Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park, is an exemplar of green design, and a significant portion of its Web site is devoted to touting this fact. The waterpark is housed in a transparent structure that allows for natural light and significantly reduced energy consumption. The latest technology in water filtration substantially reduces chemical use and water consumption by virtually eliminating backwash.

Guest education and positive publicity achieved through field trips and programming will round out the resort's green initiatives.

Going green is just one way waterparks hope to stay out of the red throughout the recession. Others include adding "dry" activities to the mix of attractions; maximizing the potential of park themes to create a unique experience for guests; and banking on attached hotels and conference centers to boost profits.

Commenting specifically on indoor waterpark resorts, Sangree of H&LA said, "Losses have been significant, but not as bad as losses suffered by the national hotel industry."