Feature Article - January 2011
Find a printable version here

Taking the Plunge

Saving Facilities and Lives Through Smarter Aquatic Programming

By Kelli Anderson

The Price Is Right

But even when aquatic facilities are designed for the future and programmed for it as well, no amount of long-term planning and programming will succeed with outdated modes of paying for them.

"Municipalities owning facilities are stuck in an old tax base model we call the library model," Nelson said. "Everyone comes but they only pay $5 because they pay their taxes and feel we owe it to them. That's not a viable option. We have to go to the golf course model where you build but still pay a fee, pay for lessons, concessions, and pay a fair price for services. It costs $25 a day to use a pool—we pay that just to go to McDonalds or to go to a movie. We have to tell people to get over it because that's what it costs. We can still give discounts to seniors, but if you try to build your plan around that segment, you won't even cover a lifeguard's salary."

Charging what they're worth has certainly not kept the public from filling up classes and pool times at Dessart's three pools. But, Dessart agreed that there are exceptions that can be made that don't have to affect the bottom line.

"We help out families with a family pass," Dessart said. "You can have 20 kids and as long as they're really yours, there's a set $20 fee. I had one family come in and you could tell they weren't well off. When I told them it was only $20, the mother almost started tearing up and told me that they thought it would cost more—they'd been saving their money to come. In a recession, you can do it; people appreciate it and they come back. I lose a little money, but it doesn't cut that much into the bottom line."

For Sunsplash Family Waterpark, pricing is an area they are currently re-evaluating. "We're contemplating our pricing structure," Marzullo said. "We haven't raised prices in the last few of years because of the economy, but we're looking at what additional things we can offer to justify raising our prices."

Offering swim lessons before the park opens each day at 10 a.m. has helped with its budget, however. "Swim lessons are marginally profitable—we make money with our swim lesson program, so it benefits us from a revenue standpoint," Marzullo admitted. "Lessons are a subsidy to bump our revenues."

Plug It In

Of course, even the best programming won't get very far if people don't know about it. Getting the word out these days, however, and communicating with patrons requires a lot more than just mailing a catalog or putting information in the local paper. Getting people plugged in and turned on to what's happening in aquatic programming has, like so much else in our culture, gone the way of the Internet.

"It is essential to make sure in today's age that you are social networking savvy," Selph said. "We have a Web site and a Facebook page—communication with parents is really important. Online registration is key for parents to have current information and our programs fill up so quickly; being able to access us by phone or internet is key. We're making sure we stay on top of it."