As GM of Canada’s first indoor water-park resort, Keith Simmonds knows a thing or two about having fun. Since opening the Great Wolf Lodge seven years ago, the Edmonton native has been calling the Niagara Falls resort home, while leading a “pack” of 650 employees intent on fulfilling his mission of “creating family traditions one family at a time.”
While the 100,000-sq.-ft water park is a huge draw, attracting families from Ontario and upstate New York, “the most unique element of Great Wolf is the exclusive nature of the family experience,” explains Simmonds. “Our lobby is our grand living room, and the Cub Club and Story Time allow families to truly connect when not swimming and sliding,” he says. “Most importantly, our Pack Members are driven to host and entertain guests of all ages as though we’re hosting them in our own log cabin.”
Like any hotelier operating in today’s competitive environment, Simmonds and his team are challenged to find a balance between generating viable financial returns while providing great value for our guests. We achieve that balance with a range of rates, starting at $199 — which includes two days of water park access for a family of four — and hitting a high of $600.”
Given that Simmonds helms a unique hotel, it’s no surprise his management style is characterized as energetic. “Open communication is key to setting and reaching new targets for programming in all levels and areas of the organization,” he explains. “Not only will you generate the best ideas from employees, but you’ll also have the best chance of delivering a seamless guest experience if everyone is up to speed and engaged in the process.”
Though fun is the ultimate goal, Simmonds’ philosophy is “systems before smiles to guarantee consistency. Our guests arrive at a facility that is clean, well-maintained and presented in a fashion that exceeds their expectations,” he says. “Service should be respectfully informal in a manner such that we deliver products and services or resolve issues so our guests can enjoy their stay and will wish to return.”
Fun abounds at Great Wolf Lodge, and this past year the 406-room hotel introduced MagiQuest, a first-of-its-kind live-action attraction that has transformed the Lodge, with guests returning for more adventure outside the water park. “We’re continually evolving our entertainment programming with live performances and the addition of our New Year’s Luau in the water park. Although the bricks and mortar of Great Wolf Lodge are unique, we develop new programming, menus and packages tailored to the different holidays and demand periods.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about providing quality service that resonates with guests, a philosophy paying dividends for the hotel proven by the announcement last year it had won the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) award for Excellence in Human Resources. The lodge was also a finalist for the Air Canada Business of the Year Award, clearly demonstrating that taking fun seriously can be a winning proposition.
photo courtesy of Doug Forster