Indoor Waterparks Gain Ground

March 28, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Holiday Inn Express at the new M-6 and U.S. 131 interchange has made a sizable splash in just nine months in business.

A big selling feature of the hotel is its 10,000-square-foot indoor waterpark that boasts a kiddie pool, three-story water slide, lap pool, vortex pool, 16-person hot tub and large observation deck with a snack area and video arcade.

“Business has been pretty fantastic,” said Tom Jillson, director of sales and marketing. “The weekends are very busy and we typically book reservations four weeks out. We’re sold out virtually every weekend with greater than 90 percent occupancy.”

The 79-room hotel opened last July and the indoor waterpark opened the following month. According to Jillson, it typically takes a new hotel about three years to build up to 80 percent occupancy and profitability.

“We should probably achieve those numbers within about a 12- to 15-month period,” he added.

Holiday Inn Express owner Sudhir Modi chose the location, in part, because of the high traffic count anticipated at the new interchange, Jillson said. Modi also owns the Howard Johnson on Kraft Avenue and 28th Street. He was, in fact, one of the original partners in the former Splash Waterpark on 28th Street.

“He had a vision for this property,” Jillson remarked. “So when he got the franchise and the approval for zoning — and with the new M-6 coming in — it all kind of fell together in a pretty fantastic package.”

Jillson pointed out that the hotel was built with sound-dampening wall, window and door construction that blocks noise from both the waterpark and highway traffic. The pools are called “saltwater” pools, because the water is kept clean with a chemical salt solution rather than chlorine. The waterpark also has a special air transfer system that transfers air in and out 4.5 times an hour, so there’s no heavy chemical smell.

Other features of the hotel are wider hallways, wider rooms and higher ceilings, which Jillson said is for safety reasons.

“If something catastrophic were to happen, the longer time it takes smoke to fill a room gives guests just that much more time to leave.”

The hotel has six different room types: single king-size-bed rooms, rooms with two queen-size beds, executive rooms, Jacuzzi rooms, two-room suites and three-bed lofts. Sixteen of the suites have wider than average bathtub/showers, or what the hotel refers to as “deluxe body showers.”

A single king-bed room runs in the range of $89.95 Sunday through Thursday nights, which includes four wristband passes to the waterpark. The same room on the weekend runs about $149.95 per night. Hotel guests can buy additional waterpark passes unless passes are sold out.

“The extra person fee to the hotel and the waterpark is $25 per person, so having four passes to the waterpark valued at $100 is a pretty decent value,” Jillson said. “You do need to be a registered guest to use the waterpark, but on Sundays, which are slower, we have sliced out time for two-hour pool parties where you don’t have to be a registered guest.”

Other amenities include a microwave and refrigerator in every room, complimentary breakfast, a dining area, fitness center, free wireless Internet access, banquet facilities and deluxe meeting rooms for business seminars.

“A lot of the local businesses know that we’re here. Even some of the large businesses have come in here for meetings because the location is so easy to get to from the south, east, west and north,” Jillson said. “We’re just 15 minutes from downtown, and that’s a huge win for the hotel and its location.”

According to a recent supply analysis of indoor waterpark resorts, Holiday Inn is the only national chain looking at adding an indoor waterpark resort prototype to its offering of hotel types. The study by David J. Sangree, director of hospitality consulting for U.S. Realty Consultants, and USRC associate Laurel A. Keller, showed that from 1983 to 2004, 60 indoor waterpark resorts opened or expanded in the United States and Canada.

According to the authors, the indoor waterpark resort has emerged as “a viable segment of the travel industry” and a year-round leisure destination for families. Sangree and Keller project that there will be continued development of indoor waterpark resorts in the northern United States. Their research indicates that 19 new indoor waterpark resorts or expansions to resorts are expected to open this year in the United States and Canada.

“Hotel companies, investors and developers in the U.S. are only beginning to explore the potential and benefit of affiliating an indoor waterpark resort with a national hotel franchise, although franchised indoor waterpark resorts are more common in Canada,” the authors stated.

According to an industry study released in February by Jeff Coy, head of JLC Hospitality Consulting, and Bill Haralson, owner of William L. Haralson & Associates, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are leading the way with new hotel waterpark development.

Their research shows that U.S. hotels with indoor waterparks are growing from 23 percent to 29 percent annually, while the overall hotel industry grew 1.2 percent in 2004 and is expected to grow 1.3 percent this year. There were 5,400 hotel rooms attached to indoor waterparks in 2000 and that number is forecast to triple to more than 16,300 in 2005. Eight more indoor waterparks are slated for development in Michigan this year, according to Coy and Haralson.    

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