Feature Article - September 2006
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Special Report:
Recreation Managementís First Annual State of the Industry Report

Our First Annual Recreation Forecast

Mega-Trends Favor Growth in Aquatics

The aging population, lack of exercise and poor diet trends will have a huge impact on public health in the future and creates an opportunity for the aquatic industry. Poor diet and too little exercise encourages obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases, which in turn cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States each year. Health-care costs to treat these long-term chronic diseases is expensive and will make health care less affordable and less accessible during our lives and our children's lives.

Our aging and sedentary population will have to exercise more to reverse these alarming trends. Unlike most, aquatic activity is ideal for young or old, active or sedentary, impaired or healthy people to improve their quality of life and to reduce the demands on the health-care system. As more people participate in aquatic activities, the supporting industry has much to gain.

Society sorely needs aquatics. Pools and spas are ideal for people to receive beneficial activity to help reverse chronic disease trends, however, the lack of education within the industry presents a barrier to safe and healthy aquatic venues and growth to the industry. Sadly, today, 60 percent of all states have no requirement for verifiable, standardized training for people who operate public pools or spas. Training standards for people who clean and maintain residential pools are even lower or nonexistent.

Cost often is sited as the reason to oppose training, yet the cost of injures is rarely considered. In 2005, about 5,000 people were made ill in documented recreational water illness (RWI) outbreaks. Untold more may have been affected, but the outbreaks were not recognized and documented. About 600 drowning deaths and about 2,800 drowning hospitalizations occur each year. If health departments and companies fail to require verifiable training to educate professionals in order to reduce risk, then ongoing drowning, illness, and injuries will continue; legal liability will grow; and market growth will be stifled. To better benefit mankind, this educational obstacle must be overcome.

Unfortunately, documented RWI outbreaks have been trending up for more than a decade. The majority of documented outbreaks have involved chlorine-resistant pathogens like cryptosporidium (crypto). Fortunately, recent research is showing there are ways to prevent and minimize outbreaks due to this microorganism. One of the most promising is ultraviolet (UV) light systems. In the future, it is likely that all public pools and spas will include a UV system or other technology to inactivate chlorine-resistant pathogens. Future industry innovations likely will use filter enhancers, chlorine dioxide, ozone or other technologies to prevent illness.

There will be ongoing pressure for aquatic facilities, like any other athletic business, to maintain and improve profitability. Financial viability will continue to drive innovation in facility design and programming. Design and programming parallels the fundamental business principle to focus on the customers' needs. Fun facility features that emerged in waterparks will be applied to more public pools. Programs that are tailored to different populations are emerging and will be refined. The need for programs that attract young, old, sedentary, active, disabled and healthy populations will continue to grow. These populations will be drawn to aquatic facilities as aquatic health benefits become more widely understood and accepted. In addition, medical professionals and insurers are likely to encourage people to become active in improving their health as research, publications and the media illuminate aquatic health benefits.

Technology will take on a larger role in aquatic facilities. Some technologies are already widely accepted. Automatic controller use is increasing in challenging environments like public spas and wading pools, providing an easier and more effective way to maintain sanitary water.

Others technologies also are emerging. For example, video cameras interfaced with computers are helping lifeguards prevent drowning. Remote and Web-based monitoring and controllers are helping operators maintain water chemistry and improve scheduling, detection and problem-solving. Web access to information will educate consumers who will then demand higher standards at aquatic facilities. Leading health bodies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already are recommending that consumers check the water with test strips before entering the water or informing management. Enhanced disinfection and filtration will emerge as tools to prevent RWI outbreaks. More technology at the facility will require a more educated staff. Fortunately, technology to train professionals is advancing with blended-format (part online/part in-class), online training and Spanish materials.

Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D.
CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation