Feature Article - June 2009
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A Look at Trends in Aquatic Facilities

According to the World Waterpark Association's Aleatha Ezra, director of park member development, one reason for the growth "concerns the fact that many cities are seeing a drop-off in attendance because their flat-water pools simply don't hold the same appeal they once did." She added, "Once people have experienced the fun of a waterpark, they are less interested in visiting a regular flat-water pool. Plus, many of the nation's pools are getting older and the costs to repair and maintain them are expensive. So these facilities are replacing their old pools with mini waterparks—and thus adding to the industry's growing numbers."

In addition to a growing number of these municipally run waterparks, this trend translates into more pools that are designed for recreational use. Our survey bears this out, with nearly all of our aquatic respondents (98.8 percent) indicating that their facilities are used for leisure and recreation, or a combination of leisure and competition. Only 1.1 percent said their aquatic facilities are used for competition only. (See Figure 33.)

As might be expected, pools designed for competitive use were most prevalent among respondents from schools and school districts, as well as colleges and universities. At schools, 18.2 percent of aquatic facilities were used for competition only, and 78.8 percent were used for a combination of competitive and recreational programs. Only 3 percent of respondents from schools said their pools had no competitive element at all. At colleges and universities, 3.2 percent of pools were used for competition only, and 57.6 percent had a combination of leisure and competition pools. Another 38.6 percent in this category said their pools had no competitive element.

According to Randy Mendioroz, principal and founder of Aquatic Design Group, a California-based designer of aquatic facilities, this tendency toward more recreational usage, or a combination of recreation and competition, is the best way to improve a facility's bottom line. "About 50 to 60 percent of revenue comes from open recreational swimming," he said, "and for the facilities that do a good job with play structures, slides and splash pads, that percentage is even higher. You can only swim so many laps and jump off the diving board so many times before you're bored out of your skull."

He added that the facilities that have the best returns have at least a 50/50 split between the recreational and linear pool spaces. "If you can increase that to maybe 75/25, I can almost guarantee you'll break even on operating costs," Mendioroz said, adding that this is true even though most of the facilities he's talked to to come up with these numbers are charging just a fraction of the fee of attending a waterpark. "It's a great value for people, especially in this economy," he said. "So the more recreational programming you have, the better you are from a cost-recovery standpoint."