How To Build A Profitable Waterpark

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OAKVILLE, ON – October 2022 - Since 2005 OpenAire has been working in a picturesque Bavarian town founded in 1845 by German settlers. While this riverside town is set amidst a large farming community, it is also home to a 2020 James Beard award winning, 1500 seat family restaurant which served its first meal in 1856! The best part, is this is a town in Michigan… !

The City of Frankenmuth, known as Little Bavaria, is a premier national tourist destination, home to less than 5000 residents but attracting 3 million visitors a year! Due in part to a family owned business empire, part of which is Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark. In addition to the hotel and waterpark are an array of amenities including shopping, restaurants, golf, event venues and more.

Zehnders Splash Village Retractable Skylight

What is also unique about this waterpark hotel is that it is literally breaking records and leading the way for construction innovation a growing industry.

While indoor waterparks in the US had their start in the Wisconsin Dells, and have since grown to capture about 12% of the total market1 ( mostly via privately owned waterpark resorts. It is locations and towns across the nation, like Frankenmuth, who continue to lead innovation in the waterpark industry.

When analyzing the success of the growing North American Waterpark Resort sector across the country, it’s easy to lose focus on what makes a waterpark resorts successful. The “if you build it, they will come” mentality simply doesn’t work. Developers, investors, and operators need to keep in mind several key factors when looking at a new build or significant renovation. The owners at Zehnder’s have done just that. Style of construction, demographics, waterpark size/scale, continual innovation, renovation, management and service are amongst the key factors that allow a space to be successful and maintain its success.

Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark, was originally called the Bavarian Haus Motel, and was purchased by the Zehnders family in 1988. A re-model in 1992 added additional rooms, suites and an indoor pool.

In 2005, a glulam wood framed 20,000 square foot indoor waterpark, was added, built according to best practises at the time. In addition an arcade, dining space, meeting rooms and 63 new family suites were added, geared towards families with young children. The waterpark was extremely popular with hotel guests, and for almost 10 years met the needs of young families and the ownership team.

The next phase of development was in 2014, when a 30,000 sf retractable roof “Atrium" waterpark was added adjacent to the existing indoor park. The new indoor water park included a drop slide, a family raft ride, activity pool and action river geared towards 12-15 year olds. One significant differentiator of this new space was the migration of activities towards an older demographic allowing multigenerational families to enjoy extended holidays together. The other significant difference was the construction style. The new waterpark was built entirely from aluminum, and included glass walls with operable windows and doors for air flow plus a large opening roof.

Not satisfied with the status quo, the owners had done their homework looking for a construction style that would be a better solution for an aquatic venue. One that would not require constant repair. For example most waterparks are built in giant “steel or concrete boxes” without (much) daylight and little to no fresh air. They are subject to the highly corrosive moist air created by the splashing and fun activities. As a result waterpark buildings begin to deteriorate the day the water is added.

The result of traditional construction styles are water parks where moisture permeates all surfaces, all rooms, all areas in and around the park, requiring renovation to fix mold and rot. Its really common for waterparks built in this way to require a new roof every 10 years or so… That is an incredibly costly and labour extensive task, not to mention the lack of revenue while the park is being renovated. The Zehnders management recognized the financial impracticality of such a decision.

With the new Atrium aluminum waterpark, the owners knew there would never be a new roof (or walls) required for their waterpark. As a bonus the open roof cleaned the air in the space making sure it is fresh and bright every day and subsequently allowing for mechanical systems to be turned off or down when the roof is open. The new atrium waterpark, served to secure Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark spot on the national “tourist map” winning various Trip Advisor Travellers Choice Awards.

In 2019, a simple gas line repair in the original glulam waterpark served as the impetus for its renovation, when the repair work uncovered mold in the walls and the roof. The most recent work in 2020/2021 involved ripping off the existing roof and walls and replacing them with an aluminum retractable roof and glass/aluminum curtain wall on the existing glulam structure.

In 2022, the hotel’s indoor pool (built in 1992) was also renovated and an additional retractable roof skylight was added to that area as well.

While the pandemic had slowed demand and growth in 2020 / 2021, Zehnder’s had an incredible 11 months, despite a one month state mandated closure. Strong average daily rates, the growth of “stay-cations” and US centric travel resulted in Zehnder’s having their best year of business in recent history. This despite the downturn of international tourists. This successful year has allowed Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark to continue to upgrade the property at a time when so many businesses had stopped all work and renovation.

The waterpark industry continues to develop and grow in North America. Even at this stage, 2022 already looks to be a return to normal both for operators and for new developers and investors looking for investment opportunities. While staffing and labour shortages continues to be an issue, along with supply chain challenges for goods, consumers appear to be “back”.

The interest in the industry is due to businesses like Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark who are leading the way and encouraging others to do the same. By focusing on demographics, complementary attractions and local tourism, continual property upgrades, branding, theming, fiscal responsibility and a strong focus on management and service, has allowed this facility to overcome typical industry challenges and ride the waves to success.

As a business, the Zehnder’s ownership team continues to lead through innovation in an industry where many still preach the status quo. Zehnder’s is a four season family vacation resort appealing to families, attracting upwards of 3 million yearly visitors with an average yearly occupancy of 60-80%, and 100% at all major holidays.

Guests continually review and comment about the hotels service, freshness, cleanliness and welcoming attitude. The uniqueness of the property, its affordability continually exceeds expectations! It is clear that proper management, expansion, innovation and improvement, are the keys to Zehnder’s long-term strategy for success.

For those looking to get into the waterpark resort sector, Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark sets the bar high. OpenAire continues to work with the ownership team and looks forward to future growth and expansion as part of the team.

About OpenAire

OpenAire has been designing and manufacturing beautiful, high-quality, environmentally conscious retractable roof structures and skylights for over 30 years. We bring unique visions to life from initial design to installation, transforming buildings into sunlit spaces customers love. Headquartered in Oakville, Ontario, OpenAire is approaching 1,200 projects throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Some of our projects include multiple cruise liners in Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum series of ships; the Rooftop Bar at the Refinery Hotel in New York, NY; Restoration Hardware’s “RH Gallery” in Chicago, IL; Gibson Italia restaurant on the Chicago River at the River Point Tower; Fort Lewis College Observatory for the Geosciences, Physics and Engineering Hall in Durango, CO; Epic Waters Waterpark, Grand Prairie, Texas; Kalahari Resort & Waterpark in Pocono Mountains, PA (the largest waterpark under one roof in the USA); Tropicana Waterpark in Stadthagen, Germany; Jay Peak Ski Resort’s Pump House Indoor Waterpark in Jay, VT; and The Yard (beer garden) at Bally’s Casino Hotel, Atlantic City.

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