Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Undercover Down Under

Why an indoor waterpark would work in Australia

In previous issues, Park World has focused on the indoor waterpark sector in North America, where new hotel and resort-based developments continue to appear. Other parts of the world, notably Northern Europe, have so far failed to embrace the concept with such enthusiasm. But could Australia, with weather surely more suited to outdoor attractions, become the next hotspot for undercover waterparks? Jeff Coy thinks so.

Australia has no hotels with waterparks. The closest thing is Sea World Resort on the Gold Coast, featuring its own outdoor waterpark. But it’s not the same. An indoor waterpark is like an outdoor waterpark, except all the fun is packed into a cube which is attached to a hotel open 365 days a year, rain or shine.

Having an indoor waterpark can add up to US$25 per person to the room rate for an upscale hotel or resort. A 300-room waterpark hotel/resort running 70% occupancy with a customer mix of 60% leisure guests and six persons per suite could expect waterpark attendance of 275,940 persons annually.

Now, just for fun, multiply the above attendance of 275,940 by $25 a head and you can expect to add $6,898,000 to your room and waterpark revenues! Plus there are incremental sales to be captured from snack food, beverages, ice cream, gifts and souvenirs. Day guests can bring extra money, but you would typically need to over-size your waterpark in the design phase to accommodate them.

When Australian hotel and resort owners finally discover the difference that an indoor waterpark can make to the performance of their property – such as reduced vulnerability to seasonality and weather conditions, higher occupancy and higher room rates – new development is going to take off

While the banking crisis has shut off the flow of money for much new hotel construction in the US, the recession is milder in countries like Australia. In fact, it has been proven to be least affected by the global economic crisis, followed by China, India and Singapore in equal third place.

Weekend Retreat

Hotels in Australia are producing an occupancy that is already 10 to 20 points higher than in other countries, however regional drive-to resorts are attracting more guests than national fly-to resorts. Taking several long weekends is replacing the annual vacation, making ski resorts, golf resorts, mountain and lake resorts ideal locations for hotel waterpark developments. Urban and suburban areas will also attract hotel waterpark investment to revive downtown areas.

A survey of Sydney residents pointed to the frustration of having to fly to the Gold Coast in Queensland for a waterpark experience. “Sydney is the real capital of Australia,” said one respondent. “We deserve to have our own waterpark resort right here.” There’s Jamberoo Action Park in Wollongong just south of Sydney, but there’s no lodging and no indoor waterpark – yet.

It is true that hotel indoor waterparks started out in cold weather resort areas, such as Wisconsin Dells in the USA. It is also true that much of Australia is warmer than the US. Finding a cold-weather resort in Australia means going south to Hobart or going up into the mountains near Melbourne, Canberra or Sydney. That’s why I believe that the first hotel indoor waterpark in Australia may be located at a ski resort.

However, they need not be confined to cold weather areas. Several years ago, people would ask me, “Why do we need an indoor waterpark in Florida or Arizona, because the weather is so perfect?” Actually, the weather is either too hot, too humid or too windy. The window of human comfort is a narrow window. Mom doesn’t want her children outside in 120 degrees for too long. She immediately starts looking for shade. As the number of shade structures increases, so the square footage ratio of shade per person increases. So why not have the best of both worlds? Indoor and outdoor.

Potential Players

Australia’s first hotel waterpark could take several forms. It could be all-new upscale full-service resort with waterpark, conference centre, golf and sporting facilities. Likewise, it could be a conversion of an existing facility or “add a box” project where an undercover waterpark is attached to an existing hotel.

For the last three years, Julianne and Vincent Cusumano, the owners of JV Play in Sydney (a waterpark supplier) have been studying the trends for these type of facilities and recently announced plans for the Great Reef Resort, including a 250-400-room hotel, indoor and outdoor waterparks, plus conference facilities in western Sydney.

Other potential operators include New South Wales’ Mirvac Hotels & Resorts and the Stella Hospitality Group, which markets retreats, resorts and hotels under the Peppers, Breakfree and Mantra brands. As we’ve already mentioned, an indoor waterpark would also make a good fit for a major ski resort or an urban hotel.

Of course, we mustn’t rule out the major players, such as Village Roadshow, operator of Warner Village Theme Parks including Sea World and Wet ‘n Wild, or Macquarie Leisure Trust with the Dreamworld and WhiteWater World parks on the Gold Coast. Does it make sense for a Gold Coast resort to have an indoor waterpark? Yes, I believe it does, because it will be open 365 days rather than the typical 100 to 120 days for an outdoor waterpark.

An outside bet would be an American operator such as Six Flags with its Great Escape Resort concept or Ripley Entertainment with its 12-strong portfolio of Great Wolf Lodge resorts.

Who will be first?

Jeff Coy (pictured below) is president of JLC Hospitality Consulting in Arizona. Certified by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants, he is recognised as a leading authority on hotel waterpark resorts and adventure sports parks. Contact him at +1 480-488-3382, or e-mail jeffcoy@jeffcoy.com

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