Born of Necessity: New Practices from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
The COVID pandemic forced all kinds of changes to how aquatics professionals operated.
Though most of these changes were temporary to meet restrictions, some facilities have found unexpected benefits, such as greater customer satisfaction and better staff communication, so they've chosen to keep a measure or two even after restrictions lifted.
Here, two aquatics veterans explain some of these practices and why they retained them.
Parker Parks, Recreation and Open Space
COVID protocols forced good communication between departments to make sure we complied with capacity limits, for instance.
Before the pandemic, we had radios, but nobody used them except in emergencies. Now radios are utilized to communicate between the on-deck staff and the front desk about issues such as capacities and wristbands. They could be used every half hour or so to update each other — the front desk will let the head lifeguard know if there's a wait list, and then the lifeguard will notify the front desk when they can admit more people to replace patrons who leave.
A greater use of wristbanding also came out of the COVID restrictions to manage capacities at our indoor facility. We’ve always wristbanded children 5 and under who need to be with a parent, along with people who passed the swim tests. Now, we wristband nearly everyone. We initially did it on weekends, and now we do it every single day, all day, when open swim starts.
They’re just regular paper wristbands. We use different colors everyday. That has really helped to monitor capacity, for staffing and safety.
As an example, for general open swim, we'll use the same color wristband all day. It helps us keep a running tally of how many we have left, so we can communicate that to the front office. If we have birthday parties, they have a different wristband. The birthday party hosts can move them away from the pool and back to the room for cake and presents at the designated time, and then see them out when their reservation has ended. Patrons get another wristband if they passed the swim test. So if we see somebody without near the diving board or rock wall without a wristband, we know to check in with them to make sure they’re safe.
If you run a pool in conjunction with a recreation center, you can distinguish pool patrons from the others.
Some agencies have kept their adult-only lap swim time or vulnerable populations swim time, when nobody else is allowed in the facility. In our therapy pool, we created a designated adult-only time, when we can’t do private lessons or swimming lessons. This provides a guaranteed time when there are no children in the area. It’s been well received.
Community Services Manager
City of Irvine
I think a lot of us have created an atmosphere where we do preregistration now, so we’re not handling cash. Our facilities in Irvine are not going away from that. We prefer it, and our patrons have really bought into it. Pools are notorious for the dollar lap swims or $2 open swims, where we’re handling a lot of cash in summer, but we’re avoiding that now.
Other business, like smaller boutique gyms, usually require preregistration, so I think it’s more the norm now.
Our patrons have been very happy with it, because they know that if they register for a 6 a.m. lap swim, they have a lane designated for them. I think we actually provide better customer service, too. We’ve come to know our patrons so well that we keep track of what lanes they prefer and, if they’re sharing, who they like to share with. It’s fostered some interaction, rather than them just scanning a card, walking by and doing their own thing.
We did get some pushback. Irvine residents were allowed to register three hours before everybody else. But we have a lot of people who come from out of the city to work, and they like to swim at lunch. Some of these long-time patrons became frustrated, so we’ve adjusted a little bit to take away such a massive timeframe.
If you’re making the switch and you used to have drop-ins, you definitely need to market your preregistration capabilities and requirements. You don’t want to surprise your regulars.
We also had to establish a strict cancellation policy. At first, people would cancel at the last minute and call wanting their money back. But they were taking away a spot that could have been used. Now you have to cancel 24 hours in advance so we can fill that spot. If not, you lose the cost. This also prevents people from reserving several slots knowing they won’t use them all.
We’re keeping another COVID practice, related to how our patrons enter. All our groups — like our large swimming, diving and water polo teams — are admitted through a side gate in the park, so they don’t come in our office anymore. We station a staffer for check-in, to scan membership cards at the gate and let them in. This created such a nice environment in our office. It’s really helped with our traffic flow, and if we have a walk-in patron who wants to sign up for swimming lessons, we can actually hear them and have a good conversation!