Changing up the fan experience does not need to be difficult and it may or may not be a matter of a big financial investment. However, it does take some planning. First, identify what part of the experience needs to change. I would caution you not to undertake this on your own. Utilize your staff and gather data from your customers, either with a survey, direct engagement, or with social media. The strategy we undertake in our operation utilizes all three of these elements.
To preface this, I should let the reader know that we run a year-round indoor waterpark and are busy all year. We know we see twice the visitors in the summer season than during the other seasons. To paint a brief picture, we have a children’s play pool with a play feature, a lazy river that encircles two 20 foot water slides, a four-lane lap pool which becomes a leisure pool during recreation swim, a 15 person spa, a café, event rooms for birthday parties, and a cabana area for small groups.
Developing a Plan
From the Staff
I meet with key staff members at the conclusion of the busy summer season to do a wrap-up. What went well? What did not go well? What were our challenges? What should we be doing that we are not doing? What were our biggest complaints and how do we fix them? Based on the information we receive and evaluate, we may implement some easy fixes but some of the information is just that, information to build on when we meet again three months later to start planning for the next summer. Then at the summer planning meeting, we bring forth the comments from the planning meeting as well as the planning meeting notes from the previous year to see what we did or didn't incorporate. Updating your facility can be a major undertaking.
From the Customer
During these meetings, we also bring forth information from customer surveys, as well as what we are seeing on our social media content. We also do a simple search of our facility and pull up everything we can from that past year (Facebook, Yelp, Google, Twitter, etc.). These all have relevance to keep our ideas fresh for the next season. Since we operate year-round, we stay engaged in these outlets and respond to comments both positive and negative. We learn something from all of them.
From the Industry
The last element we use is what we are seeing in the industry from training, trade shows, or anything else we may encounter. Some of the best changes we have incorporated, are things we learned from all of you. We present and analyze all of the relevant information and make a decision on which items we will incorporate and which areas to improve upon. This planning meeting can become heated at times, as there is a lot of ownership in each of the program areas; however, it is also very productive for staff to see different perspectives.
Putting the Plan into Action
After the planning meeting, a list of comprehensive action items with the timelines to accomplish these tasks is sent out. As indicated above, some of these are low, no-cost changes, while some require a financial element. Changes or additions which typically have little to no-cost can be some of your biggest enhancements that give your guests a better fan experience. For example, many times we will have a line out the door of guests waiting to come in, which can cause a long wait time (sometimes as long as two hours). We received complaints about this and continue to work on this challenge. At this time, we have incorporated an “all hands on deck” at the beginning of recreation swim which utilizes a team approach and helps to get through the initial line quickly and minimize the wait. We added a Voucher/Pass Only line to create two lines (as opposed to just one) and allow entry into the facility prior to the opening of the pools to give guests time to pay and suit-up in time for the opening of the facility pools. Additionally, we have put out signage informing guests of the facility rules and information outside the entrance so they can see it before they come in. We also have someone available at the head of the line prior to letting them in to answer questions or deal with issues. We have given our Customer Service Agents a script so that all items are covered when they first engage with us so that we lessen the issues on the deck side. These changes cost little to no money. We continue to evaluate these changes yearly and tweak them when necessary to improve the guest experience.
At some point, you will need to reinvest in your facility and spend some money to continue to have that WOW factor. As a municipal operation, we have to get approval and plan in advance to get multiple bids and quotes. These can all be challenges, but remember, we are entrusted by the public to be fiscally responsible with public funds. For those of you in my situation, I understand what you go through. Even with this, if you are diligent and try to create the WOW factor you can do so by spending a modest amount each year. I look at modest as being between 0-$3000.
Some of the things we have done…
One of the physical changes that we added was a cabana area. We had an operational issue with limited seating from the original design and large groups who were coming into the center for group reservations. We had a lot of issues with not only the number of people but their “stuff” (clothing/backpacks/towels, etc.). During our pre-season planning session, we looked at our site configuration and developed a solution by creating a cabana area in which two areas were formed with temporary PVC walls, as well as a table and chairs for ten people. Knowing that most guests would be swimming so we did not need a large number of seats; our idea was to create a meeting area for those who were tired, wanted to eat, or to just hang out. The key piece was getting an industrial size laundry bin so that all the cabana users had a place to put their belongings. This solution has worked really well. The overall cost was about $500 and some labor. Beyond our groups, we have added the Cabana feature for rental to our guests. This feature is very popular and has exponentially paid for itself many times over. As part of the rental, we also provide water and snacks, and the large families have an area all to themselves with guaranteed seating. Additionally, it has functioned well for families that want a lower price option to hold their birthday parties or as an alternative if our birthday packages are completely booked up, which is frequently the case. The last enhancement on the Cabana feature, which we incorporated this past summer, was online booking for the cabana which has really taken off.
About three years ago, we were looking for something new to give our guest beyond the great features we have. We knew that budget was a big factor as we were very limited, and we were also limited by our water depth (we have mostly shallow pools of less than five feet). We have seen a lot of inflatables and have played on many over the years but the cost was a big factor, as was pool profile. We had our work cut out for us. Our Aquatic Coordinator took on the challenge, did the research, and came up with an option that would work. However, the purchase was the first step in the process. The more important aspect was to incorporate the training and operation within the program so that our guest would not only have a WOW experience but do so safely. We incorporated everything and launched our new feature. I wish I could say everything went as planned but we did have to make some adjustments after first introduced. I think this is the case with anything new as you learn to make it better. We do not put the inflatable out every day but have a schedule for when they are to be put into place. We also market it on social media. It has been a very successful addition to our operation, so much so that we are adding a new piece this summer. We will continue to look to add pieces to keep it fresh and relevant for our guests.
We were introduced to log rolling a little bit over a year ago at an educational conference. There was a practical in-water session that gave us the initial training, I took part in this practical session and up I went onto the log, albeit for a few seconds. I kept trying and each time I got a bit better and was having fun doing it. If an old dog like me can do it, why not explore this further? The Keylog folks were very forthcoming in providing additional information and guidance into their product. They had great instructional videos that were free and available on YouTube, they also had a deal at the show which they honored for a short window after the event. This gave us the opportunity to research and find funding to introduce this over the past summer. With what we learned from our inflatable addition, we were prepared with staff and processes to incorporate this. This also allowed us to feature different elements throughout the summer to keep it fresh and different every day.
We also utilize many smaller features within our facility. One of these includes water basketball. We have one for our children’s play pool for the younger kids and one at our lap pool for older folks. We also utilize a water polo cage for interactive play (just one goal set up and they swap out). We also have a football toss in our smaller activity pool. Most of these elements are less than $500 and an easy addition to add to any facility.
Throughout this article, I have been focusing on physical elements, but there is a lot more you can do by adding, changing, and/or enhancing your recreation swim with programs. This could be as simple as creating a theme or by adding additional elements. For example, we have a whole program each day that falls in line with our general theme for that week. We have trivia days, dress up days, tattoo days, game days, and any other fun interactive theme we may come up with. The limitation is only based on your imagination. We also have held cardboard boat races and specialized days around holidays such as pumpkin patches and egg hunts.
Staying fresh and remaining relevant to your guest is an ongoing, never-ending process. As much as we have done over the years, we are still challenging each other to be better and to provide a great, and ever improving, fan experience to everyone we engage with. We have just implemented a new waitlist element utilizing restaurant software and tablets. Hopefully, you can take some of what we have accomplished and create the WOW factor for your guests. If you get stuck, simply check out our Facebook or others around you and use it for inspiration. Remember, imitation is the highest form of flattery. We hope you will flatter us.