Aquatics

A Look at Trends in Aquatic Facilities

The past year has seen the culmination of years' worth of effort as the first edition of the Model Aquatic Health Code was released. This is the nation's first set of voluntary guidelines based on science and best practices to improve health and safety at swimming pools and aquatic venues. The code is a guideline that states and localities can use to create or update their existing pool codes in order to reduce the risk of outbreaks, drowning and pool-chemical injuries. With massive input from industry, public health, academia and more, the MAHC is an extensive piece of work, and will continue to improve as more input and feedback is gathered.

At the same time that industry professionals have been aiming to boost safety and health at aquatic facilities, Americans have been aspiring to swim. Although its latest 2015 Participation Report shows a disturbing trend of inactivity among Americans, the Physical Activity Council did find that swimming for fitness leads the list of "aspirational activities"—or activities in which those who are not currently participating would like to take part.

Research shows that a majority of U.S. households are within a 12-minute drive of a swimming pool, so those who aspire to swim certainly don't lack the resources to get started. And in recent years, swimming pools have catapulted beyond the old rectangular jump-in-and-swim facilities of the past to include exciting amenities—everything from splash play and water playgrounds to slides, wave pools, surf machines, poolside climbing walls and more. What's more, the way pools are taken care of—from automatic systems that keep chemicals in balance to new technologies that help conserve resources—has also evolved rapidly. Today's pools are nothing like the pools of the past.

In this section, we'll take a look at how the trends are playing out among survey respondents whose facilities include aquatic elements, whether those are indoor or outdoor swimming pools, splash play areas, waterparks or hot tubs.

More than half of respondents (54 percent) to the 2015 Industry Report survey reported that their facilities include aquatic elements. (See Figure 34.) This is a slight increase from 2014, when 52.1 percent of respondents included aquatic elements.

Aquatic Facilities

There was little change in the types of aquatic facilities represented in the survey from 2014 to 2015. There were slight decreases in the percentage of respondents who reported having indoor or outdoor swimming pools, splash play areas and waterparks, while there was a slight increase in those with hot tubs, spas and whirlpools. The most common type of aquatic facility represented was outdoor swimming pools, with 71.8 percent of aquatic respondents reporting that they had this type of facility. They were followed by indoor swimming pools (62 percent), splash play areas (48.6 percent), hot tubs, spas and whirlpools (41.3 percent), and waterparks (23.9 percent). (See Figure 35.)

Respondents in the South Atlantic and South Central states were the most likely to report having aquatic facilities. Some 57.2 percent of South Atlantic respondents and 57.2 percent of South Central respondents said they had aquatic elements in their facilities. They were followed by the Midwest (54.7 percent) and the West (52 percent). Respondents in the Northeast were least likely to have aquatics, though more than half (50.4 percent) said aquatic elements do make up part of their lineup.

Indoor swimming pools were most commonly found among respondents in the Midwest, where 58.5 percent of aquatic respondents said they had indoor pools. They were followed by the Northeast (53.7 percent) and the South Central region (50 percent). Aquatic respondents in the South Atlantic and the West were less likely to have indoor pools, with 39.3 percent and 46.9 percent, respectively, reporting their facilities included them.

Outdoor swimming pools were most common in the South Atlantic region, where 72.9 percent of aquatic respondents said they had outdoor pools. They were followed by the South Central region (67.7 percent) and the West (61.2 percent). Outdoor pools were less common in the Northeast and Midwest, where 55.2 percent and 55.7 percent, respectively, of aquatic respondents said outdoor pools were included in their facilities.

Splash play areas were most commonly found in the Midwest, where 39.7 percent of aquatic respondents said splash play was part of their facilities. They were followed by the South Atlantic (38.5 percent) and South Central (38.4 percent) regions. Aquatic respondents in the West (35.9 percent) and Northeast (21.7 percent) were the least likely to include splash play areas in their facilities.

Waterparks also were most common among Midwestern aquatic respondents, with 21.9 percent reporting they make up part of their facility lineup. They were followed by the South Atlantic (19 percent) and South Central (15.9 percent) regions. Aquatic respondents in the West (10.6 percent) and Northeast (4.4 percent) were least likely to include waterparks.

Hot tubs, spas and whirlpools were most common in the West, where 40.8 percent of aquatic respondents said they included this element as part of their facilities. They were followed by the Midwest (33 percent) and South Central region (26.2 percent). Aquatic respondents from the South Atlantic (25.5 percent) and the Northeast (16.7 percent) were least likely to have hot tubs, spas or whirlpools.

The type of facilities where different types of aquatic features are predominant are fairly easy to predict. As one might expect, indoor pools are more typically found among college recreation centers and YMCAs, while outdoor pools are more typical of camps and park facilities.

In fact, indoor pools are most commonly found among aquatic respondents from schools and colleges. Some 86 percent of school respondents with aquatic had indoor pools, and 85.7 percent of college respondents with pools had them. More than seven in 10 aquatic respondents from YMCAs (79.1 percent) and health clubs (73.5 percent) also had indoor swimming pools. They were least common among camp facilities, where just 6.3 percent of aquatic respondents had indoor pools, and park facilities (38.6 percent).

Outdoor swimming pools were most commonly found among aquatic respondents from camps and parks. Some 88.5 percent of aquatic respondents from camps and 73 percent of aquatic respondents from parks had outdoor pools. They were followed by health clubs (64.7 percent) and community centers (64.4 percent). Respondents from schools (20 percent) and colleges (23.5 percent) were least likely to have outdoor pools.

Splash play areas were most common among aquatic respondents from parks, where more than half (55.3 percent) reported having splash play areas. More than three in 10 aquatic respondents from community centers (36.7 percent) and health clubs (32.4 percent) also said they had splash play areas. No schools reported having splash play areas. They were also uncommon at colleges, where just 6.6 percent of aquatic respondents said their facilities included splash play.

Waterparks were also most common among aquatic respondents from parks, with 24.3 percent of these respondents indicating they had waterparks. More than one in 10 aquatic respondents from camps (12.5 percent) and community centers (12.2 percent) also said they had waterparks.

Hot tubs, whirlpools and spas were most common for aquatic respondents from community centers and health clubs, where 80 percent and 73.5 percent, respectively, said they included them. They were least common for parks, where just 17.4 percent said they had hot tubs.

As in past years, the vast majority of pools covered in the survey are used for recreation or for a combination of recreation and competition. There are very few competition-only pools. Just 1.7 percent of aquatic respondents indicated that their pools were used for competition only. More than half (53.9 percent) said their pools were used for a combination of leisure and competition. And 44.4 percent said their pools were used for leisure and recreation. (See Figure 36.)

Pools used for competition only were more commonly found among schools than any other facility type. More than a quarter (26.5 percent) of aquatics respondents from schools said their aquatic facilities were used for competition only. They were followed by colleges, where 2.6 percent use their facilities just for competition. The only other facility type that reported having any competition-only pools at all was park respondents, where 0.4 percent have competition-only pools.

Pools used for leisure and recreation but not for competition were most common among camp respondents. Some 90 percent of aquatic respondents from camps said their pools were just for leisure and recreation. They were followed by community centers (50 percent) and health clubs (41.2 percent). Schools were least likely to feature recreation-only pools. Just 8.2 percent of aquatic respondents from schools said their pools were used only for leisure and recreation.

Pools used for a combination of recreation and competition were most common among YMCA respondents, followed by schools. Some 67.6 percent of aquatics respondents from Ys and 65.3 percent of aquatic respondents from schools said their pools were used for a combination of recreation and competition. Camps were least likely to feature aquatic facilities for both purposes, with just 10 percent indicating they supported recreation and competition in their aquatic facilities.

Pool & Budgets

Respondents from facilities that included aquatics reported an average operating budget of $2,254,000 for fiscal 2014, 26.1 percent higher than the average for all respondents, though that difference is smaller than in 2013, when aquatic respondents had an average budget that was 30.4 percent higher than the average for all respondents. Respondents without any aquatic elements in their facilities had an average operating budget of $1,251,000—44.5 percent lower than the average for those with aquatics. This also is a smaller margin than in 2013, when those with aquatics had an operating budget that was 90.4 percent higher than those without aquatics.

Looking ahead, aquatics respondents are expecting to see slower growth in their operating budgets than those without aquatics. From fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2016, respondents with aquatics said their overall operating expenditure would grow by 4.2 percent, from $2,254,000 to $2,348,000. In that same period, respondents with no aquatics projected a 9.3 percent growth to their operating expenditures, from $1,251,000 to $1,367,000.

After dropping in 2013, the average operating expenditure for aquatics rose by 5.7 percent in 2014, from $418,000 to $442,000. Over the next two years, aquatic operating expenditures are expected to rise another 9.3 percent, to a total of $483,000 in fiscal 2016. (See Figure 37.)

Respondents from parks again have the highest average aquatic operating expenditure, reporting an average of $586,000 in 2014. They were followed by health clubs, with an average of $414,000, community centers at $379,000 and YMCAs, with $375,000. Camps and schools had the lowest average operating expenditure for aquatics, spending an average in fiscal 2014 of $255,000 and $271,000, respectively.

A majority of aquatic respondents reported that their aquatic revenues had remained stable or increased from 2013 to 2014, and an increasing number expect the same over the next two years. Some 30.7 percent of aquatic respondents said aquatic revenues increased from 2013 to 2014, and 56.5 percent said aquatic revenues had remained the same in that time period. Some 12.8 percent said aquatic revenues had decreased from 2013 to 2014.

Looking forward, 33 percent of aquatic respondents expect aquatic revenues to increase in 2015, and 32.6 percent expect an increase in 2016. Some 59.4 percent expect revenues to remain the same in 2015, and 61.6 percent expect aquatic revenues to hold steady in 2016. Just 7.6 percent of aquatic respondents projected revenues would decrease in 2015, and 5.7 percent expect a decrease in 2016.

Aquatic respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to report that their aquatic revenues had increased from 2013 to 2014. Some 40.6 percent of YMCA respondents reported such an increase. They were followed by community centers, where 40 percent of aquatic respondents saw an increase to aquatic revenues from 2013 to 2014.

From 2014 to 2015, and from 2015 to 2016, community center respondents with aquatics are the most likely to project increases in aquatic revenues. Some 45.6 percent of these respondents projected such an increase in 2015, and 45.9 percent are expecting an increase in 2016. They were followed in 2015 by health clubs, where 45.2 percent of aquatic respondents project an increase in aquatic revenues. For 2016, YMCAs follow, with 41.8 percent projecting an increase to aquatic revenues.

In every year covered by the survey, aquatic respondents from schools were the least likely to report or project an increase in aquatic revenues. From 2013 to 2014, just 17 percent of aquatic respondents from schools said they had seen such an increase. Looking forward, 8.7 percent of aquatic respondents from schools expect an increase in 2015, and 15.9 percent expect an increase in 2016.

Aquatic respondents from health clubs and parks were the most likely to report a decrease in aquatic revenues from 2013 to 2014. Some 21.2 percent of aquatic respondents from health clubs and 20 percent from parks said they had seen aquatic revenues decrease in that year.

There was virtually no change from 2014 to 2015 in the percentage of aquatic respondents who said that their aquatic revenues support their aquatic operations. Nearly one-fifth (19.5 percent) of aquatic respondents said that aquatic revenues support their aquatic operation. Nearly three-quarters (72.3 percent) said that aquatic facilities are subsidized via funding from other sources. (See Figure 38.)

Respondents from private, for-profit organizations were the most likely to report that their revenues supported their aquatic operations. More than a quarter of these respondents (27.7 percent) said they supported aquatics with revenue, while 60.8 percent said aquatics are subsidized via other funding. By contrast, 18.2 percent of public organizations and 18.5 percent of private nonprofits said their revenues supported aquatic operations, with 74.2 percent and 73.4 percent, respectively, reporting that they subsidized aquatics via funding from other sources.

Aquatic respondents from health clubs were the most likely to report that they supported their aquatics with revenues. Some 44.1 percent of these respondents support their aquatics with revenues. They were followed by YMCAs, where 25.7 percent of aquatic respondents support aquatics with revenues. Camp respondents were the least likely to support aquatics with revenues. Only 6.3 percent of aquatic respondents from camps said their revenues supported their aquatics.

Likewise, aquatic respondents from camps were the most likely to report that their aquatics were subsidized by funding from other sources. Some 82.3 percent of aquatic respondents from camps said aquatics were subsidized. They were followed by colleges, where 76.6 percent said aquatics were subsidized.

Programming

The vast majority of aquatic respondents offer aquatic programming at their facilities, from swimming lessons and teams to water polo and more. Some 95 percent of aquatic respondents said they offer aquatic programming. Respondents from health clubs were the most likely to offer such programs, with 100 percent of these respondents reporting that they provide aquatic programs. They were followed by YMCAs (99.1 percent) and schools (98 percent).

The top 10 programs offered at aquatic facilities include:

  1. Leisure swim (included at 84.8 percent of aquatic facilities)
  2. Learn-to-swim for children (77.3 percent)
  3. Lap swim (72.7 percent)
  4. Lifeguard training (70.4 percent)
  5. Aquatic exercise programs (65.2 percent)
  6. Learn-to-swim for adults (59.1 percent)
  7. Water safety programs (57.4 percent)
  8. Youth swim teams (52.6 percent)
  9. Swim meets and competitions (48.3 percent)
  10. Special needs aquatic programs (34.9 percent)

There was very little change in the percentage of respondents who offer each of these programs, and in fact, none of the programs listed in the top 10 changed positions from 2014 to 2015.

Aquatic respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to provide leisure swim, learn-to-swim for children, lifeguard training, water safety programs, youth swim teams, special needs programs, and aqua-therapy.

Aquatic respondents from health clubs were the most likely to provide lap swim, aquatic exercise, and learn-to-swim for adults.

Aquatic respondents from schools were the most likely to provide swim meets and competitions, school or collegiate swim teams, and diving or diving teams.

Finally, aquatic respondents from colleges were the most likely to provide adult swim teams and water polo.


Nearly a fifth (19.8 percent) of aquatic respondents reported that they have plans to add aquatic programs at their facilities over the next three years, up from 16 percent in 2014. Respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to have such plans. Some 24.5 percent of aquatic respondents from YMCAs said they would be adding programs. They were followed by parks (20.8 percent) and colleges (19.9 percent).

The top 10 planned program additions include:

  1. Special needs aquatic programs (planned by 31.5 percent of those who will be adding programs)
  2. Learn-to-swim for adults (24.7 percent)
  3. Adult swim teams (24.3 percent)
  4. Aquatic exercise programs (19.1 percent)
  5. Aqua-therapy (17.5 percent)
  6. Water safety programs (16.7 percent)
  7. Youth swim teams (15.9 percent)
  8. Learn-to-swim for children (15.9 percent)
  9. Swim meets and competitions (14.3 percent)
  10. Lifeguard training (13.1 percent)

There were increases in the percentage of respondents planning to add: special needs programs (up from 28.3 percent in 2014); learn-to-swim for adults (up from 22.8 percent); adult swim teams (up from 21.7 percent); aquatic exercise programs (up from 16.1 percent); and swim meets and competitions (up from 12.7 percent). Youth swim teams did not appear in the top 10 planned programs in 2014. That type of programming replaces water polo on the top 10 list.

Aquatic respondents from schools were the most likely to be planning to add: learn-to-swim for adults; adult swim teams; aquatic exercise programs; aqua-therapy; water polo; diving and diving teams; and leisure swim.

Aquatic respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to be planning to add: special needs programs; water safety; and lifeguard training.

Aquatic respondents from colleges were the most likely to be planning to add swim meets and competitions, and school or collegiate swim teams.

Aquatic respondents from health clubs were the most likely to be planning to add youth swim teams, while those from camps were most likely to be planning learn-to-swim for children. Aquatic respondents from parks were the most likely to be planning to add lap swim.

Facility Enhancements

Respondents whose facilities include aquatic elements were more likely than respondents without aquatic to report that they have plans for construction over the next three years. Some 69.1 percent of aquatic respondents had such plans in 2015, up from 65.8 percent in 2014, while 62 percent of non-aquatic respondents had construction plans. More than a quarter (26 percent) of aquatic respondents said they will be building new facilities, nearly a third (32.7 percent) will be making additions, and more than half (50.4 percent) will be making renovations.

The average construction budget for aquatic respondents was $4,507,000, 33.1 percent higher than the average for non-aquatic respondents.

The top 10 features currently found among aquatic respondents' facilities include:

  1. Pool lift/accessibility equipment (found at 69.3 percent of aquatic respondents' facilities)
  2. Automatic chemical feeder (69.3 percent)
  3. Diving boards (46.6 percent)
  4. Waterslides (39 percent)
  5. Zero depth entry (38.2 percent)
  6. Water play structures (34.1 percent)
  7. UV disinfection systems (20.3 percent)
  8. Splash pads (19.8 percent)
  9. Lazy rivers (13.2 percent)
  10. Pools
ide cabanas (13 percent)

This is the first year since 2011 that the percentage of respondents who have pool lifts dropped. In 2014, 75.5 percent of respondents reported that their facilities included pool lifts.

Most features were more commonly found among parks respondents' facilities than others. Aquatic respondents from parks were the most likely to include: waterslides, zero-depth entry, water play structures, UV disinfection systems, splash pads, lazy rivers, ozone systems, wave pools and surf machines.

Aquatic respondents from health clubs were the most likely to include automatic chemical feeders and poolside cabanas. Aquatic respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to include pool lifts and accessibility equipment. Aquatic respondents from schools were the most likely to include diving boards.

More than a quarter (27.5 percent) of aquatic respondents reported that they have plans to add more features at their aquatic facilities over the next three years, up from 24.3 percent in 2014. Respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to have such plans. Some 40.9 percent of YMCA respondents said they would be adding more aquatic features to their facilities over the next three years. They were followed by camps (40.6 percent) and parks (27.5 percent).

The most commonly planned additions include splash pads (31.3 percent of aquatic respondents plan to add them), UV disinfection (25.9 percent) and water play structures (24.4 percent). (See Figure 39.) More respondents in 2015 than in 2014 are planning to add zero-depth entry (20.7 percent vs. 19 percent); and poolside cabanas (19 percent vs. 12.5 percent).


Respondents from camps were the most likely to be planning to add many features, including: splash pads, water play structures, pool lifts and accessibility equipment, zero-depth entry, poolside cabanas, waterslides, automatic chemical feeders, solar pool heating, saline chlorination systems, ozone systems and wave pools. Aquatic respondents from parks were the most likely to be planning to add lazy rivers and surf machines. Respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to be planning to add UV disinfection systems. And respondents from community centers were the most likely to be planning to add diving boards.



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