Founded in 1997, Great Wolf Resorts is the parent company of Great Wolf Lodge, North America’s largest family of indoor water park resorts. In addition to water parks, each of the 17 Great Wolf locations across the U.S. feature restaurants, arcades, spas, fitness facilities, and children’s activities. Headquartered in Chicago, the company is an icon in the family hospitality industry.
In the competitive hospitality industry, Great Wolf Resorts identified an opportunity to improve the end-to-end guest experience. To better connect with its guests, the company set out to build a mobile app that seamlessly guided users through their vacation experience. The goal was to make each guest’s stay as memorable, easy, and fun as possible.
“Going to a water park is fun, and Great Wolf Lodge wanted to make sure guests could maximize that fun without having to worry about the little things that can disrupt a vacation,” Andi Azry, a Devbridge product designer who worked on the product, said.
Since the goal of the app was to improve the customer experience, Devbridge realized that its product design team needed to conduct a two-pronged research strategy. Product designers typically interview key staffers and customers to analyze and identify the needs of users. In addition to this step, Great Wolf invited the team to visit three of its park locations to walk in the shoes of its customers and experience the fun first-hand. This hands-on experience shaped how product designers crafted what features the app would include.
“Each time we visited another location, we learned something new,” Fran Palmer, a senior product designer at Devbridge, said.
Case in point: As a result of the on-site research, the team abandoned its initial plan of taking design inspiration from the chain’s look and feel (wood-grain textures, earth tones, and a humanistic typeface). Instead, the team realized they should leverage the colorful, diverse, developed theme park characters to make the app more fun.
“The guests identify with the characters, and we saw an opportunity to leverage those assets,” Palmer said. “Incorporating the characters also gave us a way to engage our younger users, who are most likely telling Mom and Dad where to go.”
From their research, the team decided to prioritize key functions and information, including concierge notifications, promotions, maps, and activity schedules. Instead of carrying around stacks of papers or folded brochures, Great Wolf vacationers could simply check the app on their phones. Perhaps most importantly, the app reduces wait times via mobile check-in, and food ordering, with additional features planned for the future releases. These features help guests skip the lines and waiting, and get to the fun of each resort faster.
To build the app, the team chose to integrate existing systems, including Zingle for chat, PatronPath for food ordering, and Stay’N’Touch for check-in. This approach involved minimal disruption to facility operations, allowed the team to control the customer experience, and minimized spending on areas not driving competitive differentiation. To expedite the development process, Devbridge delivered in an agile model, with new versions released regularly and tested by guests.
Great Wolf Resorts released the pilot program of its application within seven months, receiving positive feedback from guests. Leveraging the established scalable architecture, the company plans to roll out the service across all locations within the coming months and weeks, ensuring that the Great Wolf Lodge app is only getting started.