As corporate director of group sales for Great Wolf Lodge
, the world’s largest chain of indoor waterparks, Rhonda Khabir is passionate about her job for the obvious reasons. After all, who wouldn’t feel like a kid again barreling down a water thrill ride like Howlin’ Tornado
, a twisty raft ride that drops you into a six-story “funnel of fun”? (OK, maybe that sounds a little terrifying.) But more than the business of waterparks, Great Wolf Lodge is serious about the business of meetings. And it's a model that’s proved successful, given the brand opened its 14th property
in Garden Grove, California—just south of Anaheim—in March. We talked with Khabir about the new location, her expectations for group business there and what’s ahead for Great Wolf.
Why was Southern California a good fit for a Great Wolf Lodge property?
When you look at [the area’s] geography and population alone, this was a natural fit for us. Other attractions in Southern California itself are a wonderful match for Great Wolf.
Tell us about meeting space at this location.
We have a 30,000-sq.-ft. conference center that takes up the entire third floor of the property. One big ballroom is about 10,000 square feet, and we have a total of 12 separate and configurable meeting rooms. There’s a parking ramp entrance for easy load-in, and we have unique built-in technologies, such as wall panel controls for lighting and heating, and built-in screens and LCD projectors.
Any special F&B offerings?
We can source local and organic [food] quite easily in the Southern California market. Build-your-own smoothie bars are popular—two groups already have those on the books for future events. We are also good at incorporating fun into your event. One thing we can do is a version of “Cupcake Wars,” where our GM is the judge.
What kinds of groups are you targeting?
We predict SoCal will perform like our other 13 locations in the SMERF market—that’s about half of our conference and group business. Coming in second is corporate (20 percent), then association (17 percent). We’re also excited to be in such close proximity to Anaheim Convention Center
. We’re partnering with them on several events already.
Does the waterpark serve as a draw for meetings business?
It does occasionally, but mostly it’s just another amenity. Some groups don't even know it’s there; other groups will extend their stay through the weekend to allow family to come. Sunday through Thursday a lot of parents don't want to pull kids out of school. But it depends on the time of year. If families can come, that improves attendance—and that’s fairly true across all meeting segments.
What’s next for the brand?
We are opening another property in Colorado Springs
in late 2016, and hoping to open five more within the next five years.