Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Aquatics Trends

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Aquatics Trends

Article excerpt

According to the World Waterpark Association, the development of aquatic centers and municipal waterparks is one of the fastest growing segments in the water leisure industry within the United States. One industry report puts the number of U.S. waterparks at 858, up by 24 parks between March 2014 and March 2015, with the majority of them being outdoor, municipally owned waterparks. Aquatics professionals, in order to help their agencies plan for the future and stay relevant to their communities, need to stay on top of current industry trends. Following are some of the most prevalent nationwide trends in aquatics today:

Admission Prices

Over the years, as the features and amenities at aquatic centers have changed, the value of admission has steadily increased. While aging swimming pools built in the 1970s and 1980s still charge a modest $1-$2 for admission, the family aquatic centers of the '80s, '90s and 2000s, with their various amenities, can easily charge $5-$10. The more and varied the amenities an aquatic center offers, the more guests it attracts, the longer they stay and the higher the admission fee that can be charged. The primary driver is the length of stay of their guests.

Increased Subsidy for Aging Facilities

With the rise of newer family-oriented aquatic centers, aging "flatwater" pools with low admission prices have seen a dramatic drop-off in attendance and use, correlating to higher subsidies. While attendance at these facilities can fall below 100 people per day, newer centers can exceed 500-750 guests per day. However, just because these aging facilities are subsidized at a higher rate does not mean they lack value. They still provide valuable instructional, competitive, fitness and recreational experiences to communities across the country. Many of these facilities are adding amenities, such as waterslides, climbing walls or an adjacent spray pad to increase their recreational value, as well as focusing on aquatic programs (swim team, water polo, summer camps) and partnerships with local swim teams and school districts to help increase usage of their facility.

Rising Construction Costs

As municipalities take these older facilities offline and replace them with new ones, the number of aquatic construction projects has increased over the past several years. This, coupled with the rising cost and short supply of materials for aquatic facility construction, has caused a dramatic increase in the price of aquatic construction, sometimes at a rate of 5 percent every six months. Entities looking to build a new aquatic center need to factor in this current inflation rate when developing capital budgets to avoid having to scale back on their design should the bids come in too high.

Spray Parks

Spray parks have made a big splash as a common replacement for aging swimming pools, particularly because they still provide the community with aquatic experiences without the high operating costs of traditional pools. Spray parks do not require high levels of staffing, require only minimal maintenance and offer a no-cost (or low-cost) alternative to a swimming pool. They typically appeal to kids 2-12 year olds and can be a stand-alone facility in a community park or incorporated inside a family aquatic center.

School District Competitive Natatoriums

Another trend seen across the country pertains to the planning, designing and building of competitive swim venues by school districts. Over the past five to 10 years, school districts have taken the lead in building and operating competitive natatoriums primarily to provide space for their high school swim teams, but also as valuable lane space for local USA swim teams, water polo clubs, synchronized swimming and other community programs, such as swim lessons and water fitness. …

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