Let’s talk bowling

Is your hotel fun? Ask yourself honestly. Your chef’s creations might excite the senses, and the surrounding area might present a smorgasbord of enjoyable daytime activities and nightlife. But what is there — physically, onsite and within reach — to entertain guests?

Maybe it’s a private golf course. Or an adjoining beach, a flashy pool area, a trendy bar and in-room entertainment systems (PlayStation, Xbox, Wii, etc.). What about the games room? Often an extension of the bar with a couple billiards tables, foosball, darts, shuffleboard or table tennis, this area could be so much more to encourage guest interaction and incite a positive vibe throughout the hotel.

As the timeless hotelier adage goes: a happy guest is a returning guest. Any and every effort towards this end will bear fruit. Why not rethink a part of your property that hits the fun factor right on its head? Bowling might just be the answer you’ve been looking for.

Mind you, this is no small consideration. Bowling alley lanes are a pricey refurbishment, and yet I’m seeing them crop up in hotels all over the world. To name one, Fairmont’s Banff Springs Hotel — practically an icon of the hospitality industry in Canada — is notorious for its four lanes of spin bowling tucked away amidst grand ballrooms and Rocky Mountain vistas.

Recently I was emailing back and forth with a manager at the Meritage Resort and Spa. Set in the heart of Northern California’s wine country in Napa, the presence of luxury bowling lanes isn’t really what you’d expect. Maybe that’s why it works — it’s a good counterpart to the more languid viticultural experiences the area offers. I’m also told that the lanes use a Vollmer string system — cutting-edge in Europe — where the pins are held on a string and lifted back into place when struck, meaning less noise and maintenance.

Is this just a fad, or will bowling alleys be a common thought for new hotels and future remodeling plans? More importantly, what’s the appeal of bowling anyway? My answer: social, physical gaming. Like darts, billiards or foosball, bowling brings people together in a situation where they can be semi-active and enjoy each other’s company. There’s a dash of dexterity required (but not too much to exclude beginners), and there are intermittent breaks for people to talk, relax or grab a drink.

Probably what makes bowling so catchy is its rarity. A pool table can be found in almost any bar or home anywhere. Same with darts and foosball. All three fit the same profile of social, physical gaming. To bowl, however, you have to go to an alley and rent a lane. It’s an event activity — like golf, jet skiing or going to the spa.

That’s why I commend the hotels that have put bowling on the upswing. It’s a unique feature that guests will remember (read: word of mouth), and it will genuinely uplift their experiences at your property. At no point should a guest be aimlessly scrounging for ways to spend his or her time. Give them something fun — give them bowling!

In case dredging up the games room isn’t a serious part of the remodeling budget (likely the case for most of us), consider lawn bowling or bocce ball. The chief requirement of both is a flat patch of groomed grass along with half-decent weather. Also, a professional set of bocce balls shouldn’t cost more than US$100 — very affordable if you have the land already set.

The key takeaway from all this is that bowling is simply a launch point for evaluating what interactive entertainment you provide. Be it indoor bowling or outdoor croquet, there are plenty of creative and intriguing gaming alternatives. For instance, if you have an onsite golf course, why not install a virtual golf simulator preconfigured with your course? That surely would make for an excellent “rainy day” solution.

And so I leave it to you. What other fun activities have you come across while staying at a hotel or resort? What do you have on your property to entertain guests?