Hotel Online  Special Report

So, You Are Thinking About Attaching
a Water Park to Your Hotel


by Mark Moore, June 2005

So, you want a water park attached to your hotel. Great idea! Drives up revenues, sets you apart from the crowd, and your property becomes more marketable, instantly. A little quick research into indoor water park resorts shows growth rates much higher than traditional hotels. The water park often adds a fresh set of ideas to an organization and invigorates the organization as youth and new ideas come on board in a rapid fire pace. The park itself is exciting and is something the community can get behind and support due to the jobs it creates and economic impact that it will have on the area. Just make sure you slow down enough to plan your operation successfully, before you open.

Water parks are just like any business; to be successful they require uniquely talented design teams, operational teams, and management who understand the nature of a water park. If only it was as simple a matter of building 30,000 square feet of water park space and throwing open the doors and watching the money roll in. There are several organizations that would love to put your project together for you as a turn key operation. As you would expect some are good and some arenít so good, but that is not the point. How are you going to truly operate this water park? Have you thought about all the areas of knowledge that you will need inside this operation to be successful? Have you thought through how you might capitalize on some of the assets you have within your organization? Have you thought how a water park might impact your current organization? A failure to plan can cost money down the road.

Todayís indoor water park resorts require a unique management team, not just one manager who does everything. A quick survey of the indoor water park show that slides, pools, play houses, arcades, gift shops, food and beverage operations, and birthday party programs (some properties include much more) are all common areas. Each of those areas often requires specific expertise and knowledge. Building a management team from those backgrounds into a water park resort, which is family oriented, fast paced, and customer service focused, can be challenging.

Hotels and water parks are not so different, yet put the two together and a resort exist. A unique take on the resort concept, but a resort none the less. Water parks of course do bring a few challenges that are new to the resort concept. The most obvious difference is the amount of labor (more people on the clock) and type of labor (lots of teens) that make up the typical water park work force. There are things that can be done at the planning stage that can minimize labor, so keep that in mind as you plan. A good plan can also make the maintenance easier. This is important because the maintenance team of the resort (water park and the hotel) is up to a task bigger than you might also expect as they are responsible for maintaining the typical building infrastructure items, maintain kitchen equipment, and arcade games. 

The challenge of most people new to the water park business is understanding that the more fun you build in the more labor you have to live with on the books. This is a hard thing for many to understand as they have operated their whole professional career on cutting labor when business volume is down. However, that is not the case when it comes to managing the risk of drowning. Risk management experts and insurances companies point out there is a minimum number of staff that must be met and to drop below that number puts lives at risk. Lifeguards are a necessary part of the overall risk management plan and the management of lifeguards and other risk will be key to your long term success.

If you are planning on building a water park resort or simply adding a water park to an existing hotel property, no doubt the operational plan calls for a manager with expertise in water park management. The variety of departments that make up a water park are both the challenge for management and the allure for the guest. Although there are a number of great education programs training people in resort management the water park offers some unique challenges that only experience teaches. When hiring look for someone with a sound operational experience in the aspects of risk management and maintenance. (Any other skills are just an added bonus.) Once the key person is hired guide them in developing training programs for others to gain valuable water park knowledge. The successful indoor water park resorts are relying heavily on promoting from within and developing their people through training programs. 

Now you understand that to be successful you will have to take your existing team and teach them the indoor water park resort business. This means that they have to create process flow charts, organizational charts, marketing plans and operational procedures for a business that is both familiar and new. No doubt your team is smart and talented but a water park has many variances from a traditional hotel property. (see the sample list below)

1. The majority of the labor force is teens. This means the management has to juggle all the things that come with teens. The fact that they donít have transportation, they forget a big school project, or their parents tell them they canít work school nights, or simply the need to follow all labor laws in regard to minors.

2. The hotel will see a jump in revenues but the reason why will be leisure travel not business or frequent travelers. Be prepared for lots of kids making a lot of noise, and moms making special requests of the kitchen.

3. Creating an atmosphere that is both fun and safe for the kids is not something you typically think about in a hotel. If you miss this, the momís will let you know very quickly.

4. Families are tough on properties. Be prepared for more upkeep of everything from mopping the floors to changing the light bulbs.

5. Water parks remain attractive by re-inventing themselves. Make your plans initially to allow for changes or expansion as the need may arise.

6. The water park may double the amount of garbage that has to be removed every day. The amount of laundry that will be circulated and folded will increase accordingly also.

The indoor water park business model is currently based upon locating your project in an already proven destination market. The goal is to then have families choose your hotel when planning a trip to the area due to the water park. This model potentially allows combined marketing efforts with the community to draw people to the area. The local Convention and Visitors Bureau is a great resource for marketing to ensure whenever groups come to town, they know about your water park resort. Due to the influx of families at your property, you can expect to lose a some of your business travel. Businessmen simply donít want to be in a hotel filled with kids. 

Depending upon your existing organization structure, the marketing team will have to shift strategies on how to market this property, or shift business travelers to other properties within the same organization. Use the business travelers who stay at the property prior to its opening to spread the word. Invite them back with their families or even consider hard hat tours. Either way, the property has begun to shift the focus toward family marketing.

Water parks by nature are fun filled atmospheres, having staff dressed in business suits simply does not work. It may be a challenge to blend an existing business driven hotel operation with the casual friendly style of a family water park. For example, the hand book may even forbid shorts. Remember to plan your operation to meet the needs of a family from welcoming them at the door to making them feel at home. Donít worry about impressing the critics and donít try to follow a creative whim of your own. Try to provide a friendly resort that welcomes and supports the family.

The water park business might be just what your organization or community needs. The planning of the operational side will be the key to long term success. Walt Disney said it best, ďYou can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.Ē The right people in the right place providing the right service with the right water park can be a huge boost to your organization.


Mark Moore

Also See: What Is a Waterpark --- Really? Blending Swimming Pools, Amusement/Theme Parks, Hotels & Resorts Calls for New Definitions / October 2004
18 Predictions About the Future of Hotel Waterpark Resorts / Jeff Coy and Bill Haralson / January 2005

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