Feature Article - September 2018
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New Pool Rules

Passive amenities are out; floating creative water spaces can increase attendance

By Rick Dandes

Excite & Engage

Standalone flat pools at the municipal level will never survive, said Ron Pratt, director of the Sunbury Community Pool in Pennsylvania. "It's almost like you have to have a mini-waterpark to compete with the other recreational activities in your municipalities, and that holds true at whatever level of finances you find yourself in. That's basically what we have here. We fall under the city's parks and recreation budget, and our finances are minimal. We have a standalone pool. But if we didn't liven it up with amenities, we'd die a slow death."

Many pools have removed their diving boards, because their insurance policies prohibit it being there, Pratt said. "So, if you don't have a diving board, what do you need? That's why you have to be smart with amenities like slides, walls and activities for people to do," he said. "If you pigeonhole yourself into just one thing, then you're probably going to appeal to just one demographic. Who visits your pool on a daily basis? What age groups do you see? What is the median age group in your area? Do you have a lot of kids in the area, young families? Those are things you have to look at."

For incorporating more activity into the pool, inflatable play products are "one of the most active trends in our industry," said Michael Garland, executive vice president of a Louisville, Ky.-based provider of swimming pool and aquatic equipment, products and supplies for institutional and commercial swimming. In the past three years interest in inflatables has really grown, he said.

Obstacle tracks in pools are a huge trend, because they offer a different kind of action and fun for every age, added Lara Hülskamp-Seesing, marketing assistant of a Bocholt, Germany producer of inflatable play products.

Inflatable play structures can be anchored to the floor of the pool but float on top. "You can create obstacle courses and things of that nature," David Keim said. "If you are a city that can't afford to go full-blown waterpark or create permanent water features, you can install an inflatable play structure inside an existing flat-water pool and turn it into something that is a whole lot more fun, and for relatively little dollars."

There is an appeal here to different age groups as well, Keim said. You can find inflatable courses that mimic those TV challenge courses. "They are not necessarily at American Ninja Warrior level of difficulty, but they are designed to be challenging, and to be fun," he said. "They are intended to be something that you can have competition with your friends and family members. The goal is to try to appeal to all age groups in every aquatic center to the greatest extent possible."

Interactive play structures are still extremely popular, and are changing and evolving every year, Keim said. "They get more creative with theming, with the slides that come off with them. Slides will always be big. It's a waterpark staple, and it's a staple in the municipal or public recreation center."

There are things happening now in aquatic centers that go far beyond a couple of slides. It doesn't take any skill to take to a slide, Keim said, "but we are starting to see things that really engage more with park patrons. These things include simulators, adventure pools, climbing walls, all of which engage guests in physical activity. That is a good thing, especially when you are looking at it from a public recreation perspective. It gets kids off their video and smartphone devices and gets them in the water exercising, active and having a good time."