Championing Your Facility as We Come Out of the Crisis
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
If you’re like me, you’ve been closely following the news related to the effects of Covid-19 on the aquatics industry.
With the majority of year-round swimming pools around the country closed right now due to stay-at-home orders, two main questions have come to the forefront of aquatics operators’ minds:
- When will my existing year-round swimming pool reopen?
- Will the summer season for my outdoor pool be delayed or cancelled?
While the uncertainty regarding the answers to these questions remains troubling for operators, even more troubling is the fact that they don’t get to make the decision. City councils, university boards, county commissioners and city leadership hold the keys to the future in most areas as they receive guidance from local, state and national officials.
Aquatics operators must continue to plan for summer, while wondering if at some point it’s all for naught. Now, that we are past mid-April when summer preparations for outdoor facilities are typically in full swing, operators are unable to visit schools to recruit future lifeguards, swim instructors and guest services team members. They can't even train those they’ve already recruited due to shelter-in-place orders and the closure of recreation facilities. What this does is push the summer season back indefinitely from the historical Memorial Day opening and leaves operators wondering if it will be June 1, June 15, July 4 or even later.
But I still believe it’s too early to write off the 2020 summer season. At some point it might not make sense to open, but “aquatiholics” (as Jim Wheeler likes to call them) are resilient, optimistic, positive and would do almost anything to make sure their aquatics facilities open this summer -- as long as it does not compromise the safety of their guests.
Consider these suggestions and observations to make a case for re-opening when the conditions are right.
Prioritizing community safety is a given.
The safety of guests has always been, and will continue to be, the top priority for aquatics operators, in both the public and private sectors. If the go-ahead to open is not given by local officials due to the continued spread of Covid-19, then aquatics facilities must stay closed for this summer season. And, as difficult as that will be for facility operators to stomach, it will be the right decision.
Seasonal aquatics facilities have a greater impact on the local economy than you may think.
I’ve seen several news articles this week that reference municipalities closing their outdoor pools in order to save taxpayer dollars, since the pool has historically been subsidized. To an elected official, the outdoor swimming pool looks like a great way to save the city money, whether it’s $50,000, $75,000 or even $100,000.
But, there’s a fallacy in that thinking because it doesn’t look at the entire picture and how that subsidy effects the local community.
For instance, when the swimming pool does not open, the lifeguards (who are almost always locals between the ages of 16 and 24) do not get a paycheck to spend at local restaurants and retailers in the community. And, believe me, they will spend their hard-earned money! The local concessionaire who supplies food for the concession stand at the pool is now selling less. The local pool chemical supplier, swim shop and other area vendors who provide cleaning products and equipment that are essential to operating the pool are no longer reaping the benefits of the pool being open. And, the local fast food chains do not benefit when families leave and stop to get a snack and fountain drink on the way home.
When local officials decide not to open the pool to save money, they are failing to see that the swimming pool has a bigger effect on the local economy that they might initially have thought.
Seasonal aquatics facilities increase the quality of life of your community’s residents.
Now, what if stay-at-home orders are lifted and there’s a semblance of normalcy again? My hope would be that facilities start to open, while obviously maintaining social distancing protocols, enhanced cleaning procedures and other restrictions to ensure the safety of our guests.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 92% of Americans classified themselves as recreational swimmers. Additionally, swimming is the fourth most popular recreational activity in the United States, and it’s the most popular for children and teens ages 7 to 17. Outdoor seasonal swimming is the highlight of the year for communities across the country. It introduces people to the benefits of aquatics through recreation, summer swim lessons, summer youth swim team, water fitness classes and more.
Operators need to continue to emphasize these benefits to their decision makers by sharing the number of swim lesson participants, swim team members, fitness classes taught and the total number of community members who utilize their facility. This will help reinforce the importance of the summer swim season.
Aquatics operators need to plan for increased scrutiny regarding their revenue and expense budgets.
With the effect that Covid-19 is currently having on the nation’s economy, cities across the country are already facing tough decisions due to the lack of revenue from services and sales tax. Unfortunately, when this happens, swimming pools come under increased scrutiny, as they are not typically viewed as an essential service. When our firm performs a revenue and expense analysis for an existing aquatics center, it’s not uncommon for us to find 5 to 10 different areas where they could be more efficient with the ways they spend money, or better ways to generate revenue. Now is a great time for operators to take an in-depth look at their budgets to help close the gap and ensure they are operating as sustainably as possible.
Planning for the future.
While the future might be uncertain, the attitude of the aquatics professional should not waver. This is the time to rethink operations, increase the awareness of the benefit community aquatic facilities provide and continue to proactively plan for the future.