Great Wolf Resorts has always been proud of its amenities as an indoor
waterpark destination for families. With large-scale indoor
waterparks in tranquil settings, spas for parents, shopping, family
restaurants and other great features, there was no doubt that
people would have lots to do during their stays.
But as the economy began to affect the travel industry, including
resorts, people began to think twice about spending on such lavish
What became more important, market research showed Great Wolf, was
that people were choosing quality over quantity. Customers wanted
to leave a vacation with memories of an excellent experience rather
than souvenirs. This shift in market perception changed the
communication for Great Wolf, which began tapping into the new
value proposition immediately.
“We did find people were still willing to make room for
affordable indulgences,” says Steve Shattuck, corporate
director of communications for Madison, Wis.-based Great Wolf
Resorts. “They still wanted to travel with their families and
create memories, but were choosing to scale back.”
In other words, people were taking shorter trips closer to
Great Wolf Resorts consists of 12 indoor waterpark resorts across
the nation, with a greater concentration in the Midwest, a location
in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and one in Canada.
Each features a woodsy-themed resort with upscale family suites, a
large indoor waterpark and other amenities for the whole
Last year, as companies and individuals cut back on travel
spending, hotels and resorts felt a huge snap. “The entire
industry held a collective breath because nobody knew what to
expect,” Shattuck remembers. “2009 was an uncertain
year for everyone because we didn’t know how consumers would
react. It was a new economic reality.”
Cool, rainy weather in the Midwest and East coupled with a
recession hurt many waterparks. But even though its waterparks are
located indoors, the economic downturn shook Great Wolf as well
— though not as badly as it feared. “We budgeted to be
down 10 percent vs. the prior year,” Shattuck says. However,
the drop was only 6 percent compared with the 20 percent fall
of the overall lodging industry. “People were reeling back on
huge indulgences and everything became a scrutinized
Leisure and business travelers wanted to know exactly what the
value of a dollar meant at the resort, Shattuck says. Communicating
the message of Great Wolf as a well-spent dollar meant maintaining
the marketing budget.
The resort then altered its marketing tone. “We would change
things in radio and television advertising ever so slightly to make
sure the value proposition was front and center,” he says.
Commercials talked more about the experience at a Great Wolf Lodge
rather than just feature selling. “We focused on the
experience, which was how fun it is for your
Great Wolf began to create packages at all its locations. Breakfast
was included with room purchase, and the fact that waterpark passes
were good for each day a guest was there, even if he or she only
stayed one night, was strongly communicated.
“You’d think that would be self-evident, but not so in
some of our newer markets who were unfamiliar with the indoor
waterpark,” Shattuck says.
The resort also offers a “Paw Pass,” which is a package
that includes the resort and amenities for one price — but
the amenities were discounted nearly 20- to 30 percent off the a la
carte price. Such amenities and programs include activities in the
children’s room and MagiQuest, a live-action adventure game.
Shattuck says there was a very large increase in purchases of the
Paw Pass, which showed evidence that people were “truly
looking for that value,” he notes. “We wanted people to
know they had options.”
This type of thinking also applied to the group market sales. A few
years ago, Great Wolf Resorts had identified a target market: the
conference center. Attaching meeting spaces or building onto
existing convention spaces allowed a huge influx of group sales.
The move not only drew in families during the regular holiday
seasons, but it also brought those families in at mid-week while
parents attended meetings and conferences. It allowed the resort to
function year 'round, all week long, and became an important part
of the business model.
When companies began to scale back on travel spending, Great Wolf
went through “the biggest downturn” in its group
market. In response, the organization maintained a fully devoted
group sales team at each resort, which continued to communicate
with potential, past and existing clients.
Shattuck says the resorts also have become “much more
flexible with our pricing options” in a
one-size-doesn’t-fit-all attitude. Catering, for example, now
will create custom menus to accommodate budgets.
Communicating the message that Great Wolf is a worthy investment
with flexible pricing translates into loyalty, referrals and free
word-of-mouth advertising. “That was a portion of our
business we didn’t want to sacrifice, especially in the dawn
of social media,” Shattuck says. “They have become our