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Indoor Waterparks = Fountain Of Youth

Written by: Dan Martin | View Author Bio

At a recent conference I asked a panel of great waterpark hotel designers “What Waterpark elements appeal to adults” their answers were okay but I could tell they weren’t really interested. In fact the last guy on the panel, one of the lions of waterpark design simply said “they’ve all answered” and looked to move on. I was baffled, why is it that no one believes that we can have a successful adult oriented indoor water park?

Though we’re a young industry, the waterpark industry is slow to challenge our own assumptions. Why just a dozen years ago few believed that an indoor water park could succeed. Back then, an industry guru assured me they’d never work – notwithstanding the success of Center Parcs across Europe and Holidomes across the US. From the 1970’s, when ERA did its first waterpark study, it was almost twenty years to the first US indoor waterpark.
Back to the adult oriented indoor waterpark why might this be a good idea? Two simple reasons: the adult vacation market dwarfs the family one and adults. It turns out, love two swim.

The facts:

Market size: only 20% of US households have children 12 and under in them and only about half those households can afford water park hotel stays. Moreover, according to the TIA, Travel Industry Association, 71% of all overnight leisure trips were parties without children.

Market core: NSGA, National Sporting Goods Association data shows that adults dominate the US swimming market. Last year 56 million or roughly 22% of the 263 million Americans over age seven went swimming (statistics are collected for age seven and older). A third of these swimmers, about 19 million were aged 7 to 17. Two thirds, 38 million, were over 17. Perhaps even more surprising, 42% of all swimmers are over 35.

If you’re in the waterpark industry you’re probably marshalling a few arguments against these facts (don’t worry, it’s tough to shake off groupthink). Sure, you say, adults don’t go as often as kids – they just swim at Caribbean resorts. Um, no. The typical adult swimmer swims about 41 times a year. Kids do average more, between 41 and 50 times a year but the lowest average swimming days for adults is about 30 times a year for men aged 25 to 34. No age bracket for women dips below 33 times a year and the 1.6 million senior swimmers over 75 years old swim an average of 59 (women) to 93 (men) times a year.

A few other useful bits from the NSGA data are that most swimmers are women (54%) and swimmers are financially more comfortable – 42% are in households earning over $75,000 a year. Swimmers are also well educated. The majority of households with swimmers areheaded by a college grad. They’re about evenly split between northern and southern states too (a few more in northern states) making this a national opportunity.

You may well wonder “where is all of this adult swimming going on?” Well, it turns out that waterparks, indoor and outdoor capture just a slice of US swimming. Most swimming takes place in the backyard pool, schools, municipal pools, and the beach. On leisure vacations millions of US adults already use the outdoor pool complexes at Hawaii, Arizona, Florida and Caribbean resorts. At these venues, you’re more likely to see adults than children.

Will adults pay for a waterpark experience tuned to them? Seems likely, Baby Boomer are the wealthiest, most vacation – oriented, and self indulgent generation this planet has ever seen.

What would an adult oriented waterpark look like? When I asked the designers about adults at the conference, some of the ideas they rattled off were decks, lazy rivers, spas, wave pools, mat races, and better air quality. I’d suppose we could add infinity pools, swim-up bars, lush interiors, aquarium walls, and better mood setting sound, lighting, and aroma systems. And for sure, the quality of the food and beverage offerings must be better than typically found at today’s water park hotels. This shouldn’t be difficult.

It might be a good idea to reconceptualize the whole idea: In honor of the boomer penchant for self-indulgence think of this new environment as a high-throughput spa.

The idea can be tried first in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or Biloxi as all are likely places. They’re already adult oriented and casinos typically have the motive and money. Adult oriented regional destinations and urban resorts could try it too.